For Joyce Winston, her new walk-in paternity testing clinic at the corner of Sherman and Goffe is not just a business, it’s also a mission. She hopes the clinic will help men discover whether they’re “the daddy” so others won’t have to go through what she went through—twice.
On Monday, Winston (pictured), who previously ran a home health-care agency, will open the paternity testing clinic to provide one-stop shopping to deal with the problem summed up in the old saying, “Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe.”
The mother, “putative father,” (as lawyers like to say) and child can walk into the clinic, provide samples with their DNA, and know within 24 to 48 hours whether the man is the child’s father.
Winston said it’s just as important for a man to know that he’s not the father as to learn that he is.
“There are a lot of different situations where the father found out after he had a child that the child wasn’t his,” and yet he still had legal responsibility for the child, said Winston, who’s 39. Fathers who acknowledge paternity officially or ignore legal notices of paternal responsibility often have great difficulty undoing that determination—despite a negative paternity test.
“We want to make it so fathers can get testing early on before it gets to that situation,” she said.
Winston (who also owns nightclubs in town under her former married name, Joyce Bellamy) said she has personal knowledge of “that situation.” Two men with whom she was involved were told they had fathered children with other women when they hadn’t.
That inspired her to open the walk-in clinic to make paternity testing more available and more affordable. Most DNA clinics rely on 1-800 numbers. “Scheduling specialists” at DNA Diagnostics Center, a national company, for example, refer clients who call its number to “a certified facility, such as local hospitals, medical offices and health departments.” That takes more time and requires travel to a different location. “Here, if you need a test, you get a test,” Winston said.
She said she plans also to charge less than the typical $400 for a paternity test. DNA Diagnostics advertises $495 for a legal paternity test, but adds, “Call for Discounts!” Winston said her cost for a legal paternity test would be about $300, with an installment plan option. Clients will get the results upon final payment.
Winston said she’d been a DNA examiner for about a year and half, then decided her business needed to be more public. “So we put up a sign so the community knows we are here.” The sign, which boasts, “DNA Genetics, Paternity Testing, Walk-in clinic, Results in 24-48 Hours,” went up July 15 although the clinic doesn’t open until Monday.
The neighborhood noticed. “When I saw the sign I thought, `Go progress,’” said Dresha Grier, who owns an eponymous hair salon around the corner from the clinic. “Why go through the waiting and the overpaying when you can find out right here in the community?”
Steven Stewart, 54, who sells newspapers across the street from the clinic, praised the location. “It’s the right spot—across the street from a high school in the ‘hood, as they say,” Stewart said, adding that a paternity test “can provide a lot of closure on a tough subject.”
Willie Penn, 44, and Greg Carter, 45, who were visiting a relative who lives down the block from the clinic, said there is definitely a need for such testing.
“A lot of my friends found out when their children were 20 or 25 years old they were not the father,” Penn said. “At the point the baby was born they didn’t bother to find out because they didn’t want to disrespect the mother. But it’s better to know at the beginning.”
Carter agreed: “Little kids become part of your life. You develop a bond and then you find out you’re not the father. It’s hard.”
Carter said that happened to him, but he worked it out with the child and his mother. “We sat him down, talked to him about the situation,” Carter said. Speaking of the child, who is now 30, Carter said, “he’s still mine.”
Lance Carpenter also had a personal reaction to the clinic across the street from where he sells newspapers alongside Stewart. The former Marine said he never knew who his father was. “My mother told me three different men were my daddy,” Carpenter recalled. The 54-year-old said he made sure he knew he was the father of his four children. “People should know about their background,” he said, adding “we need it in the community.”
There can be serious consequences for not knowing a baby’s background, lawyers advise. When an unmarried mother gives birth in a Connecticut hospital, a man can chose to sign an “Acknowledgment of Paternity.” The acknowledgment makes the man the legal father responsible for the child’s financial support. The man can change his mind within 60 days by filing a form with the Connecticut Department of Public Health. If he doesn’t do it during that time period, however, he has to challenge the paternity finding in court or before a Family Support Magistrate. The court will only reopen the paternity issue “on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact, with the burden of proof upon the person making the challenge,” according to a Department of Social Services brochure. (Click here to read it.) In other words, even proving through a paternity test that a man is not the biological father may not be enough to reopen the question of paternity.
Domonique L. Parker found that out the hard way.
After he and his previous girlfriend had broken up, he discovered through an anonymous letter that the boy she had had during their relationship might not be his son. Two separate DNA tests, one Parker took on his own, the other court-ordered, established that the boy was not his. But Parker had signed an acknowledgment of paternity when the child was born and had not rescinded it. He therefore had to go to court to try to reopen the paternity question. A judge found there had not been “fraud, duress or a material mistake,” and therefore refused to reopen paternity. Parker is still considered the legal father, responsible for child support, among things.
Parker, who manages a club, said he’s been devastated by the experience.
“I lived for him. Everything was about my son, my son, my son,” he said. He said he’s now not even supposed to tell the child he’s not his father. “What happens when he grows up and finds out I’m not his father. He’s going to hate me.” This “changes so much,” Parker said. “It’s like fighting a battle every day.”
Parker said readily available paternity testing is “something that’s needed in the community.” He added, “A lot of guys just don’t know.”
“Hard To Reopen Paternity”
Nationally, instances of “paternity fraud,” as it is known, are rare. It is higher among children born to younger parents, to unmarried couples and to those with lower socioeconomic status.
Saundra Huggins, a lawyer with an office on Dixwell Avenue in Hamden, said Connecticut courts are reluctant to reopen cases when the man has held himself out to be the father, even if it turns out that biologically he’s not. The cases tend to be complicated and depend on unique factual circumstances. Still, they convey the sense that judges consider it in the child’s best interests to expect a man who has acted like a father to continue to be the father.
In addition to the problem of incorrectly acknowledging the child at birth, Huggins said, men can also find themselves in a difficult situation should a child’s mother file for public assistance. According to state law and as a result of a federal mandate, mothers who file for welfare must name the child’s father or risk being denied aid; the DSS support staff can help the mother establish paternity. If the putative father doesn’t respond to legal notifications that he has been named the father, either because he never received them or because he chose to ignore them, he can be named the father by default. At that point, he bears financial responsibility for the child.
“It’s hard to reopen paternity,” said Huggins, who once contracted with the state to represent fathers in paternity actions. “The father has a better chance if he can prove lack of notice.”
Winston, the DNA clinic owner, said her ex-husband was found to be a parent by default even though a DNA test proved he wasn’t the biological father. Winston said she hopes her clinic can help head off such problems. Men can take the test before they acknowledge paternity or ignore notices of parental responsibility.
“Being able to drive by and see a sign for DNA testing right on Sherman Avenue” could help, Huggins said. But men also need to get rid of their “go with the flow” attitude, Huggins said. When DNA testing is suggested too many respond, “`I’m straight. I don’t need it.’”
Huggins also would like to see the government be more aggressive in pushing DNA testing. Right now, government officials will ask men if they want testing, Huggins said. Instead, they need to be saying, you should get DNA testing.