Paternity issues
Parentage, especially paternity
Misattributed paternity rates and non-paternity rates
Paternity test statistics don't show the rate of paternity fraud
Paternity testing and Islam
Paternity fraud
Paternity tests for peace of mind
Some links to paternity testing services
Paternity testing fallacies
Children's rights

Many articles published on the web have a naive theme: "stop worrying about biological paternity - what matters is raising children". Many others have a contemptuous theme: "children need money to be raised - find the nearest man with a wallet". Here are some commentaries on several of those papers.
Paternity commentaries - index

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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Paternity fraud

What is "paternity fraud"?

"Paternity fraud" is different from "misattributed paternity". Unfortunately, they are sometimes confused with one another.

Misattributed paternity refers to the non-judgemental identification of children who have a biological father other than the man who thinks he is the biological father. Professor Michael Gilding estimated a rate for the total population of 1%-3%, and identified possible rates for "at risk" groups of perhaps 10% or more.

Paternity fraud refers to cases where men, and/or an agency, are deceived in order to obtain money from them, for example via the child support system. Whether there are any such cases in the population that are not at risk depends on one's definition. There are certainly cases of paternity fraud in the at-risk population, and some are well known. Indeed, there is the likelihood that paternity fraud goes back at least 400 years in England!

The term "paternity fraud" is sometimes used elsewhere in broader senses. Some uses include all cases of misattributed paternity, even where the man and woman are still together, and possibly where there is doubt rather than deception. Other uses include deception or secrecy where there may be no direct gain. But broad uses of the term devalue it, and they can obviously lead to confusion. "Fraud" normally refers to a deliberate deception, and one specifically intended for significant gain. Most users would accept that "deception to obtain child support" is an example of "paternity fraud", even though some users include other examples. An article here by Dr Leslie Cannold appears to use it in this sense.

The following, from New Zealand Law Commission, Report 88 [1], is mainly about "misattributed paternity", but clearly also applies to "paternity fraud":

"Any misattribution of paternity is a concern for the law, which should facilitate an accurate determination of paternity. Misattribution opens the possibility for considerable distress and negative effect at a future time. The child and father are under a misapprehension which may often be the result of deception. If the parents separate and the mother has care of the child, the father may be liable to pay regular and ongoing maintenance in the form of Child Support. The underlying social policy is that both parents should continue to support their child, and the taxpayer should not have to pick up the bill. Ongoing financial support required by both parents until children are adults is a significant but necessary long-term restraint on the use of their resources. If a man is not the genetic father, and has never known this, he is suffering a serious injustice."

How common is it?

No one knows. No one has researched how many cases there are in any particular country, and Professor Michael Gilding didn't identify any potential quantities. And how likely is it that reliable figures could be determined for fraud, whether criminal fraud or not?

The rate differs from country to country, and time to time, see below. It is partly under the control of governments, because it depends on the opportunities and deterents provided in law.

Paternity fraud is not just a phenomenon of "Western" countries. For example, the High Court of Gujarat reports on a conference on "Impact Of New Biology On Justice Delivery System: Issues Relating To Dna Finger Printing, Intellectual Property Rights And Ethical, Legal, Social Implications", and mentions paternity fraud. [13.3]

History of paternity fraud

Paternity fraud is not new!

One of the most obvious examples of potential patermity fraud occurred just over 2000 years ago. The fact that people talk about "the Virgin Mary" implies that many people believe that Joseph was not the father of Jesus. Virgin birth is nonsense, and people who believe in it should be ashamed of themselves! I wish we could use paternity testing to identify who Mary had sex, with leading to Jesus. There has been much speculation about this, but no conclusions. Who was Jesus really the son of?

Once laws allowed or required mothers with illegitimate children to name the father, so that he would support her or recompense whatever organisation was supporting her, the opportunity existed for paternity fraud. (Such a law was enacted in 1576 in England). Unless all of those mothers were honest, which is implausible, some of them would lie or hide their doubts. (Some also appear to have used blackmail, to which men were vulnerable until the availability of paternity tests). Here is an early possibility, from Alan Macfarlane [5]:

"In this same year, 1595, Mary Grant had her first bastard baptized in June. Nine months earlier Lawrence Gilott and Mary had been presented for incontinency together, and three months before the baptism she alleged that 'Lawrence Gilott of Earls Colne is the father of her child, wherewith she is with child.' She was excommunicated for non-appearance, as was Gilot.... The accusation against Gilott may not have been sustained for in June Mary Grant was excommunicated again for not appearing to answer the suspicion of being impregnated by another man, Richard Coggeshall of Earls Colne, probably a passing inhabitant as little is known of him."

Parish Poor Law Overseers usually tried to establish the name of the father of an illegitimate child so that he could be made to pay weekly amounts to the mother and thus spare the Roor Rate funds. (These might be covered by "orders of affiliation", "bastardy bonds", or "bastardy recognisance". Several cases are mentioned in Quarter Session records). Sometimes the mothers themselves changed their stories, such as this case from a BBC programme in 2001 [8]:

"The final programme in the series has a story of uncertain paternity at its centre. This is the tale of Elizabeth Curl who gave birth to 'a bastard child on 23 July 1671' and when questioned by parish leaders concerned about the financial implications of the child's care, first named one man as father and then another".

Sometimes there were disputes, as described here from a history of Berkshire [2]. Who can know the truth after all this time? But do we believe that all men were 100% honest? Or that all women were 100% honest? Neither is plausible!

"Some allegations were disputed by the alleged fathers. One example I have come across was that of John Bayly of Streatley, who in 1715/6 enlisted the support of the vicar and churchwardens of the parish against such an allegation. In 1808 John Hoffman attempted to deny his obligation to maintain a ten year old child living in Shinfield on the grounds that he was not the father, although from associated accounts it looks as if his appeal was unsuccessful."

Experiences of paternity fraud dramatically influenced England's "New Poor Law" of 1834:

- From The Finer Report [3]:

"Behind this extreme statement of the providential foundations of the double standard of sexual morality lay the experience of abuses under the old bastardy laws. Under these, if a single woman declared herself pregnant and charged a man with being responsible, the overseers of the poor or any substantial householder could apply to any justice of the peace for a committal warrant.... The Commissioners thought that poor men were at the mercy of blackmail and perjury by unscrupulous women.... The bastardy clauses of the Act of 1834 were in line with the opinions of the Poor Law Commissioners. The laws which had enabled a mother to charge a putative father before the magistrates were repealed".

- From Dorothy L. Haller [6]:

"In the 1833 Poor Law Report, the Commission Report on Bastardy, appointed the previous year to investigate the situation, revealed that the Poor Laws encouraged licentiousness and illegitimacy because parish relief was so readily accessible for bastards and their mothers.... Young men, accused solely on the word of the mothers and unable to pay the surety, were, innocent or guilty, forced into early and unsuitable marriages which the commission felt were detrimental to the country".

- Small extract from Poor Law Commissioners' Report of 1834 [7]:

"It seems ... that proceedings under this statute may be altogether ex parte. No summons need issue to bring the person accused before the justice; and it appears unnecessary that he should be present at the woman's examination. When the reputed father is brought by warrant before the justice, the magistrate has no power to examine into the merits of the case, but is bound by the express terms of the statute to commit him to the common gaol or house of correction, unless he gives security, or enters into a recognizance with sufficient surety.... In garrisons in particular, it is a common practice to swear the child to a soldier, from whom nothing can be recovered, and who can only be sent to the tread-wheel for a short time. Indeed, so general is the system of compromise, that it was the opinion of the most experienced parochial officers, that, from ignorance and wilful perjury combined, nine bastards in ten are falsely sworn in towns.... Your Lordships are aware, that when a bastard child is sworn to a man, the magistrates will not go into the question, whether the woman has had any connexion with any other man. The consequence is, that a woman of dissolute character may pitch upon any unfortunate young man whom she has inveigled into her net, and swear that child to him; and the effect of the law, as it now stands, will be to oblige the man to marry her".

This illustrates why the rate of paternity fraud differs from country to country, and time to time. It depends on: the opportunities provided by the laws of a country for women, or men, to benefit financially by deception about paternity; and the penalties that might deter those who are tempted by these opportunities. For example, the 1834 Act largely removed the opportunity, and instead of getting financial assistance, a woman with an illegitimate child typically had to go to a workhouse. Alternatively, severe penalties for paternity fraud would reduce the rate in a country even if the opportunity remained. Use of paternity tests in 100% of child support cases would be another mechanism.

How the UK process reduces paternity fraud

The UK has one of the worst child support agencies in the world. That is why this website exists. But it has perhaps one of the world's most enlightened uses of paternity testing as part of its child support system. It is normally easy to obtain a paternity test at an early stage in the claim process, and even when the test comes later, a refund of monies paid so far can be obtained. As a result, "paternity fraud", a hot topic in the USA, and now pretty warm in Australia too, hardly gets a mention in the UK.

It isn't obvious how the UK arrived at this position. It was UK common law that was used as a precedent for the "presumption of paternity" laws in some other countries. This common law is still sometimes quoted as a justification for this principle in the USA. But, at an early stage of developing child support as an administrative process in the UK, the determination of responsibility for child support became a mechanistic procedure. The CSA even offers a reduced price for paternity tests if the man pays in advance! (He then gets a refund if the test is negative). Perhaps the UK's CSA came at the right time, later than the schemes in other countries. But another factor may be that it was partly targeted at children born out of wedlock, where an identification other than "the ex husband" is needed.

The UK has a poor record for discrimination against men in the family courts. It has a child support system that has made a mess of the lives of many men. UK women have the same sexual and reproductive freedoms as other Western nations, including quite liberal abortion laws. But UK men don't use cries of "paternity fraud" as symbols of their situation, nor as retaliation against the women who they perceive have wronged them. A topic which is explosive in other countries has been defused by reasonably rational use of paternity testing. There is a lesson here.


[1] New Zealand Law Commission, Report 88, April 2005, "New Issues in Legal Parenthood", section 4.19

[2] Lisa Spurrier, "Bastardy in Berkshire"

[3] "Report of the Committee on One-Parent Families" (aka "The Finer Report"), July 1974, Volume 2, Appendix 5, drawing upon [4]

[4] Hargreaves U.R.Q., "Bastardy and the New Poor Law", Past and Present, Number 37, 1967.

[5] "Illegitimacy and illegitimates in English history". (PDF), Alan Macfarlane, copyright 2002.
From: Peter Laslett, Karla Oosterveen and Richard M.Smith (eds.), Bastardy and its Comparative History (Arnold, 1980)

[6] Dorothy L. Haller, "Bastardy and Baby Farming in Victorian England"
The Student Historical Journal 1989-1990, Loyola University.

[7] Poor Law Commissioners' Report of 1834 > Part I, Section 7, BASTARDY
Report Made in 1834 by the Commissioners for Inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws

[8] BBC, "Surnames, Genes and Genealogy", Radio 4, Tuesdays 11.00-11.30 a.m., 19 June - 17 July 2001. The case of Elizabeth Curl is mentioned in [9]

[9] Catherine Nash, "GENETIC KINSHIP"
Cultural Studies Vol. 18, No. 1 January 2004, pp. 1–33

Claimed reply to a CSA form:
"I have never had sex with a man. I am awaiting a letter from Pope confirming that my son's conception was immaculate and that he is Christ risen again."

Page last updated: 16 March, 2006 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2006