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payments 'must be seen as tax on fathering'
BY ALEXANDRA FREAN, SOCIAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT
CHILD support payments should be regarded as a statutory tax on
fatherhood, and not a voluntary contribution, the government minister
in charge of reforming the Child Support Agency has said.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham, Social Security Minister in the Lords,
said she was determined that payments by absent parents should become
as widely accepted as income tax. Only 34 per cent of non-resident
parents (mostly fathers) who have received a full assessment pay
in full, with 35 per cent making part-payments. The rest pay nothing.
(This news article is shown
in full and analysed elsewhere on this site).
Computer hitch delays reform of child payments
BY PHILIP WEBSTER
REFORMS to change the way absent parents are required to pay for
child maintenance face being undermined by the latest computer hitch
to beset the Government. Ministers have admitted that the Child
Support Agency's new computer system - responsible for handling
a simplified formula for calculating maintenance payments - will
not be fully completed until 2003.
But it is scheduled to be introduced in October 2001, meaning that
hundreds of thousands of existing CSA cases will be run on the old
computer system using the old formula. In a report last year the
Commons Social Security Committee warned that there was a distinct
possibility that the new system would not be in place in time, despite
assurances that it would be operating for new cases by 2001. However,
in a written answer to Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat social security
spokesman, Angela Eagle, the Social Security Minister, admitted
that the CSA information technology system would not be completed
until 2003. The CSA problem is the latest of a series of high-profile
IT hitches for the Government.
Mr Webb said yesterday: "There is a real risk that families
and children will face the consequences of computer chaos. "I
am sure the Government will say it can run both systems side by
side but the shambolic history of the CSA suggests there are more
This Is Lancashire
bid to cut CSA red tape snarl-ups
BURY MP David Chaytor is urging ministers to ensure that a single
named official is responsible for every case handled by the controversial
Child Support Agency.
In a Commons debate on the Bill revising the formula that the agency
uses for calculating absent parents' liabilities, he tackled Social
Security Alistair Darling on the issue. He asked him: "Under
the new system will you be able to ensure that people who approach
the CSA are given a named official who will progress their case?
"We all know of the terrible bureaucracy that dogged the Agency
under the old regime, but one of the most frequent complains from
the constituents is that they never know to whom they are talking.
"Can a named official be guaranteed under the new system? "I
hope that you can ensure that the CSA will give the highest priority
to projecting a human face to those who contact them."
Mr Darling replied: "You make a good point and we wish to
encourage such an approach now, as well as in the future. "It
is much better for everyone concerned if people can speak to someone
who knows their case and they do not have to go over old ground
time and again. "When we have the new computer system, it will
be much easier because staff will be able to call up on screen everything
they need to know about an individual."
Bolton MP David Crausby said he was delighted to the changes at
the CSA and the simpler formula. He said that while everyone supported
the CSA and the principal that absent parents should pay for the
maintenance of their children, he added: "The present system
of enforcement is incredibly unfair." He added: "We must
all have had constituents who have suffered injustice at the result
of the present provisions. I am delighted that we will introduce
lower rates for non-resident parents on very low incomes. "A
simpler method for the calculation of child support has been desperately
needed. At long last legislation proposes a formula that will at
least be clearly understood."
News in Brief: CSA is 'overcharging'
Absent parents pursued by the Child Support Agency are four times
as likely to be overcharged as undercharged and more than one in
five of all CSA demands are incorrect, MPs on the Public Accounts
Select Committee heard. The figures were uncovered in a recently
published National Audit Office report. Faith Boardman, the CSA
chief executive, said she was "genuinely puzzled" by the
One in seven fathers 'not the real parent'
Lois Rogers, Medical Correspondent
AT LEAST one in 10 children was not sired by the man who believes
he is their father, according to scientists in paternity testing
laboratories. Some laboratories have reported the level of "unexpected"
paternity to be as high as one in seven when they perform DNA genetic
tests on blood samples from supposed parent and offspring. There
are now seven government-approved laboratories doing paternity testing.
Cellmark Diagnostics in Abingdon is the largest and receives more
than 10,000 requests a year. One in five of them is "private"
and has not been ordered as a result of a court or Child Support
David Hartshorne, spokesman for Cellmark, said that in about one
case in seven, the presumed father turns out to be the wrong man.
"It is surprising how often the mother is wrong about the person
she thinks is the father," he said. Marriage breakdown and
more births outside marriage have increased disputes about paternity
and the desire for testing, he added. In addition to DNA evidence,
other studies of mass blood samples suggest that increasing numbers
of women are unsure if their husbands are the fathers of their children.
This phenomenon of misattributed fatherhood has been investigated
in a newly published study by social scientists at the London School
of Economics (LSE). Oliver Curry, the principal researcher, said
long working hours and commuting by fathers could contribute to
uncertainty about whether children have been fathered by the man
who is bringing them up. The team from the LSE is calling for investigations
to be set up by the government's new National Family and Parenting
Institute. They believe that mistrust over paternity may be an overlooked
factor in family breakdown.
Lincolnshire Echo Online
An absent dad sent his best friend for a DNA test in his place
to avoid paying maintenance for his child. George Brunskill, 26,
persuaded Colin Morris, 30, to have the test as part of a scam to
convince the authorities that he was not the father of his baby.
But Newcastle Crown Court heard how their plan backfired when Morris
was photographed during the blood test - and the child's mother
realised she had been duped.
Stanley Sanderson, prosecuting, said: 'When his child's mother
went to the Child Support Agency to force him to admit paternity,
Morris was photographed as routine. 'The DNA test obviously revealed
tests were negative, but the mother was insistent and on further
investigation by the CSA she was shown the picture of the man who
had given the blood test.' The pair were arrested and both admitted
perverting the course of justice.
The court heard how Brunskill, from New Brancepeth, Co Durham,
fathered the child after a fling with the young woman. But he denied
he was the father and he refused to pay anything towards his child's
maintenance. The mother contacted the CSA, which asked him to go
for a blood test to decide paternity.... Shaun Routledge, defending,
said: 'Brunskill has since admitted paternity and has now embarked
on payments for his child.'
can refuse DNA tests on children
By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor
MEN who want to use DNA tests to prove paternity could be thwarted
after a High Court judge ruled that mothers could legally refuse
blood samples to be taken from their children. Mr Justice Wall,
a Family Division judge, said a man could obtain a court order for
the test in a civil case where, for example, he might wish to be
established in law as his child's father in order to pursue an application
for a parental responsibility or contact order. However, a loophole
in the Family Law Reform Act meant the courts could not compel mothers
to consent to the sample.
His ruling concerned two cases where the mothers - who have care
and control of the children - refused to allow blood to be taken.
The judge said: "The question which arises is simply: what,
if any, order or orders may the court make to enforce the direction
that a sample of blood be taken from a child?" In a 35-page
judgment, he said that although the courts had the power to require
blood tests, the Act also stated that a blood sample could be taken
from a child under the age of 16 only "if the person who has
the care and control of it consents".
Although he found it "unattractive", the judge said the
provisions for ordering blood tests were "entirely overridden"
by the entitlement to refuse consent. The judge said new legislation
was needed to change the position. He added: "If Parliament
does not implement reform, the law will continue not to serve the
best interests of children." The loophole could be closed by
new powers to allow testing on hair or saliva samples but they have
never been brought into force. The Lord Chancellor's Department
said the Government planned to trigger the provisions "when
parliamentary time allows".
News in brief: New child support system delayed again
THE introduction of the Government's new child support system has
been delayed yet again by problems with computer technology. Alistair
Darling, the Social Security Secretary, announced yesterday that
the new formula for calculating payments through the Child Support
Agency would not be running until April 2001.
Ministers had promised to implement the changes, included in legislation
now going through Parliament, by the end of this year. However,
the consortium which has won the contract to install the new computer
system - Affinity, led by the information technology company EDS
- said that the work was much more complicated than anticipated.
This is because the computer will have to be able to "talk
to" other machines at the Benefits Agency and Inland Revenue
to cross-check data.
Six-month delay for CSA reform
Reform of the child support agency was deferred yesterday for a
further six months until 2002 amid growing signs of anxiety about
a computer intended to make the changes. Alistair Darling, the social
security secretary, said the change was being put back to avoid
"unacceptable risks" in the changeover.
The deferral means a simplified child support formula will be applied
to new cases in April 2002. Last summer the operative date had been
late 2001. Existing cases will not be transferred from the present,
deeply unpopular formula until later - some possibly not before
2004 - by which time many fathers will no longer have maintenance
liability. The postponement came days after the Commons social security
committee voiced concern about spending plans for the computer system.
In the first use of a new ministerial power, Mr Darling had notified
the committee of his intention to spend money developing the computer
system before parliament approved the bill setting out the agency
changes. The committee was first told he wished to spend £60m
before royal assent was granted, enabling the Affinity consortium
- led by a US computer company, EDS - to start development. Subsequently
however, this figure was revised to £6m. Although the committee
did not oppose the spending, it said it was worried that the proposal
"bore little or no relation to the likely final version"
and called for a review of how the ministerial power should be used
Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat social security spokesman, said the
apparent confusion over the computer did not bode well. It was sensible
to have a further delay to avoid repeating mistakes made when the
agency was established - "it would be a fiasco if they did
try to do that". One of the agency's worst problems has been
the running of its complex maintenance formula with an off-the-shelf
computer from the US.
admit child support failings
Pat Reilly's persistence and letter writing campaign is paying
Ministers have admitted mistakes were made in the handling of a
case of a father who paid £5,500 more than he should have
to the Child Support Agency. Patrick Reilly, from Barrhead, in East
Renfrewshire, lost his house and his job when his wages were arrested
and he fell into debt. He has received £150 in compensation
but ministers said the amount was now being reconsidered.
Mr Reilly had been paying £40 a week in maintenance for
a child from a previous marriage when the CSA contacted him. But
a series of bungles meant he ended up having his wages arrested
and was forced to pay more than £7,000 to the agency. He received
a rebate of £1,600. Mr Reilly has accused the agency of incompetence
and added: "The CSA lost a lot of my paperwork and when it
did surface it backed up my case. "But they continued to send
me numerous amounts of mail which made no sense at all." The
case has been active for more than six years and the Eastwood Labour
MP Jim Murphy has been helping Mr Reilly in his two-year battle
with the agency and with ministers.
Lincolnshire Echo Online
mum Nets revenge on ex-lover
An angry mother who claims her ex-lover is living the life of Riley
and not paying maintenance for their child has set up a website
to expose him. Cindy Chapman's 40-page www.selfishman.com is dedicated
to businessman Paul Hafiz, who is the father of her five-year-old
She claims he's paid her just £500 since they split up last
year, by exploiting a Child Support Agency loophole, which allows
men to have an interim assessment if they refuse to fill in a CSA
wants generous parents to pay double
By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent
Mr Justice Sullivan, who was asked to decide whether pocket money
could count towards maintenance payments, said the question had
far reaching implications. The Child Support Agency is seeking a
ruling that money put in a youngster's hand is just pocket money
- and no more than that. Agency lawyers argued that allowing parents
to by-pass the official system by working out their own deductions
for pocket money would create "administrative chaos".
But Mr Justice Sullivan said absent parents could be forced to pay
double if the court ruled in the agency's favour. "I am particularly
concerned about the penal consequences where someone has paid over
a substantial amount - but nevertheless gets whacked for it again."
The issue arose when the agency claimed that a Derbyshire father
was liable for £711 child maintenance arrears run up between
July 1997 and November 1998. Ilkeston family proceedings court disagreed
in March last year and said the £5 weekly pocket money the
father gave to his daughter, now aged 16, could be counted as maintenance
payments, leaving him owing just £278. But at the High Court,
Ms Emma Dixon, appearing for the agency, warned there was great
potential for absent parents to abuse the system. But the judge
expressed concern that the absent father was not represented in
court and adjourned the hearing until the magistrates could be represented,
or for an amicus (friend of the court) appointed to assist with
Judge to rule on pocket money and maintenance
By Terence Shaw, Legal Correrspondent
A HIGH Court judge was asked yesterday to rule whether pocket money
should reduce the amount of maintenance payable under the Child
In a test case appeal, the Child Support Agency is claiming that
magistrates in Derbyshire were wrong to decide £5-a-week pocket
money paid by a father to his daughter could count towards his maintenance
arrears. Emma Dixon, counsel for the agency, said if the decision
were allowed to stand it would create "administrative chaos".
But Mr Justice Sullivan, adjourning the case for fuller legal argument,
said he was concerned that many absent parents could be "whacked"
if after paying substantial amounts in pocket money they had to
pay it again. The case arose when the agency claimed that a farmer
was liable for £711 arrears run up between July 1997 and Nov
1998. But in March last year, Ilkeston family court ruled that pocket
money he had given his daughter, now aged 16, should reduce the
arrears by £433.
Opening the agency's challenge in London, Ms Dixon said: "If
the magistrates are right it could seriously undermine the effectiveness
of the collection and enforcement of child support." There
was also great potential for absent parents to put pressure on the
other parent to say money had been paid. The judge, expressing concern
that the father was not represented, adjourned the case for the
magistrates to be represented or for a "friend of the court"
to be appointed to assist with legal argument.
When child support re-runs 'Kramer v Kramer'
Child support laws that link contact with maintenance would make
children bargaining chips and pit parent against parent, say lawyers
By Grania Langdon-Down
Proposed changes to the much maligned Child Support Agency will
turn children into commodities and set parent against parent in
Kramer v Kramer-style custody and access battles, according to family
lawyers.... The Law Society and the 4,000 member Solicitors Family
Law Association (SFLA) are lobbying peers after finding the Government
deaf to their pleas to amend the reforms.
Mark Harper, partner in the family law department of City solicitors
Withers, said the Government had chosen bureaucratic convenience
over children's needs. "The vast majority of people will end
up with lower child maintenance than at present," he said.
"For high earners, it will mean huge payments which take no
account of spousal maintenance or division of capital. That is the
price the Government says parents will have to pay to simplify the
formula for assessing payments and to make the CSA work."
One of the SFLA's major concerns is that the proposed reforms directly
link contact with maintenance, with weekly payments reduced by one-seventh
for each night's stay. James Pirrie, partner in the Family Law Consortium
in London and SLFA spokesman on child support issues, said: "As
currently proposed, we must anticipate US-style Kramer v Kramer
custody and access battles (where characters played by Dustin Hoffman
and Meryl Streep fought for their son through the courts). Until
now, it has been the interests of the child that have decided the
outcome. "We fear resident parents might block overnight stays
because they cannot afford to see a reduction in payments, while
non-resident parents may insist on the stays to secure a reduction
in a level of child support perceived as unfair regardless
of the needs of the child."
At present, the CSA's remit is largely focused on families receiving
state benefits - financially independent families generally let
the court decide questions of child maintenance as part of the settlement
package. However, the reforms allow either parent to tear up a court
agreement after a year to seek an assessment by the CSA. According
to family lawyers, this effectively means all settlements will have
to follow the new formula which sets child maintenance payments
at a fixed rate of 15 per cent of the non-resident parent's net
income for the first child, 20 per cent for two children and 25
per cent for three or more children, irrespective of the non-resident
parent's ability to pay, the resident parent's income or the actual
needs of the child. There is no cap on the amount a non-resident
parent could have to pay and there is no right of appeal against
a maintenance assessment by the CSA. Sanctions for non-payment include
confiscating the defaulting parent's driving licence.
James Pirrie highlighted the SFLA's other concerns - that the CSA's
jurisdiction was being imposed on the courts and that the levy on
the paying parent's income was open-ended. "A spot-check across
existing files shows that the figures may be appropriate for many
families," he said. "But there are also cases where the
assessment would be twice as high as could be afforded by the paying
parent and in others it would be half as much as the receiving parent
properly needed. "The solution lies in differentiating between
welfare benefits families and financially independent families,
giving the court exclusive jurisdiction over the latter. There also
needs to be a cap on the amount a non-resident parent has to pay
and the link between contact and payment must be dropped,"
Sue Bland, partner in the family law department of solicitors Gordon
Dadds, agreed the reforms could cause old-style custody battles.
"It certainly puts a price tag on having the child living with
you, with the child becoming a very valuable commodity," she
said. "It is unhealthy, unattractive and undesirable."
This Is Lancashire
CSA let me down
WHO really knows what the CSA stands for, or what it actually does?
How long does it take it to make an absent parent pay for his or
her responsibilities? Your guess is as good as mine.
I recently had my case closed, for no apparent reason, after six
years of fighting and chasing, and not one penny being seen. So
as far as I am concerned the CSA might as well be the SAP (Support
I want to see justice done. I want my children to have the monies
owed to them and which might go some way to replacing all the Christmas
and birthday presents and cards they never received. The CSA seems
not to chase absent parents when it feels it is too time consuming.
It prefers to pursue parents who are voluntarily prepared to pay
for their offspring.
How can a debt, in excess of £25,000, which is owed to my
children (and in part to the Government) be ignored? And the amount
escalates as each day goes by. The absent parent who refuses to
pay is laughing at all of us, especially the supportive parent,
their own children, and the system. The CSA needs to re-evaluate
its priorities and to do what is right for today's children and
do it today, not tomorrow.
CSA chief moves on
THE head of the Child Support Agency, Faith Boardman,is leaving
her job at one of the country's most maligned institutions to become
chief executive of another, the London Borough of Lambeth. Ms Boardman,
49, will leave in the summer. Her three years in the £80,000-a-year
job at the CSA have been relatively free of controversy, but a recent
report found that nearly a quarter of maintenance assessments made
last year were wrong.
This Is Lancashire
CSA's demands are crippling us
I READ the letter from "Angry Mother" (May 19) regarding
the CSA. We too feel very angry with the way the CSA is organised.
However, we are at the opposite end of the scale. It is my partner
who is the absent parent.
He is only too happy to contribute financially and socially towards
his child's upbringing. However, the amount he is expected to pay
through the CSA is crippling us. He works every hour God sends,
holding down two jobs in order to make the CSA payments and to also
enable us to continue living in our house and have the basic necessities.
According to the CSA criteria we are apparently not entitled to
such things as water, gas, electricity, food, clothes, or housing
insurance, because only our mortgage and council tax are taken into
consideration when assessing his payments. With his basic wage we
would be left with little more than £20. We would be better
off claiming "dole"!
I am a full-time student and work on Saturdays, which buys our
food. The CSA even wanted my wage slips in order to increase my
partner's payments. I can fully understand the feelings of "Angry
Mother", as I truly believe the absent parent should contribute
financially towards their child. But frankly, the amount my partner
pays does not accurately reflect the cost of supporting one child.
This Is Lancashire
persecutes those who pay
I AGREE totally with "Angry Mother" (Your Letters, May
19) writing about the CSA.
My partner is the "absent parent", even though his son
stays with us for three days a week. He took, and still takes, his
responsibility as a father very seriously and has always paid for
his son. When his ex-wife remarried he was introduced to the CSA
who assessed him 12 months later at what we thought was a reasonable
amount. But when his ex-wife was on maternity leave, for the second
time, the CSA wrote saying that due to a change of circumstances,
hers not ours, they had reassessed the maintenance and he would
now have to pay an extra £13 a week. In other words, we had
to pay for her to have a baby!
I, on the other hand, have been waiting for more than two years
for them to assess the father of my two children, even though I
ring the CSA every week. They give him longer and longer to send
details that I know, and they know, he will never send. The CSA
makes people who pay, pay more and those who don't pay get away
Father cannot get tax relief on maintenance
Norris (Inspector of Taxes) v Edgson Before Mr Justice Park
Tax relief under section 347B of the Income and Corporation Taxes
Act 1988, inserted by section 36 of the Finance Act 1988, was not
available in respect of maintenance paid by a father through the
Child Support Agency to his former wife for their child's benefit
where the former wife had remarried and that remarriage had been
ended by a divorce.
Mr Justice Park so held in the Chancery Division when allowing
an appeal by the Crown from a determination in January 1999 that
had upheld a claim by the father, Keith James Edgson, for the relief
for payments assessed by the Child Support Agency for maintenance
of his daughter from 1996.
CSA chief to head Lambeth
The head of the Child Support Agency has been appointed chief executive
of the London Borough of Lambeth on a £150,000-a-year salary.
The post, described in the advertisement as at one time "the
worst job in local government", was previously held by Heather
Rabbatts, who announced last December she was leaving to pursue
a career in the private sector.
Faith Boardman, 50, took over the CSA in 1997, becoming the organisation's
third chief in less than four years. The agency came under heavy
criticism during her term of office when it emerged that it is four
times more likely to overcharge rather than undercharge absent parents.
Quick, discreet DNA tests to establish paternity have become a
boom industry. A swab inside the cheek can resolve doubts that have
lingered for years. All too often, however, the results bring heartbreaking
Lois Rogers reports
Who's your Daddy?
The news that his little blond son Rauli had cystic fibrosis came
as a devastating blow to Morgan Wise, a Texan railway engineer.
He was eager to help when doctors asked him to undergo a genetic
test to determine the origins of the boy's illness. Wise's results,
however, came back negative. Both parents must have the gene for
a child to contract the disease, and tests showed Wise was not a
carrier of cystic fibrosis. To his astonishment, Wise was told this
meant it was highly unlikely he was Rauli's biological father. Already
separated from the mother of his four children, Wise, tempted by
the paternity testing clinic offer of a cut-price DNA test deal,
underwent genetic analysis to establish whether he was the father
of Rawli and his other three children. It was a decision that would
change his life. The results revealed that only his daughter, the
eldest child conceived during his 13-year marriage, was fathered
by him. The three boys were not his sons.
Wise, who says he still regards himself as the boys' father, is
now locked in a destructive legal battle with his former wife. He
is arguing he will help support the children, but not through her.
Three weeks ago, Texan courts ruled he should have no access to
the children until the maintenance dispute is settled. The boys
he believed to be his sons are among thousands of innocent victims
of the growth in the DNA testing industry. In both Britain and America,
suspicious men can now take advantage of laboratories offering quick
and easy proof of paternity.
Genetic relationships can be established using a home testing kit
available over the internet. All it requires is a swab sample of
cells from the inside of the cheek of both father and child, which
can then be posted off to a laboratory. The results are delivered
within five days, no questions asked. More than 250,000 tests a
year are now conducted in America, and about 15,000 in Britain.
Some of the testing is done to settle legal disputes about child
maintenance between unmarried couples, or to answer questions on
rights to inheritance.
Many of the customers, however, are married men who are suspicious.
All too often, the results bring shocking and unwelcome news: roughly
30% of men taking the tests discover that they are not the fathers
of the children they regarded as their own. In the wider community,
social scientists say up to 1 in 20 children are not the offspring
of the man who believes himself to be their father.
IN BRITAIN, on-air DNA test results may not yet be the stuff of
Kilroy, but scientists have been swift to capitalise on the paternity-testing
business. There are seven government-approved laboratories offering
the service. About 70% of the business currently comes through the
courts from the Child Support Agency (CSA) trying to track errant
fathers to pay maintenance for their children.
"It is very hard to say that a young man must pay maintenance
for 18 years when he knows he is not the father of a child, but
at the same time it makes people very uneasy to think that an estranged
father could turn up, take the child out and secretly get it tested
to see if he could get out of responsibility for it."
Denis Holmes, 40, a financial adviser from Manchester, is adamant
that the scientific "advances" offered by DNA testing
are a force of destruction rather than enlightenment. After 20 years
of marriage, Holmes began a relationship with a dancer after he
found his wife had been unfaithful. After several months, his mistress
said she was pregnant. Holmes was astonished. He had had a vasectomy
some years earlier. DNA tests, however, showed there was a 99.99%
chance that the child, now 22 months old, was his. Holmes has now
embarked on costly litigation to prove the test is wrong. Since
the DNA laboratory has said one in 67,000 people carry the same
gene pattern, that means 700 other Britons, or 350 other men, could
also have fathered the baby. Holmes has passed repeated tests to
prove his vasectomy has not failed. Eight sperm tests have proved
negative. The dispute is to be the subject of a high court hearing
next month, with the CSA demanding that Holmes pay child maintenance.
In the meantime, the CSA has demanded £10,000 from him for
legal costs, and Holmes has spent £4,000 on medical investigations
to prove his infertility.
At present, fathers can suffer almost as much cruelty at the hands
of the law as from the women who seek to trick them. They cannot
demand DNA testing without a woman's consent. If a test proves positive,
they have obligations to pay maintenance, but no rights whatsoever
to see the child or have any input into its upbringing.
moment a father finds his child is not his
By Roger Graef
In these days of frequent divorce, casual sex and fragmented communities,
men hang on to their identity through such ancient customs as passing
their name down to their sons - along with whatever else they may
have accumulated along the way. Daughters, of course, also inherit
from their parents and they need fathers just as much as the fathers
need them to feel fulfilled. But as family happiness is increasingly
fragile, so too is the certainty of our identity. As DNA testing
becomes more refined, it now can give accurate answers to the equally
ancient custom of looking doubtfully at the odd child out and wondering
who their father really is.
Two-thirds of those who take the tests get the answer they hope
for - which mostly means they are indeed the father of the child
they believe is theirs. But, according to a documentary to be shown
on Channel 4 tonight, an astonishing one in three of those taking
the test discover to their profound dismay that the child they have
loved and raised as blood kin is not after all. This is not just
a shock to the father and child - and all their relatives - but
also a profound insight into the sexual behaviour of women, who
are normally regarded as far more stable and loyal partners.
Dr John Burn, a geneticist at Newcastle University, believes that
more than five per cent of the British population have a different
biological father than the one they believe to be theirs. That's
nearly three million people living unwittingly with an explosive
secret. The tragedies spill out daily as divorce rises. Many of
the tests are not from happy families at all but from couples who
have split and are contesting paternity, either in relation to inheritance
or who should pay child support.
In Britain, where the consent of both parents is required, about
15,000 such tests are carried out annually and the number is growing.
Seventy per cent of the business now going through the seven Government-approved
DNA clinics in Britain come from courts ordering paternity tests
at the request of the Child Support Agency.
The rights of the father are ignored in many cases. Texas train
driver Morgan Wise had three boys and a girl. When his smallest
son, Rauli, developed cystic fibrosis - an inherited disease - Morgan's
doctor arranged for Rauli, his dad and his brothers to be tested
to see where the disease had come from. What began as a loving inquiry
ended as a nightmare. As the genetic trail unravelled, it emerged
that none of the three boys Morgan treated as his sons was biologically
fathered by him; only the daughter was. His wife had had a long-term
affair with his best friend. "When the results came, it was
unbelievable," said Morgan. "I thought there must be some
mistake. It was like a sudden death. How can a mother do this to
her husband, her marriage, her children and live a lie?" Yet
the courts have awarded his wife custody while Morgan must pay child
maintenance without access to the children. The man she says is
the real father is not obliged to be tested. This does not seem
like justice for any of them.
Police refuse to take DNA tests for database
By Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent
Police officers are refusing to give DNA for a new national database
partly because of fears that they may be tested for drugs or be
asked to pay contributions to the Child Support Agency, officials
from the Home Office believe. Less than one-third of the officers
in England and Wales who have been asked to give their "genetic
fingerprints" for a database have so far agreed to take part.
In the country's largest force, the Metropolitan Police, only about
300 out of 15,000 officers asked to volunteer are believed to have
come forward so far.
The Home Office, backed by police chiefs, wants to collect DNA
profiles from all the officers who attend crime scenes or may come
into contact with evidence. In this way they can quickly eliminate
them from investigations. The officers have been assured that their
samples will not be used to check for drugs or by the Child Support
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