Family judges in England will soon have the power to order paternity tests, the government has announced.
The new power will be introduced across the country in September. It follows two pilot schemes in Bristol and Taunton, which were launched by the Ministry of after “anecdotal evidence” suggested that arguments in court over parentage caused delays in divorce cases.
Findings from these schemes indicated that judges would be more confident in their decisions and parents would be more likely to follow court orders if paternity tests were done.
Justice Minister Simon Hughes said “all cases involving children should be resolved quickly” and, if possible, outside of the courts. However, when that is not possible, such cases “should be resolved in a civilised way so that children don’t suffer”.
He claimed that giving family judges the power to order paternity tests would “help to end acrimonious and embarrassing court battles”.
It sounds very straight forward in theory. A simple test confirms paternity and all parties can move on with the case in a rational way. But what happens if the tests reveal that the husband in a divorce case is not the father of the children?
So-called ‘paternity fraud’ can be devastating. If a man discovers that the children he has loved and looked after for years are not biologically his, the sense of betrayal can be overwhelming. Last year, a man was awarded substantial damages when DNA testing revealed that he was not the father of two children he had raised. The court in that case treated the revelation as akin to bereavement.
It is totally understandable that this man, or any other in similar circumstances, would feel like his entire world had come crashing down around him. However, biology is not the most important part of fatherhood. A paternity test should not invalidate years of love and support. If a man has raised children as his own, he is more of a father to them than whoever their mother had an affair with. Similarly, people who adopt a child or have one using a sperm donor are no less parents than those who conceive in the usual way.
While giving family judges the power to order a DNA test may reduce some delays in divorce cases, it is important to remember that there is much more to being a father than simple biology and the interests of the child should surely come first.
However, as readers to this blog will know, fathers in this situation and their supporters vehemently disagree with me. I fact, I recall one particular day when the blog was strained to its capacity with men wishing to make their points as stridently as they could.
Photo by Charles Gregg via Flickr