A recent paternity issue involving Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has got some folks wondering: when do kids get their say?

Here’s the backstory: Texas legend Jerry Jones allegedly fathered a baby girl by a married woman named Cynthia Davis Spencer in 1996. Through his lawyer, Jones reportedly paid the babymama $375k and set up trust funds for the mother and baby. In exchange, he got an agreement to avoid child support and forever keep his identity secret. That baby girl, Alexandra Davis, is now a grown woman and political aide. She is asking the courts to uphold the financial benefits of her mother’s settlement, but to release her from the confidentiality agreement her mom committed them to, 25 years ago.

The simple truth is that you could probably fill a football stadium with all the yet-untold paternity and adoption secrets buried in courthouses all across Texas.

Buying Out One’s Paternal Responsibilities

It’s a dirty little secret that in Texas and elsewhere, it is possible for men to worm their way out of being responsible for the children they father– if they have the right lawyers, enough money and mothers willing to sell out their children’s birthright. Put another way: responsible fathers pay child support, while conniving rich dads negotiate sealed settlements with consenting partners.

If true, Jerry Jones certainly wouldn’t be the first Texas male to have paid his sancha off to keep his transgressions hidden. (This just might happen more than most folks realize.)

And Spencer isn’t the only woman to ever be offered hush money in lieu of child support Basketball ball star Tristian Thompson allegedly offered trainer Maralee Nichols a paltry $75k in lieu of child support, thinking Texas laws would protect his retirement income. Texan Cindy Renae Parker filed a paternity suit again rapper Future in 10/19 after turning down a monetary settlement to keep quiet about her child Legend’s dad.

Alex Davis surely isn’t the only adult in Texas to question why, as an adult, she is legally bound to a contract in which she had no say? Years ago, Abrazo staffers knew a local woman who was haunted by her mom’s financial agreement to keep secret her affair with the wealthy local business man who’d fathered her. By the time she was old enough to understand why her dad chose not to be identified, the money her mom had received was long gone, yet the pain of that paternal denial lingered on. She knew who he was, he knew who she was, but both her parents went to their graves without him ever publicly acknowledging his beautiful daughter– an unintentional but still-stinging rebuke of her, through no fault of her own.

It is deeply hurtful to have your existence denied and your identity defined by the very people who were responsible for it. To continue to be burdened by their decisions decades later only adds insult to injury.

Adoptees Face a Me-Too Moment

Adult adoptees likewise question why they are bound to the terms of ancient adoption decisions made by their birthparents and adoptive parents with no input from the adoptee? It is possible for some adoptees to reverse an adoption by asking the court to emancipate them or to reverse the adoption order. Typically, however, this requires evidence and grounds (such as documented abuse or irreversible harm.) More often, however, adoptees are not seeking to undo the adoption, but simply to reunite with long-missing birth relatives or to access their original birth records or to discern the facts of their genetic medical history. Why continue to deny them this?

The laws of every state contain provisions that authorize legal parents and guardians to make decisions on behalf of the best interests of children, of course. This is necessary for the protection of minors and others who are unable to speak for themselves. At what point, however, should grown adoptees no longer be bound to the effects of their parents’ decisions on their behalf as children?

This becomes particularly relevant when one remembers that in most states across America, adult adoptees are still treated like children and legally denied access to their own original birth records. In Texas, for example, any adult adoptee who never knew their birthparents’ names or ethnicity is still prohibited by law from receiving a copy of his or her own original birth certificate— a clear violation of their civil rights, since any other legal adult in America is entitled to access their own legal and medical records.

When Do Kids Get Their Say? How About Now?

The Jones/Davis dispute potentially has interesting implications for adoptees, as Davis’ suit specifically asks the court to release her from being bound to her mother’s agreement/s, since she was not a party to it. She is asking that such settlements be ruled unenforceable going forward, to prevent children from being sued for identifying their bio-parents. (This could make some powerful people very nervous, including a former Texas senator rumored to have fathered babies out of wedlock that were allegedly placed for adoption.) Why shouldn’t every American be entitled to the truth of their own parentage?

The 14th amendment of the US Constitution states that “no state shall make or enforce any law that shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Obviously, the best interests of children make it necessary for parents to make difficult decisions on behalf of their minor children. When those children are grown, though, they shouldn’t have to still be asking “when do kids get their say?” We say the time is now to enable all adult Texans the right to know who they are, see their own birth records, and say their own truth, as they see fit.

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