Family law judge David Hanschen may have received an "Excellent" job approval rating of just 14 percent on the Dallas Bar Association's 2009 Judicial Evaluation Poll, but he's celebrating a victory in what had been a bitter struggle for him just last year.
After facing off with the Office of the Attorney General over the way the state enforces child support -- which we detailed in this 2008 cover story -- more than a year later, he and the office have collaborated on substantive policy changes. Hanschen's fight with the state stemmed from the fact that he'd recommended paternity tests for fathers in child support cases, even in instances when the 4-year statute of limitations had run out. (Under Texas law, a man has only four years to request DNA testing if he was married to the mother when the child was born, or if he acknowledged being the father at birth.)
Yet as of the past month, he tells Unfair Park, OAG attorneys have agreed to stop appealing orders for paternity testing simply due to the 4-year rule. Why? Because he and the OAG collaborated on legislation that would have repealed the 4-year statute of limitations, only to see the bill die in the Texas House during the filibuster over voter ID legislation. So, they settled on a policy shift.
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"It's a substantial reversal of the OAG policy, and I applaud them for it," Hanschen says. "If a father knows with medical certainty that he's really the father, he's much more likely to pay child support and remain active in the child's life. And that's what we're up to here."
In addition, he says, the OAG has opened a pilot program in Houston that allows parents an almost immediate paternity test following a child support review hearing. "An on the spot test is going to solve so many problems down the line," Hanschen says. Of his new working relationship with the OAG and the ensuing results? "It's a complete transformation."
So, what say the OAG on this turnabout? "Judge Hanschen is committed to thinking creatively to solve problems," Janece Rolf, spokeswoman for the office's Child Support Division, wrote in an e-mailed statement. "We are grateful to Judge Hanschen for his willingness to work cooperatively with us for the benefit of Texas families."