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Sorting out who is Dad…

November 1, 2010

I am an avid “newspaper clipper” – clipping articles about anything that piques my legal curiosity. In mulling through one file stuffed with clippings today, I came across an old 2009 article about actor Keanu Reeves undertaking a DNA test to decide whether he is the father of a Canadian woman’s children.

Such cases in New Zealand are called “paternity” cases. Paternity is the legal term used for “fatherhood”. Paternity cases can range from a mother wanting to get legal recognition of who her child’s father is so she can claim child support, to a child wanting to have it determined who her father is so she can claim a share of his estate, to a man wanting “to check” whether he is in fact the father of a child he has been paying child support for.

Aside from the important father-child relationship that being someone’s father gives rise to, it is also important to establish a child’s paternity for the following reasons:

  • It establishes a basis for a father to seek the Court’s assistance to sort out guardianship issues or issues about when he can have the care of the child;
  • If you are the father of a child and wish to apply for a Domestic Purposes Benefit you will need proof you are the child’s father;
  • Proof of paternity is required in order to claim child support from the child’s father;
  • If you are the child’s mother, being able to claim an order that the child’s father pay some of your birth related costs;
  • If you are not the child’s father and are receiving a Domestic Purposes Benefit, WINZ will want proof of who your child’s father is so that it can arrange for IRD to collect child support from the father. These child support payments are used by the State offset the cost of your benefit. If there is no proof of who the child’s father is, your benefit is likely to be reduced;
  • Ensuring your child has the right in future to claim an inheritance from his or her father’s estate without the need for paternity proceedings at that time.

Generally, a man will be legally presumed to be the father of a child if:

  • he is married to the child’s mother at the time the child is born or if the child is born within 10 months after the marriage ended.
  • he is named as the child’s father on the child’s birth certificate.

Such presumptions of fatherhood can be changed if it is proven the man presumed to be the child’s father is not.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to legally resolve an issue about the fatherhood of a child, what can you do?

  • A father can sign a “Deed of Acknowledgment of Paternity” to confirm he is the father of a child. The child’s mother also needs to sign this form. It is important the Deed is correctly prepared, signed and witnessed;
  • A father can sign a form requesting that the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages record him as a child’s father on the child’s birth certificate (assuming no one else is named on the certificate as his father). The child’s mother also needs to sign this form;
  • An application can be made to the Family Court (or, in some cases, to the High Court) to declare that a man is or is not the father of a child. This declaration is called a “Paternity Order”.

DNA parentage tests can be carried out to help determine whether a man is the father of a child. Parents may decide themselves to undertake these tests or the Court can recommend the test be done if it has been asked to decide a paternity application. The test is relatively straightforward and usually is done by a scraping from the mouth. You do not have to agree to provide a sample for a DNA parentage test but if you refuse, the Court can take this into account and may make a finding against you.

If you find yourself in the middle of a paternity issue, it is important to get legal advice from a lawyer who specialises in family law. Your lawyer will be able to help you find a solution – often it may not involve court proceedings. As for Keanu? His DNA tests came back showing he wasn’t the father of the children, thus saving him from facing a reported claim by the children’s mother for child support of $150,000 per month in child support – backdated from June 1988 – and a staggering $US3 million a month in spousal support, backdated from November 2006!!

If you want  help with a family law issue, go to

From → Children, Paternity

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