Family judges empowered to order paternity tests

Family Law|February 17th 2015

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

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  1. David Nicholson says:

    Marilyn you make a really important point in that it is the individual that raises a child, that takes responsibility for a child that is seen and felt by the child as their father. There is most certainly a difference between being a biological father and being a child’s father – loving and supporting that child. It was one of the important areas explored when delivering the results of testing.

  2. Luke says:

    “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.”
    Well that’s purely a matter of opinion, biology is extremely important too in my view – I think the mother should be forced to provide access rights to the biological father if he so desires, that seems to be the least that should be done.
    Most women I know seem to regard the biological father as less important than the biological mother – if a mother found that she’d been given the wrong baby at the hospital I do not think that they would treat the fact with the same extraordinary equanimity as they do in these cases.
    As we’ve said before there is an easy answer to all this, the default position should be a DNA test at birth – problem solved. The only people who won’t like this are mothers who commit paternity fraud and their supporters.

  3. Nordic says:

    How do you know that biology “is not the most important part of fatherhood”? While acknowledging that you do not speak for the fathers in this context, you still seem to think you speak for the children involved. I was a child blessed with 2 dads, both of whom I care about very much. However, it would be ignorant nonsense to suggest that the biology I share with one of them is of little consequence to me. Biology hugely shapes who we are, how we look and many aspects of our fundamental character. To understand who you are, you need to know where you come from. Why do you think so many adopted kids later in life go looking for biological parents they have never known? It also matters hugely to the parents (of both gender). Why do you think infertile couples are willing to go through tremendous efforts and invasive procedures to conceive a child that shares (some) biology with them (rather than just adopt)?
    It is patently right that the courts now can order paternity tests. While the results of such tests at the time may be very upsetting for the children involved, this does not mean that they would rather be kept in the dark. Biology matters to children, to fathers and to mothers.

  4. RK says:

    The notion that ” biology is not the most important part of fatherhood” is false in paternity cases. A claim of biological relationship made by the deceitful mother was the reason why the defrauded man entered the paternal relationship in the first place. In other words, the claim was the necessary condition for the father-child relationship to be established in the first place.

    The progress in science and medicine has demonstrated that the influence and importance of human biology is much more profound and significant than what we thought it to be. Denial of the weight biology holds on humans only shows ignorance of what have been discovered and established in the fields of science and medicine.

    Also it matters little or it just does not matter how long the relationship based on what is false or what is wrong has lasted. What started out as a fraud does not become a legitimate act only because it continued for some time or it was not discovered to be fraudulent for a while. In another example, what started out as rape does not become consensual sex, only because the sexual act has continued for some period of time or the raped female did not resist or stopped resisting.

    The most important point is on what condition an act or relation was founded, and the truth or falsity of its condition. The period of being defrauded or raped does not change the fraud or the rape into a lawful act.

    Indeed, a revelation of truth can trouble the involved parties. From criminal courts that discover somebody a murderer or rapist to civil courts showing that someone has committed a fraud – all the uncomfortable truth. However, that is what happens in courts and in laws and that is what they are for. If you are opposed to this, you are against an investigation of any sort that attempts to discover the truth as well as the fundamental operation of the legal system.

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