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Politics

Wisdom of signing paternity papers debated

Charlie Crist may have wanted to make a nuisance go away, but others would advise getting a paternity test.

By ADAM C. SMITH
Published January 25, 2007


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[Times photos]
The governor says there's no way he's the father. Rebecca O'Dell Townsend said the girl was fathered by Crist after a one-time encounter in 1988.

If a man is sure he couldn't be the father of a child, why would he sign legal documents that would forever record a paternity allegation against him?

Charlie Crist has not explained why in 1989 he signed legal papers surrendering parental rights and consenting to the adoption of a little girl he was accused of fathering. In those documents, he said he couldn't be the father.

But lawyers who specialize in adoption and paternity issues say Crist may have just wanted to facilitate the adoption and get rid of a nuisance charge quickly and quietly.

"That's very common," said Jeanne Tate, a Tampa adoption lawyer.

Tate noted that once a person is named as a possible birth father, an adoption professional has an obligation to make sure that person will not assert parental rights and fight an adoption.

"The attorneys would have said to this birth father, or possible birth father, 'Would you please sign something to say you're not objecting to this adoption and give the adoptive parents some peace of mind?' " said Tate.

She said Crist probably would have faced a legal fight if he refused to sign.

But other adoption professionals question whether signing such documents, even to help clear an adoption, is wise for a man who is certain, as Crist claimed, that he could not be the father.

"I would tell my client to get a paternity test," said Jerome Ventura, a Pembroke Pines family law attorney experienced in paternity disputes. "If somebody were accusing me of being the father of the child and I hadn't slept with them, I would say, 'You're crazy. Let's get a paternity test.' "

Rebecca Townsend, the biological mother who said Crist fathered her daughter, was separated from her husband at the time of the conception and in divorce papers said her estranged husband was not the father. Her husband agreed with her, and also signed legal papers consenting to the adoption.

The adoption lawyer who handled the case, Michael Brown, declined to comment, but Townsend recalled him telling her that he would advise Crist to get a lawyer and that Crist would invariably deny paternity and do whatever was "expedient."

[Last modified January 25, 2007, 10:45:48]


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