What do you do if you’re told that a child you thought was yours isn’t actually your flesh and blood? What if you’re told that a child is yours, but you’re in doubt? Resolving paternity disputes legally can be a minefield, not to mention highly emotive and difficult for all involved.
Issues over a child’s paternity can arise during pregnancy or when they’re much older and have a sense of their identity. Most paternity disputes tend to surface after a couple has separated and tend to be prompted in the event of an application for contact, parental responsibility or financial support for children.
Legally, proof of a child’s paternity can be established using a DNA test carried out under controlled conditions. Due to the susceptibility of off-the-self DNA tests to tampering, family courts won’t typically accept them as evidence.
To find an accredited DNA testing service, the Ministry of Justice has an up to date list of accredited services that meet stringent criteria to ensure that DNA evidence is accurate and reliable.
Most paternity disputes tend to arise over the issue of child maintenance, typically whereby a father is questioning their parentage of a child in order to oppose child support costs. Under these circumstances, the Child Maintenance Service can order the ‘father’ to get a DNA test and will notify them of the laboratory to use.
The test fee which is currently £239.40 must be paid by the ‘father’, but this is refunded if it’s proven that they are not the parent. Test charges will be higher if more than one child is tested.
In some cases, the Child Maintenance service will pay the DNA test fee if the ‘parent’ subject to testing cannot afford to pay, but this must be paid back if it turns out they are the parent.
Until DNA test results are confirmed, the father, as named by the mother, must pay child maintenance costs.
If a child is under the age of 18, their consent is not needed for a DNA test. However, the consent of the main carer is required.
DNA test refused
If one party refuses a DNA test, the other can apply to the court for a declaration of parentage. The court does have statutory powers to order scientific testing in paternity disputes if one party objects to testing. However, the court will consider whether DNA testing is in the best interests of a child.
Irrespective of who is requesting a paternity test, express written permission is required from any adult providing their DNA for testing. Obtaining a DNA sample without permission is a criminal offence.
DNA test outcomes
The outcome of a DNA test is not a guarantee of anything. For example, if a DNA test was requested by a father looking to establish contact with a child, a positive test does not mean they will be granted access to a child, the test simply means that he is recognised as a child’s biological father in the eyes of the law.
A court of law will often stress the importance of a child’s biological origin for the child’s sense of identity. It is widely accepted in family law that, unless there are exceptional circumstances, a child’s true identity is best made known to lessen the emotional fallout.
How Holland Family Law can help with paternity disputes
The decision to challenge the paternity of a child can be very, very difficult. We’re here to help give you clear, sensible guidance on the options available to you. Our ethos is to handle cases constructively, so we approach paternity disputes with compassion, sensitivity and tact.
Even if the outcome of a DNA test is not the result you wanted, it’s possible that the court will find that maintaining a relationship with you is in the best interests of the child.