Father’s care comes late, after adoption
By Clive McFarlane
April 29, 2009 / telegram.com
Joseph Becker is no pin-up dad, and he doesn’t claim to be one.
In 1988, after someone took a baseball bat to his head, he came out of a 3-1/2 month coma to learn that he was the father of a baby girl.
He demanded a DNA test and got one. He was the father, according to the test results he was provided. He was ordered to pay child support, but was unable to at the time because of his injuries.
Then, in 2002, he was notified that he had a son, Paul Michael Smith, born in 1994, and that he had to start making child support and medical support payments. He demanded a DNA test and received a letter a couple of months later saying the DNA test had identified him as the father.
Although he wasn’t provided with a copy of the results until 2008, he said he began making child support and medical payments starting in mid-2003.
In April 2008, he received a letter from the Department of Revenue saying he was no longer required to pay child support for his son because the boy had been adopted on Dec. 28, 2005.
This came as a shock to Mr. Becker, who is originally from Brockton but now lives in Colorado. Not only was he unaware that his son was in the Department of Social Services’ care, but until he was notified of the adoption, child support payments were being deducted from his paychecks.
“They were collecting from me, even though he had been adopted, and that I believe is criminal,” he said. “But it’s really not about the money. Why wasn’t I notified that he was in DSS care? Why wasn’t I notified about the adoption proceedings? I might not have been able to care for him, but perhaps a family member would have been able to adopt him. At the very least, he should know that he has a father who cares for him.”
Mr. Becker said numerous attempts over the years to communicate with his son were blocked by the boy’s mother, so he did not expect her to tell him about DSS involvement and the adoption, but he believes DSS should have involved him in the adoption proceedings.
Alison Goodwin, a DSS spokeswoman, would only say that the agency is in contact with Mr. Becker and is in the process of working with him.
The DOR did not respond to both a verbal and a written request for comment.
But in documents provided by Mr. Becker, Dennis Gauthier, area director of the DSS New Bedford office, which handled the adoption, said DSS could not find Mr. Becker to notify him of his son’s adoption.
“At the time the matter was before the court I do not find a record of contact with the Department of Revenue,” he wrote to Mr. Becker.
According to a copy of the case file, DSS issued a summons for Mr. Becker on Dec. 12, 2003, but there is no record of the summons being served. The file also noted that DSS determined on Feb. 18, 2004, that its agents made reasonable efforts to “make it possible for the child to return safely to his/her parent or guardian,” and concluded on Oct. 5, 2004, that notifying Mr. Becker or seeking his consent was not required to finalize the adoption.
So, about six months after Mr. Becker was notified that he was the father of Paul Michael Smith and was obligated to pay child support, DSS could not find him to let him know that his son, who was then in their custody, was being placed for adoption.
Mr. Becker wonders who was receiving his child support payments. If it was DSS, their claim of not having a contact for him is suspect, he said. If it was the mother, then she was being paid for supporting a child in DSS care. In either case, there appears to be a flaw in the system.
The DOR initially told him he could sue the mother to get some of his money back, but later, after he consulted with a lawyer, he was told that his post-adoption child support payments went to cover delinquent “back support.”
Mr. Becker said the math doesn’t support that claim.
“But I am not arguing about the money,” he said.
“It is just wrong what they did to me. They didn’t care about my rights as a father, and they didn’t care about placing my son with a family member. My paychecks were all they were interested in.”