Paternity fraud is one form of misattributed paternity[1] or paternal discrepancy.[2] Specifically, paternity fraud is the intentional misidentification of a child's biological father by its mother.[3] Paternity fraud is distinct from other, unintentional misattribution, which may arise from simple error, an accident such as a mix-up during fertility treatment, or a sexual assault.


Research published in 2016 indicated that up to two percent of British fathers unknowingly raise a child who is the biological child of another man.[4]

A 2005 scientific review of international published studies of paternal discrepancy found a range in incidence, around the world, from 0.8% to 30% (median 3.7%).[5] However, as many of the studies were conducted between the 1950s and the 1980s, numbers may be unreliable due to the inaccuracies of genetic testing methods and procedures used at the time. Studies ranging in date from 1991 to 1999 quote the following incidence rates: 11.8% (Mexico), 4.0% (Canada), 2.8% (France), 1.4% and 1.6% (UK), and 0.8% (Switzerland).[5] These numbers suggest that the widely quoted and unsubstantiated figure of 10% of non-paternal events is an overestimate. However, in studies that solely looked at couples who obtained paternity testing because paternity was being disputed, there are higher levels: an incidence of 17% to 33% (median of 26.9%).[6][7][8] Most at risk were those born to younger parents, to unmarried couples and those of lower socio-economic status, or from certain cultural groups.[6]

A 2008 study in the United Kingdom found that biological fathers were misidentified in 0.2% (1 in 500) of the cases processed by the Child Support Agency. Of that 0.2%, those resolved with DNA paternity testing between 2004 and 2008 showed that between 10 and 19% of mothers had misidentified the biological father; data about why mothers identified the wrong biological father were not available.[6]

Law by country

See also: Paternity law


The Victorian County Court in 2002 awarded Mr. Magill $70,000 compensation for damages and economic loss against his ex-wife as a result of DNA testing in 2000 that showed only one of three children he was paying support for were genetically his.[9] That ruling was later overturned in 2005 by the Victorian Court of Appeal finding that "intent to deceive" by the ex-wife had not been proven regarding misrepresentations made by Ms. Magill in birth forms about the children's paternity.[10] This ruling was in turn then appealed with the High Court of Australia.[11]

In 2006, Australia's High Court struck down the appeal, upholding the 2005 Victorian Court of Appeal ruling.[12] Chief Justice Murray Gleeson in the 94 page High Court Ruling opined, "Without doubt the appellant's wife deceived him but the hurtful deception was in her infidelity, not in her failure to admit it."[13] Mr. Magill as part of the ruling was also ordered to pay the Child Support Agency's legal fees during the previous 18 months of litigation.[14]

Since at least 1989, putative fathers in Australia could recover child support payments for children that were not their child.[15]


Mr. Cornelio began paying child support for his ex-wife's twins after the couple separated in 1998. The former couple settled upon a joint custody agreement in 2002 that continued Mr. Cornelio's monetary child support for the twins.[16] Shortly afterwards, Ms. Cornelio requested a reduction in visitation time along with an increase in support payments. Mr. Cornelio became suspicious of the paternity of the twins. A subsequent DNA test revealed that he was not their biological father. A request was made by Mr. Cornelio to be excused from paying further child support, claiming to be the victim of misrepresentation or fraud when Ms. Cornelio failed to disclose the extramarital affair when he signed the 2002 joint custody agreement.[17]

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2008 ruled against the request to be excused or reimbursed for child support payments. Judge van Rensburg, in deciding to deny the request, noted that Mr. Cornelio had wondered at the time of his separation if an affair by his ex-wife had actually been responsible for the twins. "It was not until access was interrupted and Ms. Cornelio commenced proceedings seeking increased child support that the respondent began pursuing this issue," the judge remarked. "The fact of that relationship – even if it has now become strained – is sufficient to require Mr. Cornelio to continue to contribute toward the children's material needs."[18]


The default in Finnish law as of 2018 is that the husband is the acknowledged father of the child who is born into wedlock (or to a deceased husband). Only if the wife agrees, can that initial determination be set to something else. However, from 2016 the general right the mother to solely allow or prevent the parental investigation was abolished. The default and immediately forcing juridical assumption of paternity of a husband was not changed in the latest 2015 act.

A man can bring up a later legal action to annul his paternity, disregarding of the resistance of his wife. The legal action for annulment may be brought in the district court by a man whose paternity has been determined on the basis of either marriage or by some other authoritative decision. [19][20]

A man who has officially acknowledged paternity relinquishes his rights to further actions if he, knowing the woman had a sexual intercourse with another man, or that she has used foreign sperm for fertilization, has stated in writing following birth of the child that the child is biologically his.[21]

Otherwise legally binding prebirth acknowledgment of a man must be rejected, if either the health care staff of the child supervisor do have a founded suspicion that the man is not a father of the child, or he is for any reason not capable to understand what he is doing when acknowledging the paternity.[22]

If a mother deliberately gives false information to the authorities, which contributes to the erroneous establishment of paternity, she may be fined.[23]

South Korea

In 2004, a South Korean man was awarded $42,380 compensation for pain and suffering when a DNA test established that his ex-wife's paternity claim regarding their child was misattributed. When Mr. Doe, who had married Ms. Doe based on her paternity claim, began a lawsuit against a hospital for switching his child at birth, Ms. Doe claimed to having been pregnant with another man's baby.[24]


On 5 January 2015, the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland (decision 5A_619 of 2015[25]) decided on a case wherein a plaintiff challenged the paternity of his (alleged) daughter. The plaintiff had his sperm examined in November 2009. As a result of the examination, the plaintiff's fertility was found to be 3%. The court contended that the alleged father should have started investigating his paternity as a consequence of that finding. The plaintiff actually had his non-paternity confirmed via DNA evidence in 2013 upon failure of his marriage. The court held that the one year time limit under Swiss civil code article 260c for filing an action lapsed due to the plaintiff's (the alleged father's) inactivity for more than two years. The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland thus confirmed the ruling by the first instance and dismissed the appeal. It follows that the plaintiff's financial obligations as to his (alleged) daughter will not change.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, paternity fraud, like adultery, is not a criminal offence[2] except in the case of the lineage of the children of the British monarch under the Treason Act 1351 where the adulterers are punishable as adultering against the lineage of the King with the King's "companion, ... or the wife of the King's eldest son and heir". Knowingly making a false statement on a public document is a criminal offence, including naming someone who is not the biological father. As of 2008, no individual has been prosecuted in a case involving paternity fraud.[26] A mother is permitted to not state the name of the biological father if she does not know it.[27] Paternity fraud is a form of misattributed paternity.[27]

The split in 2002 between a couple, identified for legal reasons as Mr. A and Ms. B, prompted Mr. A to pursue a parental contract to establish his non-married rights as their child's father. Ms. B then requested a DNA test that later showed Mr. A was not the (then) five year old's father. Following the discovery Mr. A then sued Ms. B for damages of up to £100,000 as a result of the deceit.[28]

During 2007 in what was reported as the first known case of its kind to reach trial in Britain, the High Court ruled in favor of Mr. A awarding £7,500 distress damages with another £14,943 for holidays and meals out Mr. A spent on Ms. B (not the child). The judgment fell short of listed suit amount because the London court did not allow damages for the child's material costs incurred because of Mr. A's enjoyment of the relationship. The judge, Sir John Blofeld, said he was satisfied that Mr. A's motivation in coming to court was not as a lever for contact with the child but because he did not want "to be taken for a ride".[29]

In 2019, the unnamed former wife of Richard Mason was ordered to pay him £250,000 in compensation for paternity fraud. Mason discovered that he could not have fathered his three grown up children after being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, meaning he had been infertile since birth.[30]

In 2021, a man from Kingston upon Hull who had already paid £38,000 in child maintenance payments discovered that he was not the father of the girl he had been led to believe was his daughter by his ex-girlfriend and had helped raise for 14 years. The Child Maintenance Service agreed to suspend future payments, but still held him liable for his £2000 arrears. After public outcry and intervention from his local MP Emma Hardy, the CMS reviewed the case and agreed to waive his arrears.[31]

United States

The United States has historically imposed a strong presumption of paternity and has also imposed barriers to paternity challenges once paternity has been legally established. Since the advent of DNA testing, laws and guidelines have been proposed or enacted that may allow for a paternity challenge by a legal father who later determines he is not a child's biological father, or by a biological father who learns that somebody else has been named on a child's birth certificate as the child's father.[32]


Paternity fraud activist Carnell Smith has raised awareness about the problem of men paying child support for children that aren't theirs. He has successfully lobbied the Georgia state legislature to expand the time frame in which paternity tests could be administered.

Mandatory paternity testing is available[clarification needed] in Georgia and is necessary in order to obtain a child support order in the state, the law differentiates between legitimacy and paternity and child support orders can only be ordered after a paternity test.[33][34]


In the case of County of Los Angeles v. Navarro, in 1996, the County of Los Angeles entered a default judgment against putative father Mr. Navarro and ordered him to pay monthly support for Ms. Doe's two children.[35] The complaint to establish paternity filed by the Bureau of Family Support Operations was based on information provided by Ms. Doe naming "Manuel Nava" as the children's father. The agency determined that Mr. Navarro was the father in question and delivered notice to his sister's residence listing Mr. Navarro as "co-resident", a notice Mr. Navarro denied ever receiving.[36]

In 2001, Mr. Navarro, armed with a DNA test showing he was not the children's father, sued the County of Los Angeles asking to be relieved from the support order.[37] The County of Los Angeles opposed the motion, arguing the motion was filed after the six month limit to contest a default judgment and the mother's mere assertion that he was the father was insufficient to establish extrinsic fraud. The trial court sided with the county and denied the motion. This ruling was then appealed before the California 2nd Appellate Court of Appeal.[38]

In 2004, the court of appeal reversed the trial court decision ruling in favor of Mr. Navarro and became the first published California case to hold that the statute of limitations did not apply in setting aside an old default judgment against a paternity fraud victim.[39] Immediately after the ruling was issued, the Los Angeles County Child Support Services Department announced that it would request that the case be depublished so it could not be used as a precedent by other men in Mr. Navarro's situation.[40] That request was later denied by the California Supreme Court.[41]

In 2002, California Governor Gray Davis vetoed a proposed Paternity Justice Act, which would have provided more protection for victims of Paternity Fraud, citing that the bill could cost the state $40 million in federal funding.[42] 2004, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in to law AB 252, which allows men who prove they are not the biological father more resources to fight paying child support; the law expired in 2007.[43][44]


In the case of Parker v. Parker, as part of their 2001 Florida divorce settlement, Mr. Parker was obliged to pay $1200 monthly child support based on Ms. Parker's representations to the court that Mr. Parker was the child's biological father. In 2003, Ms. Parker filed a motion for contempt and a petition to enforce child support against Mr. Parker which prompted a DNA test showing that Mr. Parker was not the child's biological father.[45] The motion was 16 months after their divorce, Florida law (at that time) only allowed the husband 12 months to contest paternity following divorce.[46] Mr. Parker's court-ordered payments would total about $216,000 over the next fifteen years.

Mr. Parker filed a petition for relief claiming that the misrepresentation of paternity had resulted in a fraudulent support order. This was dismissed by both the Trial and then, in 2005, the Court of Appeal as being intrinsic fraud and subject to the Florida one year time limit to contest a dissolution decree, not extrinsic fraud, or a fraud upon the court, that can form the basis for relief from judgment more than a year later. This ruling was then appealed before the Florida Supreme Court who, in 2007, denied Mr. Parker's suit upholding the Fourth District Court of Appeal 2005 ruling.[47]

During 2006, the Florida statutes changed allowing a DNA test to be considered new evidence to contest a support order after the one year time limit.[48] In its published opinion the Supreme Court Ruling in 2007 noted the change in Florida Statutes, "which provides the circumstances and procedures under which a male may disestablish paternity and terminate a child support obligation"; however, the court decided not to consider the applicability of this new statute to Mr. Parker's circumstances, kicking the question of a retrial under the new law back to the Trial Courts.[49]

Because the basic facts are little questioned and the case explores differences between extrinsic and intrinsic fraud, other state Supreme Courts, including Iowa[50] and Tennessee,[51] have cited Parker v. Parker when writing opinions of their own for paternity fraud type cases.


In 2012, the Iowa Supreme Court in ruling to allow a paternity fraud tort to proceed as it "fits comfortably within the traditional boundaries of fraud law.", and that "It is supported by common law standards for fraud and is not contrary to public policy or the statutory policy of this state." [52]


In the case of Hodge v. Craig in October 2012, intentional misrepresentation of paternity was recognized by a unanimous Tennessee Supreme Court in Hodge v. Craig, a case where the mother intentionally lied to a man about who the father of the child was. Based on the mother's assurances the couple married but later divorced. The plaintiff dutifully paid child support including medical insurance for the child. Based on physical differences between himself and the child he obtained a tissue sample and confirmed his suspicions. Damages were awarded in compensation for child support paid for 15 years.[53] The court's decision was based on the common law remedy of intentional misrepresentation; the court distinguished the award of damages from a retroactive modification of child support. The action was for damages; it was not a suit to disestablish paternity.[54]

See also





  1. ^ Draper, H (August 2007). "Paternity fraud and compensation for misattributed paternity". J Med Ethics. 33 (8): 475–80. doi:10.1136/jme.2005.013268. PMC 2598159. PMID 17664309.
  2. ^ a b Should we be doing more to expose paternity fraud? Published in The Telegraph, 4 September 2015
  3. ^ B, Jacobs, Melanie (2004). "When Daddy Doesn't Want to Be Daddy Anymore: An Argument Against Paternity Fraud Claims". Yale Journal of Law & Feminism. 16 (2).((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ One in 50 British fathers unknowingly raises another man's child Published by The Telegraph, April 6, 2016
  5. ^ a b Bellis MA, Hughes K, Hughes S, Ashton JR (September 2005). "Measuring paternal discrepancy and its public health consequences". J Epidemiol Community Health. 59 (9): 749–54. doi:10.1136/jech.2005.036517. PMC 1733152. PMID 16100312.
  6. ^ a b c Wintour, Patrick (31 July 2008). "One in 500 fathers wrongly identified by mothers in Child Support Agency claims". The Guardian. United Kingdom.
  7. ^ "How paternity testing is like international trade". 5 December 2018.
  8. ^ Anderson K (2006). "How Well Does Paternity Confidence Match Actual Paternity? Evidence from Worldwide Nonpaternity Rates". Current Anthropology. doi:10.1086/504167. S2CID 56318457.
  9. ^ Archive, News (9 November 2006). "Paternity fraud 'dad' loses appeal". The Age. Australia. ((cite news)): |first= has generic name (help)
  10. ^ Gregory, Peter (18 March 2005). "Appeal blow for man who paid maintenance for another's children". The Age. Australia.
  11. ^ "Dad loses child support case". The Sydney Morning Herald. Australia. Australian Associated Press. 31 October 2006.
  12. ^ Australia, High Court of (9 November 2006). "Magill v Magill". Aust LII. AUS.
  13. ^ Cummings, Larissa (11 November 2006). "Where are honesty and justice?". The Daily Telegraph. Australia.
  14. ^ Broadcasting Corporation, Australian (11 November 2006). "High Court rejects father's deceit claim". ABC News. Australia.
  15. ^ see s 143
  16. ^ Makin, Kirk (9 April 2009). "Man who didn't father twins must pay child support". The Globe and Mail. Canada.
  17. ^ Yutangco, Precious (8 January 2009). "Man must pay support though twins not his". The Toronto Star. Canada.
  18. ^ Ontario, Superior Court of Justice (22 December 2008). "Cornelio v. Cornelio, 2008 CanLII 68884 (ON SC)". Ontario, Canada.
  19. ^ "Isyyslaki mullistuu: Tunnukseen helpotus, sylkinäytekoe ja peruutusmahdollisuus". Archived from the original on 21 March 2019. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  20. ^ Finland Paternity Act 2015, section 41
  21. ^ Finland Paternity Act 2015, section 42
  22. ^ Finland Paternity Act 2015, section 16
  23. ^ Finland Paternity Act 2015, section 57
  24. ^ Bernbaum, Brian (11 February 2009). "Woman Ordered To Pay For Having Another Man's Baby". CBS News. South Korea.
  25. ^ Herzog, Sabine (9 February 2015). "5A_619/2014: Berechnung der einjährigen Frist zur Anfechtung der Vaterschaftsanerkennung" [Calculation of the one-year period for contesting paternity recognition]. (in German). Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  26. ^ DNA testing: One in 500 fathers wrongly identified by mothers in Child Support Agency claims Published in The Guardian, 1 August 2008
  27. ^ a b Draper, Heather (2005). "Paternity fraud and compensation for misattributed paternity". Journal of Medical Ethics. 33 (8): 475–480. doi:10.1136/jme.2005.013268. PMC 2598159. PMID 17664309.
  28. ^ Iggulden, Amy (4 April 2007). "Lover must pay broker for claiming son was his". The Telegraph. London, United Kingdom.
  29. ^ McVeigh, Karen (3 April 2007). "Stockbroker wins £22,000 damages for paternity deceit". The Guardian. London, United Kingdom.
  30. ^ "The dad who found out he wasn't his kids' biological father". BBC. 10 January 2019. Retrieved 9 May 2021.
  31. ^ Hull dad who paid £38,000 in child maintenance forced to keep paying even after he was told 'daughter' isn't his
  32. ^ Lake, Richard (8 December 2003). "Movement targets 'paternity fraud'". Review-Journal. Las Vegas, Nevada.
  33. ^ "New Georgia law will allow DNA testing on paternity before child support cases reach court".
  34. ^ Padawer, Ruth (17 November 2009). "Who Knew I Was Not the Father?". The New York Times.
  35. ^ Court of Appeal (30 June 2004). "County of Los Angeles v. Navarro". California, United States – via
  36. ^ McElroy, Wendy (14 July 2004). "Paternity: Innocence Is Now a Defense". Fox News. United States.
  37. ^ "Law aids paternity fraud victims". Washington Times. United States. 15 January 2005.
  38. ^ California Court of Appeal (30 June 2004). "County of Los Angeles v. Navarro, Cal: Court of Appeal, 2nd Appellate Dist., 8th Div. 2004". California, United States. Case Law County of L.A. v. Navarro.
  39. ^ Staff Writer (18 August 2004). "Court asked to 'depublish' child-support ruling". Washington Times. United States.
  40. ^ Carmel, Sileo (1 November 2004). "California agency will seek to depublish paternity ruling". Trial Magazine.
  41. ^ "Law aids paternity fraud victims". The Washington Times. 15 January 2005.
  42. ^ AB 2240
  43. ^ "Bill Text - AB-252 Paternity judgments".
  44. ^ "News & Features in the North Bay | Paternity".
  45. ^ Fourth District., Florida Court of Appeal (30 November 2005). "Parker v. Parker, 916 So. 2d 926". Florida, United States.
  46. ^ "Court backs deadline for challenging paternity". Tampa Bay Times. Florida, United States. Associated Press. 2 February 2007.
  47. ^ Florida, Supreme Court of (1 February 2007). "SC05-2346 Parker v. Parker". 2007 Florida Supreme Court Decisions. Court Opinion.
  48. ^ Senate, Florida (20 June 2006). "Florida Statutes, Title 43, Ch.742, Sec.18". 2012 Florida Statutes. Florida, United States.
  49. ^ Richey, Warren (9 February 2007). "Dad wasn't dad after all, but still owes child support". Christian Science Monitor. Florida, United States.
  50. ^ Iowa, Supreme Court of (1 June 2012). "Dier v. Peters". Iowa S.C., United States.
  51. ^ Tennessee, Supreme Court of (1 October 2012). "Craig v. Hodge". Tennessee State Court News. Tennessee S.C., United States.
  52. ^ Dire v. Peters (Supreme Court of Iowa, 2012), Text.
  53. ^ Joanna L. Grossman (16 October 2012). "When Your Daddy Is Not Really Your Daddy: A Man Successfully Sues His Ex-Wife for Paternity Fraud Damages". Justia.Com. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  54. ^ "Tina Marie Hodge v. Chadwick Craig M2009-00930-SC-R11-CV". Tennessee State Courts. 1 October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.