Who do you think you are? The increase in DNA testing

The popular BBC programme “Who Do You Think You Are?” highlights how interested we have all become in our family trees. The number of daily visitors to genealogy websites like Ancestry has increased significantly over the last few years.  Looking up your family history is now apparently the second biggest hobby in the USA after gardening and the second biggest activity on the internet after pornography.  This may be fuelled in part by the fall in the price of DNA tests which are now readily accessible.  

The media in recent months has reported a few cases where such DNA testing and family tree research has revealed some unexpected results.  For example, the BBC article in December 2018 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-46600325) told the story of a lady called Jenny who discovered her father was not in fact her father and she was the product of her mother’s extra marital affair.  Her siblings were found to be her half-siblings and her “paternal” extended family members not actually related to her at all.  This story and others like it touches a personal note with me as some questions have been raised over the true parentage of my grandfather which remains unanswered.

Biological parents, married or unmarried, have a legal responsibility to pay child maintenance for their children and the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) (formerly Child Support Agency) can deal with the collection and enforcement of such payments.  If there is a dispute about paternity a DNA test can be done to determine this issue and whether the “father” is in fact liable to make payments. 

A declaration of parentage application can also be made to the family court and will be determined taking into account the best interests of the children.  As a matter of human rights no-one can be forced to do a DNA test and there be reasons why a “father” may not want to do so.  A man who has always raised a child may not want to find out if the child is, after all, not his as it may de-stabilise the family unit and his relationship with his child.  Another reason of not wanting to find out may be because a “father” does not want to have any relationship with the child, who may be the product of a one night stand, and by finding out the child is his, this may make his decision not to be involved with the child harder for him to live with.

In addition, a mother may have her own reasons for not wanting to tell the CMS who the biological father of the child is.  These may include the following:

  • the parent has been the victim of rape;
  • the absent parent has sexually assaulted the child living in the mother’s household;
  • the child was conceived as a result of incest;
  • the absent parent is a celebrity and unwelcome publicity might result which would be adverse to the welfare of the parent and child.

As a family law solicitor and mediator I deal with the financial claims parents have against each other and child maintenance.  I have also come across cases of disputed paternity and DNA tests needing to be done.  It may be with the increasing interest in society in our ancestry this will become an even more common issue.

For more information or advice, please contact Sarah French.