This is related to today’s post about paternity fraud cases and is strictly a personal observation from my experience as a divorce lawyer. I have a special spot in my heart (hint: it’s not a good place) for women who have an extramarital affair, allow their husband to raise the resulting child as his (and yes, allow the child to see their husband as his or her father), and then decide years later to tell the child someone else is his or her father, because the child “has a right to know.”
No, no, no. That child has a right not to know. What could be more devastating for a teenager (and for some reason that’s the age at which Mom tends to think they’re “old enough to know the truth”) than to find out that the father they’ve known and loved isn’t really their father?
There might be some valid reason for a child to learn his genetic history, even if that history is a total surprise. For example, if the child’s functional father has a genetic disease and the child has become gripped by fear that the disease might affect the child, it may sometimes be appropriate for a mother to relieve that fear by sharing with the child the truth about his or her biology. Even then, however, Mom should seek counseling before divulging the information to make sure she has thought through all the alternatives and ramifications beforehand.
And barring one of these unusual situations, if you’ve allowed a child to grow up knowing a father who is not his or biological father, it’s your duty to take that secret to your grave, period. As a dear friend and colleague put it for me the other day, “If you couldn’t keep your legs together then, at least keep your lips together now.”