No paternity, no payment
Three thousand paternity tests are carried out in Australia every year in laboratories which use DNA samples to ascertain biological parenthood. The samples can be from swabs taken from inside the child's mouth or even from a strand of hair.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on March 27 that some of the laboratories which can test paternity using DNA samples carry out the test without mothers' knowledge or consent. The director of a Melbourne laboratory revealed that at least 80% of its paternity checks were requested by the child's father and were done without the mother's permission. He said that most paternity testing requests came from separated or divorced fathers whose former partners were unlikely to agree to a test.
These tests, which cost between $500-900, are often used to determine paternity in cases where an order has been made for the payment of child maintenance. Often, the father will argue that if the child turns out to not be related to him by blood he is not obligated to pay support for that child.
This may be one thing when the child is about to or has just been born and the possible father has not made a commitment to parenthood. But it's another thing entirely when a father attempts to deny any financial obligation to a child despite his involvement in rearing that child for several years or more.
The anti-feminist "men's movement" often encourages men to see child maintenance as an unfair burden, and when paternity is brought into dispute, this can be seized upon as a financial escape route. Because many estranged partners see maintenance as being paid to, and therefore used by, the mother of their children, some use denial of the money as a way of punishing the mother for real or imaged "wrongs".
Pauline Hanson took advantage of just this anti-women sentiment when she proposed changes to the family court system which would have led to a reduction in the financial responsibility for which the non-custodial (usually male) parent would be liable.
The importance placed on the biological links between a man and his children has only been an issue since the development of the practice of passing on property to heirs. A genetic link bears no relation to the strength, or potential strength, of a relationship between adult and child.
Human relationships are complex and can develop between anyone, regardless of a biological relationship. Parent-child relationships are not necessarily any less close if a child has been adopted or if, for any other reason, there is no genetic link.
At the same time, those fully related by blood, but not raised in the same environment, will not necessarily have any particular bond simply because of their shared genetic material.
The environment of a nuclear family unit, in which a mother and father are the biological parents of all their children, has not always been, nor will it always be, the only way to ensure the transition from child to adult.
What matters most is the social relationships that develop between generations, which ensure children's healthy physical and emotional development. This can occur by a child being raised by one parent or two, or within in a group where several adults take responsibility.
If a person has been performing that role, their obligation to the child does not necessarily cease when their relationship to the other adults involved ceases or when it is found that there is no biological link between them and the child.
For so long as the raising of the next generation is taken on by individual family units, rather than society as a whole, those parents (usually women) who assume sole responsibility for children after adult relationships break down should not be financially penalised for doing so.
Neither should the children involved be any worse off if it is discovered that they are not related by blood to those who they have always considered their parents.
BY MARGARET ALLUM