Paternity issues
Parentage, especially paternity
Misattributed paternity rates and non-paternity rates
Paternity test statistics don't show the rate of paternity fraud
Children's rights
Paternity tests for peace of mind
Some links to paternity testing services
Paternity testing fallacies
Paternity fraud
Other material:
Infidelity testing - technologies and services
Wives & female partners who "conceive away"
Child Support & Paternity Establishment & the Genome Project
Some papers on this website on the subject of paternity testing:
"The truth is out there" - Commentary on "Move to outlaw secret DNA testing by fathers"
"Knowledge is bliss" - Towards a society without paternity surprises
What is the crime if men seek confirmation that children are theirs?
"A matter of opinion" - Unofficial paternity tests and the impacts on children
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Wives & female partners who "conceive away"

Why the bias in the title of this article?

Both men and women in marriages and partnerships "play away" - adultery, or the quasi-marriage equivalent. Both men and women sometimes "conceive away" as a result, and have bio-children. All of these cases have the potential to cause problems (of course!) But the cases where the wife / woman conceives away, and so a child born into a household does not have the man of the household as the bio-father, causes special problems. There can be a sorry mess that screws up the children and all of the adults concerned. Law makers have an inconsistent approach to dealing with the situation, and sometimes the result can appear brutally unfair.

These problems don't exist if the the deception is never discovered. "Ignorance is bliss" (except that it normally isn't a good idea to base a society on ignorance). However, ignorance will cease to be an option. Technology such as DNA testing enables the deception to be discovered, but wouldn't be sufficient to cause most of the cases to be discovered. But the health benefits of genetic screening, for example from the Human Genome Project, will be a cause of the deception being discovered. There will be increasing benefits from knowing about a child's genes, and often this will include knowing where they came from.

Various surveys suggest that anything from about 1 in 20 to 1 in 3 children born in marriages are not the bio-children of the husband. A typical number researchers talk about is that "1 in 7" children are "conceived away".

Examples of the problems

Long delay before discovery

Perhaps the most common case is where the man & child have lived together for years as father & child, and then the deception is discovered. Men sometimes describe this as "a blow to the stomach". The child's view are less well documented, but they will typically have less understanding of the unusual nature of their relationship, and at least for a while more acceptance of it. This difference itself can be a problem. Some men simply adapt to it.

Major problems arise if this breaks up the marriage / partnership. What, then, are the relationships between each parent & the child? What are their rights? Their responsibilities? Does what the law says match what they want? Often not. One problematic result is that the man wants to break off all contact, but the law requires him to pay child support until the child is (say) 18. Many nations & states see the need for the child to be financially supported by someone to outweigh the desire of a man not to have anything to do with a child who is not his own bio-child.

In effect this is "presumed paternity". He was married / partnered, so is assumed to have the responsibility. (Whether he also has rights, and whether he wants to exercise those rights, are separate questions).

Yes, the needs of the child are important. But where should the line be drawn? No one suggests that a random man (sticking a pin in the phone book) should be found to support that child. The needs of the child are not so important that a man must be found at all costs. So why this man? How long should he and the child have known one-another in order for this policy to make sense?

The affair breaks up the marriage

At the other extreme it is surely simple. Wife has affair. Husband suspects & files for divorce. Wife has child as a result of the affair before the divorce. Should the husband have to support the child as a result of presumed paternity?

NO! If this case were not so nasty, it would be silly! Of course it is important for the man & child that the REAL bio-father be established and take over responsibility. The child and bio-father need to know of their relationship (for reasons described above). Wives must be discouraged from confusing the relationships (for reasons described above). This is not a moral issue (whatever that means) - to enhance & prolong life it will become vital to know of these relationships, & to have the incentives in place to uncover them instead of cover them up.

(And if there is any doubt about this - consider the case where the mother now marries the real father, and they have then their child living with them. Marriage is not viable if the ex-husband has to pay child support in this case. The incentive for people to deceive others like this in order to gain a future source of income would be ridiculous!)

The future

I believe that:

  • This is the last generation when a significant proportion of children born into (quasi-) marriages in "the Western world" have a paternity that would surprise the (quasi-) husband.
  • This is the last generation in "the Western world" when a significant proportion of children born were not wanted, or at least accepted, by both man & woman at time of sex.

There are at least 4 ways for a woman to ensure that children born into (quasi-) marriages in "the Western world" do not have a paternity that would surprise the (quasi-) husband:

  1. Don't have penetrative sex other than with the (quasi-) husband.
  2. Ensure that you & your lover use adequate contraception.
  3. Have an abortion if necessary.
  4. Terminate the (quasi-) marriage before birth.

It is unlikely that, now that the DNA-testing genie is out, marriage can be restored to its former status - certainly not socially, possibly not legally either. Important issues that were ambiguous before, both inside & outside marriage, can now be resolved with near-certainty. The answer to the question "why should a husband support the child of his wife and her lover?" isn't obvious, especially if that affair is what caused the marriage to fail.

Marriage is a public commitment to one-another, but it is also a way of resolving ambiguities. Now there are other ways, so there are alternative models. The marriage-model and the bio-parentage-model are "competing". Each has advantages to some men & some women - they are not in any sense a male-oriented versus a female-oriented approach.

One of the lobbies which is likely to drive the move to the bio-parentage-model is the cuckolded-husband lobby, see above. This model will probably win, if only because it is based on better knowledge. (It has pretty well won already in the UK - this is talking about whether it will win elsewhere). Where will this leave marriage? It will at least have to be re-thought.

It is preferable that families stay together and that children be raised by two parents rather than a parent and a paycheck. A good starting point in this situation is for a wife not to "conceive away". THAT is the start of the trouble in this discussion. Because of the easy availability of DNA testing, we would expect wives (presumably a minority of them!) to become more careful in future. The current problems may be because we are in a period where the technology to detect "conceiving away" has become available faster than such children could grow up. But will the same problem occur in the next generation?

Whatever the laws on presumption of parentage, DNA tests to detect bio-parentage are presumably here to stay, and will get cheaper, easier & faster. The way people behave in marriage may need to adapt to the availability of these tests.

It would be a VERY good idea for women to stop "conceiving away" ASAP!

The sums

The sums can't be done properly, because there are too many unknowns. But let's look at cases using some over-simplifications. Let's suppose: that during the childhood of children born in 2001 there will be good reasons to examine their genetic inheritance because of medical/genetic advances; and that where the husband is found not to be the father, there will be a divorce. (An over-simplification).

Research gives various results - such as 10%-30% (suspicious range) of children do not have the husband as the bio-father. (That is in the UK - are other parts of the world different?) Say 40% (substitute your own number) of marriages currently end in divorce.

At one extreme, these 10%-30% are part of the 40% who already divorce - but perhaps faster. In which case, from one-quarter to three-quarters of divorces will involve children who are not the bio-children of the husband. So much for "presumed paternity"!

At another extreme, these 10%-30% will be additional to the 40% - and result instead in 50%-70% of marriages failing. Not good! (But the truth is more likely to be in between).

The above sums involve oversimplifications But whatever the future will actually be, there are ways of getting there with fewer problems. And the most important need at the moment is to eliminate, or at least reduce, the number of children born who are not the bio-children of the husband. When genes become an issue within a family for health purposes, it is best if there will be no surprises.

Suppose a law were passed: "one year from now, at the child's birth a husband will have a DNA test to determine paternity - if he is the bio-father his name will automatically be put on the Birth Certificate, & if not it will be done if he requests it". (And the husband would not be responsible for CS if he didn't). So one year from now the husband will KNOW whether a newborn child is his. What would happen?

Sensible wives will avoid such births. (How is a different topic!) Gradually there would be an alignment of family & genetic relationships. This would make things much simpler when the genome-project's shit hits the family fan. This isn't about morals - if there are no surprises in the bio-relationships, things become so much easier & less contentious. When this gene-oriented world has existed for some time, all this will happen anyway - only bio-related children will be born. This discussion is about are the decades while children are growing up into this world.

But can you imagine a government making such a law? Why not? Who knows! But it is still hard to imagine them doing it.

I need someone really bad ... are you really bad?

Page last updated: 27 August, 2005 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003