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The Old Age Problem of Parentage – Time for a Paternity Test?


The paternity of children is an age-old problem. Mothers are often either unsure about the exact paternity of their child, or deliberately mislead in order to avoid getting into trouble, or because one father is better-off than another and will therefore be a better provider for the child. This isn’t a new phenomenon, brought on by the introduction of the Child Support Agency; it’s a fact of life that stretches back as far as human history itself.

Paternity Test – What’s New?

What’s new, of course, is the accuracy with which we can tell if someone is the father of a particular child or not. Today, when a father suspects that a child may not be his, or the mother disputes paternity, a simple paternity test can give a highly accurate indication of paternity. The paternity DNA test is now commonplace, with a number of clinics across the UK offering parentage test services. Fathers today can tell with over 99.99% certainty whether they are the father of a child – and 100% accuracy if they are not.

Fathers are only just reaping the benefits of these scientific advances, however. In the past, paternity was determined in a far less scientific way:

  • Taking The Word of The Mother – in some cases where paternity cannot be proved without doubt, the word of the mother still holds considerable weight. Before the biological paternity test existed, paternity was decided on the mother’s word. Unless the father could prove that he was absent at conception, or impotent and therefore unable to father a child, the word of the mother was enough to declare that the alleged father should take financial and moral responsibility for the child.
  • Blackmail – it wasn’t unusual for a mother to protect the welfare of her child by blackmailing either the true father or an alleged father, particularly where an illegitimate child would ruin his reputation.
  • Looks – a father may challenge his paternity on the grounds of similarity. Whilst DNA was many years from being discovered, people knew that looks, hair and eye colour and other traits were passed on from generation to generation. A child who looked completely unlike his or her father may have given grounds for suspicion, but if nothing could be proven, the father had to maintain his responsibilities.

It wasn’t until the scientific advances of the 20th century, that paternity was able to be tested on a biological basis. Blood matching, also used in criminal investigations was used to test the likelihood of paternity, but lacked the absolute certainty that mothers, fathers and the courts were looking for. That accuracy only developed with the paternity test, which is now used worldwide to identify fathers for a wide range of purposes.