The latest dramatic storyline in The Archers about a cheating husband, a new love and a ‘fatherless’ baby shows that even the quietest rural hamlet is not immune to the tricky issue of paternity testing.
Avid listeners to Radio 4’s everyday saga of farming folk are hooked by the Rob, Helen and Jess love triangle. In a nutshell, Jess used to be married to Rob, but he ditched her for Helen. Jess has since had a baby and put Rob’s name on the birth certificate. The ‘drama’ intensified when, after refusing to take a paternity test, Rob received a letter from the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) requesting that he take a test – cue Archers theme tune!
So is this fictional storyline too far-fetched to be based on fact? Not according to a legal expert in family matters who recommends that anyone facing similar circumstances should take appropriate legal advice so that they are fully aware of the consequences of their actions.
“It is important that anyone facing these circumstances should note the financial implications of any decisions they make,” explains Melita Bown, a family law solicitor at Higgs & Sons.
“Parents have a financial obligation towards the costs of bringing up a child and when parents separate, the CMS are often involved to determine the level of maintenance payable by the parent who does not have day to day care of the child.”
Melita points out that in circumstances such as those currently being played out in The Archers – where a man denies he is the father of a child – the CMS will treat the man as the father if the following circumstances apply:
- the children are habitually resident in this country, and
- the children have not been adopted since he and the child’s mother separated, and
- he was married to the mother of the children at any time between the date of conception and the date of birth of the children, or
- he is named as the father on the Birth Certificate.
If he still denies that he is the father, the CMS will interview both parties and discuss whether he should take a DNA test.
“The CMS can apply to the court for confirmation that an individual is the father of the child however this is only used in very complex disputes or where DNA testing is not appropriate,” continues Hannah Nicholls, also a family law solicitor at Higgs & Sons.
“From September 2015 Family Court Judges in England will be able to order DNA tests to determine parentage. This will assist in cases where there are parents who are attempting to escape their financial responsibilities.”
At first glance this may appear to be the end of the matter, however it is where those affected should be particularly cautious.
“Where someone continues to deny that he is the father, he will be offered a DNA test by the CMS, but if he refuses to take it, the CMS will treat him as the father anyway. If he cannot pay for the DNA test, the CMS will pay the fee for him but if the test shows that he is the father he will have to repay the test fees as well as any maintenance arrears and court costs.
“It is also important to note that this may put at risk any applications he makes with regards to the children in the future,” concludes Hannah.
“If you find yourself in this position, consider the fact that if you refuse to take the DNA test, the CMS will treat you as the father and if the test is taken and it is established that you are the father you will have pay back-dated maintenance in any event.”