What are a father’s rights against paternity fraud?

20th July 2021

Imagine finding out one day that you are not your child’s biological father. Unfortunately, this is more common than you might think. In its 2016 report, BioClinics (a DNA testing facility) recorded that nearly half of its 5,000 participants were not their child’s biological father.

Sadly, the situation worsens when it is discovered that some men have been deceived by their child’s mother into believing they are the Dad in order to benefit in some way. This is known as paternity fraud.

So, what recourse do victims of paternity fraud have after paying for a child that is not even theirs?

Family law vs Civil law

In family law cases, paternity fraud is likely to feature in child maintenance disputes. However, all a paternity fraud victim can do is raise the complaint to the Child Maintenance Service. But, to stop maintenance payments all together, they first must prove they are not the child’s biological father.

Despite successfully proving this, the complainant is not then entitled to a refund of the maintenance payments he has made. The reason for this is simple: it is to protect children. They are the real innocent party after all.

However, an outstanding issue remains: a person has benefited from their own wrongdoing. How can this be resolved? The answer is to raise the tort of deceit.

How can the tort of deceit be established?

A claimant father must, within six years from discovering the fraud, issue a court claim and prove that the defendant mother deliberately, or recklessly, made a statement (which she knew to be false) and secured a benefit from making it which, in turn, caused a detriment to the claimant father.

How is a victim of paternity fraud compensated?

In  P v B [2001], the court established that a claimant father will be entitled to damages (as a means of recovering any payments made) provided that those payments were not made for the sole benefit of the child. 

This, therefore, rules out things such as child maintenance. But still, a fraudster has benefited from their own wrongdoing! So, how can the victim be compensated? Well, they need to rely on the following heads of damage:

  • General damages: which covers to harm suffered due to psychological distress; and
  • Special damages: which covers to the recovery of any actual payments made or loss suffered which do not solely relate to a child’s benefit.

Examples of how paternity fraud viewed by the courts?

Rodwell v Rodwell (2011)

Mr Rodwell was a loving father. However, in 2004, his marriage broke down. The parties agreed child maintenance arrangements which Mr Rodwell upheld post-divorce. Sometime later, rumours started to circulate as regards Mr Rodwell’s daughter’s paternity. He therefore took a DNA test which confirmed he was not her biological father. Mr Rodwell sued his former wife under the tort of deceit.

The court found in favour of Mr Rodwell. It recognised that he had lost his chance at fatherhood (especially as his new wife was unable to bear children) and treated his loss as akin to a bereavement. Accordingly, the court awarded Mr Rodwell £11,800 on the basis that this sum is what a claimant would receive if their child had died in an accident.

X v Y and Another [2014]

Here, the parties underwent IVF treatment during their marriage (which required the claimant to provide a sperm sample). Three months later, the defendant returned to the fertility clinic with her boyfriend, who the clinic mistook for being her husband, when taking his sperm sample.

The IVF treatment was successful, and the child was raised by the parties – albeit briefly – as seven months later they separated. The parties agreed child maintenance then divorced a year later. The defendant maintained that the claimant was her daughter’s biological father.

Four years post-divorce, the claimant sought an order for contact with his daughter. This was hotly contested by the defendant who revealed that the claimant was not the girl’s real father. When a DNA test confirmed this, the claimant raised the tort of deceit.

The court found the defendant guilty of deceit and awarded the claimant over £38,000 to account for his psychological distress as well as for the loss of earnings he suffered as a result of the stress he endured by the mother’s revelation.

The Manson Case

In a more recent case, Richard Manson (co-founder of MoneySupermarket) initiated civil proceedings against his then wife, Kate Manson, after she tricked him into believing that the children he had been raising for 21 years were his.

The parties had three children and , in a devasting twist of fate, it was revealed that Mr Manson was diagnosed with an affliction that had left him infertile since birth. Upon learning this,  Mr Manson took a DNA test which confirmed that all three of the children were not his.

During proceedings, the defendant alleged that she was not deceitful as her former lover always wore a condom. However, this point was quickly conceded when the DNA results were made available.

The Court found that there was no way for Mr Manson to have known that he was not the father. The realisation of this, coupled with his ill-health, led the court to award Mr Manson damages totalling £250,000.

What does this mean if you are a victim of paternity fraud?

The key points of this are:

  • The only recourse a victim of paternity fraud has is by raising the tort of deceit in Civil proceedings.
  • The Court will not make an order for payment to allow a victim of paternity fraud to recover costs made that solely benefit a child (e.g., child maintenance) for reasons of public policy.
  • A claimant may be more likely to obtain general damages as there is a presumption that fathers love their children, and there exists a causal link between any discovery disproving paternity and psychological distress.

If you have concerns that you are not the biological father of your children, please contact Jane McDonagh or Joe Hennessy for a confidential discussion on what your next steps should be.