There can be few greater shocks to any child than discovering that their real father is not the same man who they love as a parent. In a guideline case, the High Court had to balance concerns about the impact such a revelation might have on an eight-year-old boy against his right to know the truth about his paternity.
The boy was the product of his mother’s extra-marital affair. Her husband believed that he was the boy’s father throughout the marriage, but a DNA test following their separation proved that not to be the case. The husband was devastated by that discovery and the former couple had since engaged in a deluge of litigation. The husband had, amongst other things, sued the wife for alleged deceit, seeking reimbursement of every penny he had spent on bringing up the boy.
In circumstances where the mother refused to reveal the identity of the boy’s genetic father, the husband sought an order requiring her to do so. Although he was devoted to the boy and wished to play a full part in his life, the husband argued that the boy’s best interests would be served by him being told the full facts. In resisting the application, the mother argued that her son should be kept in the dark until he was old enough to cope with the truth. The state of his biological knowledge was such that he would be unable to understand the concept of having two fathers in his life.
In ruling on the acutely difficult matter, the Court noted that the boy had been deeply saddened by the breakdown of his parents’ marriage and was likely to be further upset by the news that his paternity was not as he had always believed it to be. However, the starting point was that he had a right to be told, sooner rather than later, that the husband was not his biological father. The pain caused by that revelation was only likely to increase as he grew older.
Breaking the news to the boy would require extreme sensitivity and the Court noted that the interests of his genetic father, who was entirely unaware of the proceedings, also had to be considered. In the circumstances, the Court ordered the mother to disclose the man’s identity to her solicitors so that he could be sent a letter, drafted by the Court, in order to gauge his response. After completion of that process, there would be a further hearing of the matter with a view to achieving a final resolution.