In the Name of the Father

What you can do if your child turns out not to be yours – Paternity Fraud

According to the latest research, in the UK at least one in every 50 men is busy raising and supporting a child that is not their own. That equates to 2 % of all men who think they are a father!

Potentially devastating to both the child and the assumed father, paternity fraud is a very real and serious issue in the United Kingdom, but one that is seldom given much press.

To their credit, many men who find themselves in this situation continue to love and care for the child in question as their own and never reveal the truth for fear of the emotional backlash that such knowledge can cause. Often they feel cheated by the sheer level of deceit they have been exposed to and think that there is nothing that they can do. But this is not true: Wronged fathers can actually claim compensation from a deceitful mother.

Below, we explore how and why…

Why biology matters

The idea of compensation being sought by a man because a child he is raising turns out not to be his own offends some people. Such men are often accused of somehow betraying their family or being more concerned with money than resolving the issue at hand. However, removing considerations of the emotional betrayal involved in paternity fraud; from an evolutionary perspective, investing in another man’s child can be a disaster for men. The fear of spending time and resources on a child that does not carry their genes is said to be one of the root causes of male sexual jealously and has provided the basis for many great characters in literature; from Shakespeare’s Othello to Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale.

So why is it that some women can commit such an horrendous act of betrayal?

Again, blame evolution. While men are primed to sire as many offspring as possible with as little material investment as they can get away with, a woman’s primal goal is to ensure a male remains with her, providing protection and resources for at least the first four years of an infant’s life (the average age at which our prehistoric ancestors were weaned).

Also, unlike men who can father children right up until their seniority, women are limited to the eggs they were born with, maturing at a rate of one a month and not much past their fourth decade of life. The precious few shots that women have at reproduction may drive them to seek the best mate for prospective offspring, irrespective of their social relationships — though the decision might be wholly unconscious.

Not that any of this is comfort to a man who suddenly discovers a child he has been raising is not his. But at least now men know that they are not alone.

A man who was awarded compensation

Richard Rodwell was just an ordinary father, paying child maintenance after separating from the wife of his two children (or so he believed) until 2008 when a DNA paternity test showed his daughter was not his biological child. He later found out his son was not his either.

Mr Rodwell took his wife to court for ‘deceit’ and was awarded compensation of £12,500 for each child in 2011, along with costs of £25,000. His lawyer told the press, “The court treated it as akin to bereavement, awarding a similar sum to the one you would receive if your child died in an accident.”

Prior to Mr Rodwell’s case, there had only been a handful of decisions which touched on the issue of paternity fraud. In P v B, the court decided that the tort of deceit applied between a cohabiting couple, but did not go on to consider the issue of damages. In A v B Sir John Blofeld awarded general damages of £7,500 and special damages of £14,900 (relating to holidays and restaurant meals).

The analogy between bereavement and paternity fraud was discussed in A v B but the court considered that damages for bereavement were not appropriate in such cases because “a bereavement is final and irreversible”. Mr Rodwell was found to have no relationship with either of his children, therefore the court must have been prepared to contemplate that there was no possibility of reconciliation with either child, hence the award of damages in the case.

The elements of the tort of deceit

The ingredients of the tort of deceit can be summarised as: A party must make

  • A form of representation in relation to a fact by the saying of words and/or conduct (mere silence is not enough).
  • He/she must know that that fact is untrue at the time the representation is made and
  • The representation itself must be fraudulent, either deliberately or recklessly and made with the intention that it will be acted upon.
  • The claimant must prove that he/she suffered loss or damage

A claimant must issue their claim within six years of discovering the fraud or the time from which they could, with reasonable diligence, have discovered it.

Balancing the moral argument

The courts have been at pains to stress that ‘the law must take the birth of a normal, healthy baby to be a blessing, not a detriment. ‘It is morally offensive to regard a normal, healthy baby as more trouble and expense than it is worth’ (McFarlane v Tayside Health Board).

The prevailing view seems to be that an action in the tort of deceit is not the appropriate way to either vary child maintenance, or ‘refund’ the costs of raising a child via damages. It appears to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths:

In A v B Sir John Blofeld cited public policy as a justification for refusing damages relating to the costs of looking after children. But this seems blatantly unfair on those fathers who have been forced to raise someone else’s child, having been deceived by their partner.

The law is still unclear

The law relating to parental fraud is still far from clear. Mr Rodwell’s case shows that compensation can definitely be awarded in similar cases – but the question remains; would the court’s judgment be the same if Mr Rodwell still had a warm, ongoing relationship with the children? The answer appears to be no but again, this appears to punish the father for maintaining strong and stable relationships with children he has raised for many years, suffering not just financial detriment but also the physical and emotional ‘ups and downs’ of raising children.

Until and unless more brave men decide to bring their cases before the courts and thereby force the Court into examining the issues that need to be resolved, those men who have been deceived, lied to and taken advantage of may well be denied justice, lose their money, their chance at fatherhood, and often, their faith in humanity.

In 2016, such a situation should not and cannot be allowed to continue.

Saracens Solicitors is a London based law firm with experienced dispute resolution and family law departments to help you.

If you wish to talk further about any of the issues raised in this article, please feel free to call me on 020 3588 3500.

If you have any comments to make, please add them in the comments section below.