Paternity fraud and how to avoid it

Paternity fraud and how to avoid it

A child having her cheek swabbed for a paternity test.

Many men question the paternity of their children, but only a few are correct to do so. To put that another way, when asked if they have ever been unsure if they are the biological father of their child, many more men say yes than the actual number involved in cases of misattributed paternity. But, given the emotional and financial pressures involved in parenthood, it is perhaps not surprising that so many opt to take a DNA test and find out for sure.

According to a 2014 YouGov study, 8% of UK males have been unsure that they are the biological father of a child, a figure which rises to 15% in the 25-34 age group, and again to 17% in out-of-work fathers.

There have been many studies of false paternity in the UK since the 1950s, most of which have found that the numbers of actual cases range from 1-3%. In 2008, 500 paternity cases which had been handled by the UK Child Support Agency were analysed, finding that fathers had been wrongly identified in just 0.2% of cases, or 1 in 500. Of these, between 10 and 19% were deemed paternity fraud – situations in which the wrong father was deliberately identified.

Both mothers and alleged biological fathers may have powerful incentives to commit the crime of paternity fraud, so countering this with reliable evidence is critical.

DNA paternity testing accuracy

Given the accuracy of DNA paternity tests, their use has risen sharply in recent years. Modern genetic testing is known to be 100% accurate when ruling out individuals as the child’s biological father, and ranges from 99.99% to 99.9999% when confirming a positive match. DNA Testing Choice is not aware of any reported case of a laboratory producing contaminated results, indeed strict regulations and guidelines make it almost impossible for a ‘mix-up’ to happen.

However, this does not mean that people will always receive the results they expect or want. Although just 3% of all women surveyed had ever experienced doubts about the identity of a child’s biological father (compared to 8% of men), this figure rose to a startling 15% in the 18-24 age group. Doubt is clearly deeply ingrained within certain demographics. The deliberate manipulation of DNA paternity tests by participants is known to occur, and people may go to extreme lengths in order to achieve their preferred results.

Attempts at paternity fraud

Alleged fathers may take a sample from a friend in order to avoid taking responsibility for their child. Mothers may switch a father’s DNA sample with someone else’s, in order to thwart his legitimate claim to the child. Some mothers may even provide a second sample from themselves in order to fake a positive result, although of course the gender of the ‘father’ would be detected by any laboratory.

The most extreme attempt of which we are aware was made by a woman who claimed to be having a sex change. She took a maternity test to prove she was the mother of her son, and then asked the testing company to change the maternity result into a paternity result. The company refused, but allowed her to go by her surname on the documentation, and stated she was the ‘parent’ instead of the mother. The woman subsequently convinced a lawyer that the maternity result was really a paternity result, who then sent a letter to a man with the same surname, demanding he take responsibility for his child! Fortunately, the alleged father contacted the testing company and the fraud was swiftly uncovered.

Peace of mind and legal paternity tests

Thankfully there are ways to counter such attempts at paternity fraud. The simplest method is to take a ‘peace of mind’ paternity test in which the mother AND the father produce samples in each others’ presence, and then send them to the testing company together. This is DNA Testing Choice’s list of companies offering ‘peace of mind’ paternity tests.

Even more secure is a legal test, which requires both parties to supply identification to an independent third party who will physically watch the two participants produce their samples and send them to the testing company. Given the additional security, legal tests tend to cost around £200 more than ‘peace of mind’ tests. This is a list of companies that offer legal paternity tests which have been accredited by the Ministry of Justice.

Although attempts at paternity testing fraud are common, successful attempts are extremely rare. Fortunately, paternity testing fraud can be prevented easily in the ways described above. Interestingly, our appetite for these tests has never been greater – as of 2014, 67% of British adults believed that it was worthwhile to test a child’s DNA to identify who their father is. It’s good to know that despite the attempts of alleged parents to distort the results, the truth will eventually out with the right precautions.

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