When Daddy Isn’t Daddy After All

Here’s an interesting article in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism about so-called “paternity fraud” cases. These are cases — many of them headline-grabbers — in which a man who has thought himself to be the father of a child for years discovers as the result of a DNA test that he is not the biological father. What is he to do?

Many of these fathers are filing to be relieved from the duty to support their children, alleging “paternity fraud.” In doing so they often compare their efforts to those who have been wrongly convicted and now have been exonerated by DNA evidence.

I can’t find the article on the Internet, so here’s the full cite to it: Jacobs, Melanie S., When Daddy Doesn’t Want to be Daddy Anymore: An Argument Against Paternity Fraud Claims, 16 Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 193 (2004). Jacobs challenges the term “paternity fraud,” pointing out that the mothers in these cases often are neither devious or fraudulent, but simply mistaken.

She argues that the real victims of paternity fraud filings are not “Jezebel” women who deviously manipulate hapless men. The real victims, she says, are children, many times children who have a long and well-established parental bond with the man they know as their father.

Jacobs says the whole phenomenon of paternity fraud cases has arisen in the wake of — and in large part because of — the new emphasis on child support enforcement. She acknowledges that about a third of paternity tests exclude the man being tested as the father and concludes from this that there are many men who are raising children as their own who are not their biological father. The fundamental challenge, she says, is weighing the interest of men who wish to be free of financial burdens against those of children who need a father.

Jacobs argues that we as a society have paid too much attention to the biology of parenting and not enough to the functionality of parenting. She points out the many ways in which we recognize already that funcional parenting may “trump” biology, and she advocates our doing that with paternity fraud cases as well.