Is paternity fraud a crime in the UK?

Paternity fraud is a relatively new area of claim which has a huge impact on all members of the families involved both emotionally and financially. Whilst there are very little statistics about the prevalence of such claims, it is thought in England and Wales to be between 1% and 30%, following a study by the University of Warwick in 2018.

What is paternity fraud?

Paternity fraud occurs when a mother knowingly tells a man that a child is biologically theirs when it is not true. In order for such deceit to amount to paternity fraud, the mother must firstly represent to the man that the child is theirs and secondly, the mother must know that it is not true. Simply being silent about who the biological father of a child is does not amount to paternity fraud, neither does just having suspicions. 

Is paternity fraud a crime in England and Wales?

Paternity fraud is not a crime in England and Wales. This type of fraud is a civil wrong which comes under the tort of deceit. Any court proceedings in relation to paternity fraud should be made through the civil court. 

There is a high threshold that must be met in order to commence legal action for paternity fraud. There have been a couple of reported cases between unmarried couples where the man has been successful and been awarded a small amount of damages in respect of paternity fraud. It is not possible however, to get damages for the cost of bringing up and caring for a child who you find out is not yours biologically. 

There has been one case which was widely reported in the media whereby a wealthy man was awarded £250,000 to be repaid to him from his ex-wife’s £4m divorce settlement after he found out that he was infertile and there was no chance the three children in question were biologically his.

If paternity fraud is raised whilst there are ongoing divorce or financial remedy proceedings, there cannot be a separate case in the civil courts. The issue must be raised within the ongoing divorce or financial remedy proceedings. 

Where a woman is found to have deceived a man regarding the parenthood of a child, she may be liable to pay damages to the man. She would also be at risk of being ordered to pay the man’s legal fees. Ultimately though, the moral and emotional consequences of such deceit are likely to largely outweigh any legal consequences. You cannot be sent to prison or otherwise criminally prosecuted for paternity fraud. 

How can paternity testing be initiated in England and Wales?

Nobody can be forced to undergo DNA testing in England and Wales. The consent of all those being tested must be obtained before any test can be carried out. If the paternity is questioned and no previous test has been done, the Court is likely to order the parties to undertake a DNA test. If any party refuses to do so, the court may infer what the results of that test may be had it been taken. 

Can paternity fraud affect child maintenance obligations?

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) has ways to deal with disputes over parentage directly, but if they cannot be resolved they may make an application to the Court. There are certain circumstances where the CMS can presume parentage and conclusive evidence must be provided to show if this is not the case (i.e. a DNA test). Even if you are found to not biologically be the father of a child, this does not mean that you are relieved of all financial obligations. In a recent case from 2020, the Court found that the husband was not the biological father of a child but he was still ordered to pay child maintenance, albeit it at a lesser amount than if he was the biological father. 

The impact of paternity fraud on child maintenance will be specific to the facts and findings of each individual case.

Are there specific time limits for challenging paternity?

Any claim for paternity fraud must be made within 6 years of discovering the deceit. This is known as the limitation period and it is an extremely important aspect that must be determined before any claim can be considered. 

How does it impact child arrangements during divorce proceedings?

Child arrangements and divorce proceedings are dealt with separately in the Family Court. If a father is found to not be the biological father, this does not mean that his relationship with the child must come to an end. Whilst the deceit may result in a fractious relationship between the mother and man, the child’s feelings should also be taken into consideration and be at the forefront of decisions about future arrangements. 

If arrangements between the man and child are unable to be agreed, he may be able to make an application to the Family Court for a Child Arrangements Order setting out who the child should live with and what time they should spend with the other person. 

Paternity fraud may also impact any financial order made in connection with a divorce. The children of the family are the Court’s first consideration when making any financial order and so any issues as to parentage will need to be resolved before a final order can be made. 

How can Moore Barlow help with paternity fraud?

The issue of paternity fraud is a complex one to navigate. Legal action can be technical and difficult to process. The deceit has a significant impact on the emotions of all of those involved and it can be a turbulent time for a family. Before any legal action is commenced, legal advice should be sort as to the merits and impact of any claim. 

At Moore Barlow we have specialist family lawyers who are able to advise you in relation to paternity fraud. We can assist with civil claims, with the assistance of our Dispute Resolution team, as well as child arrangements and any divorce or financial proceedings that the family are facing. 

We also have several trained mediators who can assist with helping your family try to come to an agreement amicably, without the need for Court proceedings. 

Please do not hesitate to contact once of the Family and divorce team if you would like to find out any more information about our child related services