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Commentary: Leslie Cannold & "Paternity denied"
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Commentary: Leslie Cannold & "Paternally yours"

"Paternally yours" by Dr Leslie Cannold, The Bulletin, 23rd February 2005

The commentary on the article follows the preliminary comments by Child Support Analysis. Most of the original paper is quoted in sequence in the left hand column.

Preliminary comments by Child Support Analysis

Parts of this article by Dr Leslie Cannold use concepts similar to "presumption of paternity". Some of the problems with this include: there has never been a time when paternity could always be presumed by marriage; and "presumption of paternity" is sometimes used as a rationalisation for "find the nearest man with a wallet". Here are some discussions:

Leslie Cannold Commentary by Child Support Analysis

There's more to being a "dad" than just being the biological father of a child, writes Leslie Cannold.


Indeed. There are two or three types of "dad". They include these two main types:

Biological fathers, identified as such by a paternity test, with financial responsibilities as a result of helping cause a child to be brought into the world.

Bond fathers, with an emotional linkage to the child, probably both ways, as a result of proximity and interaction with the child, and therefore parenting rights and responsibilities.

How did we all get so confused about who is - and is not - a father? The main culprit is the DNA paternity test. For the first time in history, it allows paternity to stand beside maternity as a matter of fact, rather than inference. In the Hawke era, the test was seen as a tool for alleviating child poverty without increasing taxpayer pain. The idea was simple. While the older definition of fatherhood as the man married to a child's mother had - in a world of climbing divorce rates and single mother households - led to increasing numbers of children lacking fiscal support from a father, biological definitions of fatherhood were more bulletproof. To put it simply, while some kids lack a social father, every child has a biological one. Having handily applied the ancient mentality usually reserved for women of "you play, you pay" to men, fiscal support of children became as easy as D-N-A. The Child Support (Assessment) Act was born.

That "older definition of fatherhood as the man married to a child's mother" has been problematic for centuries. It would be strange if anyone has used it as the sole definition for generations!

Perhaps Australia was unaware of the way the world was moving until the arrival of DNA paternity tests. In that unlikely case, it has some catching up to do. "Misattributed biological paternity" long-preceded DNA testing! (Paternity testing using blood goes back at least 60 years).

Paternity tests are not a culprit. The "confusion" has existed for centuries. If DNA paternity testing had existed centuries agao, the "older definition of fatherhood" may never have been necessary.

Courts, both here and overseas, have rigorously supported the new biological definition of fatherhood. They have not only applied it to men who contracted in writing with the mother to just donate sperm, but to blokes with a mental disability or who were unconscious or even under age - and thus a victim of statutory rape - when sex took place. The only exceptions have been federal and state laws that make the husbands of women treated in IVF clinics with anonymous sperm the legal fathers of any resulting children.

There isn't a "new biological definition of fatherhood". There has always been a "biological definition of fatherhood" to those who looked.

See the discussion called "Presumption of paternity" elsewhere.

As this potted history shows, the downsides of calling sperm donors "fathers" are significant. Not just for step- and adoptive dads, but for men in general.

But the biggest losers are children. As high-profile "paternity fraud" cases reveal, when deceived men go into a tale-spin about their wife's infidelity, some take their rage out on the children. Not only do these fellas spend years in court seeking to shrug off legal responsibility for children they have raised from babyhood, but some pursue "refunds" for amounts paid and services rendered, too.

Not surprisingly, and as these men know all too well, this behaviour sounds the death knell for their relationship with the children they once called theirs. Not to mention the damage such protracted public rejection does to these kids' self-esteem and capacity to trust.

The "tail-spin" isn't "their wife's infidelity". If that was the problem, it would be reported as "adultery". No - the problem is the non-paternity of children of the family, and the deceit that has accompanied it.

The text on the left paints an extreme position, perhaps to make the opposite extreme more attractive. But neither extreme is plausible. Biological fathers are not seriously considered simply to be sperm donors. And social fathers are unlikely be considered automatically to have full rights and responsibilities of fatherhood as a substitute for biological fathers. Societies have problems trying to decide where the future lies. It isn't with either of these extremes.

It doesn't need to be this way. In the wake of DNA testing, the legal and social definition of a father quickly changed from the man married to the child's mother to the one whose sperm was involved in conception. There's no reason our understandings couldn't evolve again. All that's needed is a commitment from society to share the cost with mothers of raising children when there's no real dad around.

It didn't quickly change, because it was never at that starting position.

Where do we want to be in the next generation? Child Support Analysis asserts that we want men and women not to cause children to come into the world unless they are prepared to help pay for their upbringing. This needs motivation to "be careful", which in turn needs clear identification that those careless parents cannot easily escape the consequences of their actions.

And who is a real dad? He isn't a sperm donor. Instead, he's a man able to put his callow needs and ambitions to one side and commit himself not just to the hard daily work of raising kids, but to never letting those children down.

It is a mistake to think there is only one type of "real dad", as this commentary has repeated. (That "callow needs and ambitions" is a silly distraction).

But Leslie Cannold makes a good point here, talking of "the hard daily work of raising kids". This is "parenting", as distinct from "child support". While biology can sensibly determine child support responsibility, commitment to that "hard daily work" is likely to be based on a "bond".

Dr Leslie Cannold is an ethicist, writer and commentator working at the University of Melbourne. Her most recent book is What, no baby: why women have lost the freedom to mother and how they can get it back, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2005.
Page last updated: 27 August, 2005 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2005