Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for 16-year-old Hannah Anderson...
News outlets across the country reported Wednesday morning that a relative of James Lee DiMaggio, the longtime family friend believed to have killed Anderson's mother and 8-year-old brother before abducting the teen, wants a paternity test conducted to determine whether DiMaggio fathered the two children.
According to the New York Daily News, DiMaggio's sister, Lora Robinson, requested the test after learning that DiMaggio had left $112,000 in life insurance benefits to the children's grandmother, Bernice Anderson. Robinson is not contesting the benefits, the News reported.
Setting aside the strangeness of this latest twist in an already bizarre story, the request raises an interesting policy question: Who has the right to challenge a child's paternity?
Here, the test is being sought not by someone claiming to be the father (or trying to disprove an accusation of paternity); as far as the public record shows, DiMaggio never asserted such a claim. Nor, evidently, had Hannah's late mother, Christina Anderson, or her father, Brett Anderson, who were separated.
Instead, the request is coming from an immediate relative who has no obvious financial or family stake in the matter. Even if Robinson were seeking to take custody of Hannah -- and there's no indication that she is -- it's hard to imagine a judge favoring her over Brett Anderson. Besides, Hannah is old enough to choose for herself where she will stay.
Kathryn Kirkland, a family law attorney in San Francisco, said that Robinson almost certainly had no legal right to ask a court to order the test. After a child born to a married couple living together reaches age 2, Kirkland said, California law allows only the mother or the child to make such a request, and only in certain circumstances.
And if Hannah had been adopted, Robinson would have even less ability to demand a test at this point, Kirkland said.
Even if there were no legal or practical hurdles involved, the right policy here would be to reject requests like Robinson's out of hand. Unless it's relevant to a claim on a disputed estate, there seems no good reason to allow a third party to try to assign paternity to a dead person who hadn't claimed it. That's especially true when the mother is dead as well.
The hypothetical raised by Robinson simply isn't worth trying to prove. Anything DiMaggio's relatives might gain from the testing would be more than offset by the potential harm to Hannah's. Her story has fueled more than enough harmful speculation as it is.
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