Paternity Quest: Are You Your Father's Child?
Tue, April 20, 2021

Paternity Quest: Are You Your Father's Child?

Paternity has been a controversial and exciting issue in a man’s life since ancient times / Photo by: Shawn Hempel via Shutterstock


Paternity has been a controversial and exciting issue in a man’s life since ancient times. Anthropologists and theorists indicated that since the beginning of time the maddening quest for the father’s identity has always been a goal however intractable it is. Whereas the mother of a child can instantly be known, the father can be hard to pinpoint.


Tracing Fatherhood

Historically, paternity was discerned in two possible ways. The first was through marriage. According to the law, the mother's husband was always the father of her child even in circumstances he could not be. The English common law of the 17th century stated that a husband anywhere within the “Four Seas” of the King of England at the time of wife’s inception of pregnancy is presumed the father of the child.

On the other hand, the paternity of children born out of wedlock is figured out from a man’s actions or public reputation. The man cohabiting with the mother or the man kissing the child in public is presumed the father. This does not mean true or uncertain, it simply means that paternity was considered social, not physical.

In the 1920s, hereditary blood grouping was introduced as a revolutionary answer to the quest for the father. A doctor from San Francisco named Albert Abrams invented oscillophore, the machine that verified parentage through electronic blood vibrations. A drop of blood on a white blotting paper can be analyzed by the machine to identify the father of a child. The process may be doubtful but it heralded the concept of genetic testing.

Anthropometric analyses of the body were also attempted to objectively identify the father. The ambivalent phenomenon of family resemblance was methodically exploited. Perhaps the secret of paternity is hidden into the curve of the fingerprints, the folds of the ears, or into the pattern and outline of the eyes, hair, and skin color. There emerged varying scientific methods, but the key belief of kinship remained on the physical makeup of father and child, clearly implying that paternity is a physical relationship, not a social one.

Today, DNA testing (cheek swabbing, finger pricking) reveals the complex mysteries of man’s identity. Kinship is a physical fact and science is the means to expose it. The development of DNA fingerprinting in the 1980s was the first in human history to ascertain the father with 99.99% accuracy.

The paternity of a child is implicit when the child's parents are married at the time of the child's birth. The situation is different, though, for unmarried parents / Olesia Bilkei via Shutterstock


Significance of Paternity Detection

Paternity science helps to define, support, and sometimes undermine kinship and marriage. It signifies belongingness but also threatens discrimination and exclusion. It raises a host of ethical concerns: Who has the power to decide the process? Who should have access to the truths? Whose interest does it serve? Will the revelation be a good thing? The ultimate end of the disclosure remains vague and may potentially be perverse. Nevertheless, it also brings significant legal consequences to the concerned family.

For the Father: A man legally recognized as the child’s father has legal rights to the child, including custody, parenting time, or the opportunity to be part of important decisions involving the child such as education plans, medical treatment, decisions around religion, and housing arrangements.

For the Mother: Paternity determination provides assurance to financial support from the father. The mother can share custody with the father or allow the father visitation right.

For the Child: Paternity establishes financial support from their father. The child secures the right to receive refuge and assistance from their father as well as the right to inherit, the right to access personal information such as health profiles, particularly the health risks and threats of the paternal family, and the right to take legal action for harm or death of the father resulting in loss to the child. The child is also qualified to receive benefits from the father’s death or other dependent-based assistance from the State. Most importantly, the child is guaranteed a sense of psychological and emotional respite in knowing the identity of their father.

Establishing Paternity

The paternity of a child is implicit when the child's parents are married at the time of the child's birth. The situation is different, though, for unmarried parents. They need to establish paternity as this can impact on child support, custody, inheritance, access to important health records, accruing benefits, and emotional well being of the child. The popular belief that the affixed name of the man on a child’s birth certificate as the father is sufficient to establish paternity does not hold water. In like manner, a DNA test is not only the means to establish paternity. Paternity can be established through voluntary and involuntary processes.

Paternity can be voluntarily assumed in different situations like the following:

• The child is born to married parents.

• The child is born to an unmarried couple who marry after and sign a legitimating form.

• The child is born to an unmarried couple who never marry but sign an affidavit of parentage duly notarized by a lawyer.

• The father endeavors to marry the mother when the child was born or conceived.

• The father accepts the child into his home and openly acknowledges the child as his own.

• The father and child have a close parent-child relationship and the court allows equitable parent custody rights.

Involuntary paternity can be established when a mother files a paternity lawsuit against the likely father. This man will be required to submit to DNA testing. When paternity is established, the court will issue a paternity order and will require the father to pay child support.

Kinship technologies have changed dramatically over the years. What should remain constant, however, is fostering the father-child bond toward a loving family relationship.