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What is paternity fraud, and is it a crime?
If a man is led to believe by a woman that he is the father of her child when he is not, and the woman knows that he is not, this is paternity fraud. In limited circumstances, he may be able to bring a claim for damages if he has paid money to maintain the child because of the deceit.
Paternity fraud is suspected to be a widespread issue. While it is impossible to estimate exactly how many men are unknowingly raising a child that is not theirs biologically, it could be a substantial number.
Some men are able to continue to father the child and concentrate on having a loving relationship with them after finding out the truth. However, in some cases the deception is distressing and they want compensation for what has happened and for the money they have paid to maintain the child. This is more likely to be the case if the purported father’s relationship with the mother has broken down.
Our family law solicitors can advise you if you believe you are a victim of paternity fraud or if a paternity fraud claim is being brought against you. We have extensive experience in dealing with family law, including complex cases involving paternity.
For more information about our services, see child law solicitors.
What to do if you have concerns over paternity
You are advised to deal sensitively with any concerns you may have about your child’s paternity, particularly if your child is old enough to understand any change in your relationship.
An online testing kit is not always recommended and the results would not be accepted by the court. If you do wish to test your DNA with your child’s you can try this type of test first if you choose to, but you would need to use a court approved testing company if you wanted to bring proceedings in the future.
It should be noted that it is an offence to possess without consent any material with the intent of analysing it for DNA.
If you do believe that your child might not be yours biologically and you want to know the truth at some stage, having a test carried out early on will give you the chance to consider what you want to happen as soon as possible. By waiting, you may find the situation harder to deal with.
Our family law team can discuss matters with you if you need advice and if you decide to proceed with a DNA test, we can arrange for this to be carried out.
Before going ahead however, you are advised to consider what you might want to happen if you were to discover that you are not your child’s biological father.
Making a claim for paternity fraud
If you discover that a child you have raised or are raising is not your biological child although you were led to believe by their mother that you were their natural father, you may be able to bring a claim for compensation for paternity fraud.
This is a wrong known as a tort, in this case, the tort of deceit. To show that you have been a victim of deceit, you will need to show the following:
- That you were told in words or conduct that the child was yours – mere silence is not enough to satisfy this requirement
- That the child’s mother knew that the fact was not true at the time you were told
- That the representation she made was fraudulent and was either deliberately or recklessly made to you with the intention that you would act upon it
- That you suffered loss as a result of the deceit
There is a time limit in which to bring a claim. This is six years from the date of discovering the deceit or from the date on which you should reasonably have known of it.
Paternity fraud consequences UK
Where fraud is proved, the judge will consider all the facts of the case and how much compensation it will be fair to award.
This could include:
- Compensation for the distress and loss suffered, to include emotional loss, loss of options such as having a child of your own and financial losses because of perceived fatherhood, including loss of earnings
- Financial losses such as the cost of holidays and meals
The court is unlikely to compensate an individual for all of the costs of raising a child where someone has taken on the role of a parent. This is because it is generally expected that someone raising a child as their own will contribute to maintenance, whether or not they are biologically related.
Similarly, where a family court has ordered maintenance to be paid, it will not be possible to claim this back if the father has been sharing in the raising of the child.
If the father had no relationship with the child but had made child support payments over the years, the situation might be different and the court could decide to reimburse some of this money.
Where a family court has made a property settlement based on what were believed to be the facts, i.e. that the man was the child’s biological father, then it may be possible to ask the court to revisit its order and make changes. The deception on the part of the mother is conduct that the court has a right to consider in deciding how to divide matrimonial assets.
Paternity fraud FAQs
What is paternity fraud UK?
Paternity fraud is when a man is told that a child is his by the child’s mother, who is aware that this is not the case. For some, this situation can be short-lived, if the man finds out early on.
When a man has raised a child for many years believing them to be biologically theirs, it can be emotionally very difficult to discover the truth. Some men may choose to continue in their role as father to a child they love. Most problems arise after the breakdown of the relationship with the child’s mother, particularly if they are asked to continue to contribute to the child’s maintenance.
There is no easy solution to this situation, but the courts will always put the interests of the child at the forefront of any decisions they make.
How common is paternity fraud?
While it is very difficult to accurately estimate the frequency of paternity fraud, there have been suggestions that it could be as high as 5%, although it should be noted that those likely to agree to testing may be more likely to be those who have suspicions.
Is paternity fraud a crime?
While there is no such thing as paternity fraud crime, it can be very distressing to later find out that you have been lied to in this way and this type of fraud is a civil wrong, known as the tort of deceit.
What is paternity fraud punishment UK?
In some cases, men have been awarded many thousands of pounds following years of paternity fraud, although this is a relatively new area of claim.
In a substantial case in 2018, a wealthy individual discovered that he was infertile and that the three sons he had paid to support were not his own. His ex-wife agreed to repay him the sum of £250,000 from her £4 million divorce settlement.
In a 2009 case, a man sought compensation for his wife’s deceit in allowing him to raise children that were discovered not to be his biologically. He also asked the court for a financial remedy for the money he had paid out over the years.
The court said that there were limited cases in which a former husband could seek damages for paternity fraud. However, the court was entitled to consider the parties’ conduct when dealing with finances in a divorce and a separate claim for deceit was not appropriate. In fact, it would interfere with the judge’s powers in the financial case. The husband’s case was struck out as an abuse of process.
Whether you will be entitled to compensation will depend on the circumstances of your case. While you may not be repaid the money you used to raise a child as your own, you may be able to reclaim some expenses paid over and above this that might otherwise not have been paid.
However, the courts will prefer to deal with financial matters within divorce financial proceedings wherever possible. The law allows for the wife’s conduct to be taken into account where it is relevant and gives the judge the authority to look at all the circumstances of the case when making a judgment.
Get in touch with our paternity fraud solicitors in London and South East England
Our experienced family law solicitors fully understand how difficult and sensitive paternity fraud is and you will find us to be approachable and easy to talk to. We will tailor our advice to your unique situation and work with you to identify the best outcome.