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October 3, 2005

'In 30% of paternity tests the presumed father is not the biological father' — Caroline Caskey, CEO of DNA testing company Identigene


By far the most astonishing statistic I've read in some time.

The quote above appeared in yesterday's New York Times story by Mireya Navarro about the increasing vogue for paternity testing.

Costs have come down from $1,000 ten years ago to $500 today.

Tests today require only a swab from inside the cheek — no needle, no blood.

The number of tests has increased from 149,000 in 1995 to 354,000 in 2003, according to the American Association of Blood Banks.

I know it's hard to believe but repeated studies around the world have shown that 5-10% of people — regardless of economic status or geography — call a man "Dad" who, unbeknownst to them, is not their biological father.

But to think that a paternity test will produce results in three out of ten cases that prove a man did not father his child?

You're playing with fire here.

And so Navarro tells us in her superb story, which follows.

    Painless Paternity Tests, but the Truth May Hurt

    Joseph Dixon said he was not exactly thrilled when his girlfriend of one and a half years told him she was pregnant.

    But, Mr. Dixon said, he did not want her to have an abortion and was determined to do the right thing.

    "I told her I'd definitely be there" for her, said Mr. Dixon, 29, a hotel doorman in Chicago.

    And he was.

    The two didn't marry but settled into the common rhythm of separate but shared parenthood, he said, allowing him to see his daughter whenever he wanted.

    But when Mr. Dixon arranged to purchase a life insurance policy to give his 4-year-old daughter financial security last January, the results of a required DNA test delivered stunning news.

    "The probability of paternity is 0%," the results read.

    He was not his daughter's biological father.

    Like an increasing number of men, Mr. Dixon found his life spun around as the result of a paternity test.

    There was shock, then deep hurt and finally a realization.

    "I never had any idea she'd been cheating," Mr. Dixon said of his ex-girlfriend.

    "We knew each other, at least I thought."

    With costs of paternity testing down - to $500 or less per test from nearly $1,000 just 10 years ago - and with the testing so simple it can be done at home (a swab from inside the cheeks does the job), DNA testing has become more common to settle legal disputes and questions about identity.

    A survey by the American Association of Blood Banks showed that more than 354,000 tests to establish parentage were performed in 2003, compared with about 149,100 in 1995.

    Caroline Caskey, chief executive officer of Identigene, a DNA testing company in Houston that has advertised its services nationally in magazines and billboards, said that in about 30 percent of the paternity tests the presumed father turns out to be not the biological father, and that is consistent throughout the industry.

    Although the tests ostensibly offer clarity, those who are left to wrestle with the results find themselves in unchartered emotional terrain from the moment the question of a test is raised, lawyers who specialize in family law say.

    After all, merely suggesting a paternity test could poison a relationship forever.

    If the results are negative, the emotional consequences could be life-shattering for everyone concerned.

    Men like Mr. Dixon said they had no reason to doubt the women.

    But other men are reluctant to take a DNA test even when they are in the middle of legal battles over children and their lawyer suggests they confirm paternity as a first step.

    Some even flat out refuse.

    "It's a cultural taboo in this country," said Jeffery M. Leving, a lawyer and fathers' rights advocate in Chicago.

    "It's very unmanly to request a DNA test to determine that your child is your biological child. It's emasculating and many men would not do it."

    Paternity tests have been a staple of tabloids and popular entertainment for years.

    The designer and supermodel Elizabeth Hurley had a nasty public spat with her ex-boyfriend, the Hollywood producer Stephen Bing, before a DNA test proved he was the father of her child.

    A DNA test is what apparently led the actor Robert Blake to marry Bonny Lee Bakely, who bore his child and later was murdered in a car outside restaurant in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles. .

    And now there is Amber Frey, the "other woman" in the Laci Peterson murder case.

    She recently acknowledged that a DNA test proved the man who was paying child support for the older of her two children was not the child's father.

    Even the two-timing Gabrielle in "Desperate Housewives" has just added a new wrinkle to the show's already tangled plot line with a case of paternity deception: she gave fake test results to her husband, who asked for the DNA evidence because he suspects the baby his wife is carrying may be the gardener's.

    In any case where paternity is in dispute - no one knows exactly how many - the issues can be so jarring some of the men interviewed for this article had trouble speaking or broke into tears when recounting their experience.

    Dr. Enrique Terrazas, 39, a clinical pathologist from California, said his ex-wife eventually told him that one of his two children was not his child.

    His second wife had urged him to do the test because of a lack of resemblance between father and the child.

    In his view, what kind of person would have asked his own wife for a DNA test?

    "It's like prenuptials," he said.

    "If you ask, it can be interpreted as saying 'I don't trust you,' or 'I want to protect my interest.' Unless you suspect infidelity and unless you have seen proof, to say I want a DNA test you're basically saying, 'You're cheating on me.' "

    Dr. Terrazas cried on the telephone as he recounted the fallout.

    Because of the resulting dispute over child support payments, he said, he no longer sees his child regularly.

    His ex-wife's current husband is in the process of adopting the child.

    He said that his relationship with the child "has been destroyed."

    Dr. Terrazas's former wife answered a request for an interview with an e-mail message that said, "I do not want anything to do with any media coverage that focuses adversely" on her children.

    It is the fallout faced by the children, most child advocates and lawyers say, that is most traumatic.

    And the men who seek to halt child support payments - an act many of them say is an attempt to right a wrong, rather than to abandon the children they still care about - are surprised to learn that they are still required by many courts to continue to pay because it is deemed in the best interest of the child, especially if the man is the only father that child has ever known.

    Some men have organized groups like the United States Citizens Against Paternity Fraud (www.paternityfraud.com) to call for mandatory DNA testing at the time of birth and laws that exempt men from child support if they are proven not to be the biological father.

    "It's really a lose-lose situation," Debbie Kline, executive director of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, a child support advocacy organization, said of the situations when parentage isn't determined until long after birth.

    "And for the children, if this man is removed from the child's life, it's going to be devastating."

    To prevent grief down the line, Mr. Leving said he recommends that his clients get a DNA test if they have a child out of wedlock.

    Other lawyers say men should think about the test even within a marriage if there's suspicion of an affair or any circumstance that does not pass "the smell test."

    "I think the real bottom line is that for a few hundred dollars you can buy peace of mind that the child is yours," said Randall M. Kessler, a family law lawyer in Atlanta.

    Still, most men resort to DNA testing only when they are pushed.

    Lawyers like Mr. Leving say clients often request the test when they are being denied visitation rights and become suspicious of the reasons.

    In other instances friends or relatives - and often a current girlfriend or wife - might raise suspicion that a child is not theirs, or the mother herself might blurt it out.

    "It happens in the heat of an argument, and the woman goes, 'You're not even the father of the child!' " said Taron James, who formed the group Veterans Fighting Paternity Fraud in California in 2002 after he fought for years to stop child support payments for a child that was not his.

    In the most recent case to make headlines, Ms. Frey went to court to set aside the paternity judgment against the man who was paying child support for her 4-year-old daughter and attached the results of a DNA test that showed the girl's father was actually someone else.

    Gloria Allred, the lawyer for Ms. Frey, said her client had believed "in good faith" that the man paying child support was the girl's father and argued that while women obviously have the responsibility to establish who the father is, so do men.

    "Any man who's alleged to be the father of a child born outside of marriage is entitled to take that DNA test" to establish paternity, she said.

    "If he did not take the test, then he needs to take responsibility for his failure to do so. He shouldn't blame the mother."

    But Glenn Wilson, who represents Anthony Flores, the child's presumed father, countered that unlike his client, "she knew who she had sex with."

    "They were in what he thought was a monogamous relationship," he said.

    Despite such serious implications, like children not knowing their actual medical history, some of the men, and even their lawyers, do not entirely fault the mothers, who say the wrong man is the father of their child for a variety of reasons.

    Some of the women, they said, are in denial that there could be more than one possible father.

    Others do not want to be seen as adulterers.

    And still others believe the truth will destroy relationships both with their partner and their child.

    A spokesman for one mother who did not want to be interviewed explained why she had not been honest with her husband.

    "The boy would have found out," he said. "She wanted to protect the boy."

    But some women are more deliberate in what Mr. Leving called "father shopping," picking the best provider possible even when he is not the true father.

    Lawyers like Mr. Leving advise to take the test without the mother's knowledge, "that way if he's the father, he doesn't have to start conflict with the mother."

    Mr. Dixon said that he was floored when he got the DNA test results, but that he was not angry at his girlfriend.

    "I was just really hurt," he said. "That was four years you're getting attached, a long time to put your heart into somebody."

    He said he insisted on both of them telling the girl right away.

    "I told her that I still loved her, but that I didn't want her to grow up with a lie," he said. "She was shocked. Her first question was who's my dad and where's he? I kind of left it up to her mom to tell her."

    The mother refused a request for an interview through Mr. Dixon.

    As it turned out, Mr. Dixon said, the biological father is not in the picture, and "I was lucky enough that the relationship between me and the mother remained civilized."

    Mr. Dixon, who also has a son from an earlier relationship, and the girl have gone back to their old routine.

    He regularly picks her up after school and delivers her back to her mother before heading to work at the hotel, he said.

    Little has changed, except that he now calls her "goddaughter" and she calls him "goddaddy."

    Most of the time, anyway.

    "Sometimes," he said, "she still calls me dad."

October 3, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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you say "paternity is mis-attributed in 5-10% of cases around the world" I have heard this before. Where can i find reputable articles on the subject?

Posted by: berni | Feb 7, 2007 11:16:17 AM

I divorced my wife of five years we have a 4 yr old son together so i thought she dropped the bomb during the custody issue that i might not be the fahter and know the real father showed up and wants custody and to change my sons name is this state for real he even stated they both knew the whole 4 years that he was not my child what are my rights? I have raised him for 4 years believing he was my child I even named him after my deceased dad.California is a joke for dads help any advice?

Posted by: chris | Oct 2, 2006 12:32:08 AM

This is interesting. I'm actually thinking about getting a test through these DNA place they talk about. If you look at their website they're doing some type of promo where you can get a free test if it's not done in time. Worth a shot, eh?


For the stats, not sure what to think. I'm going through the situation myself, so I'll let you know what the test results show.

Posted by: Jeff | May 15, 2006 11:32:12 PM

I just re-read this woman's article. She spends the whole time talking about men and their responsibilities and the ramifications if they get the test. Not one word about the evil women who did this to them.

Where is the blame for the women who perpetrated this deception? (1) She cheated on her significant other, and then (2) kept the guy in the dark about the possibility that the kid may not be his. "Oh, I'd be happy to take your money." In any other context this would be vilified, but if it is a woman, then she is off the hook.


Posted by: Jon | Oct 4, 2005 9:32:00 PM

This is really great for men!

Imagine the deception by women all these years! Get sperm from one man, marry another, and get money from that sucker for 18 years!

Think of the financial resources spent by victimized men for child support for another man’s child. One less way women can have their cake and eat it too! Perfect!

If she wants the bad boy’s sperm, let her try to get the bad boy’s money! Mr. Nice guy isn’t going to be your pansy anymore!

I say, "Men, send in those swabs today and take back your life!"

Posted by: Jon | Oct 4, 2005 9:22:55 PM

That's a touchy issue and perhaps a bit insensitive for you to say "I've always been confounded by the finding that 5-10% of people all over the world — regardless of economic status or geography — call a man "Dad" who is not their biological father." I'd argue that being a good 'dad' has little to do with biology and more with personality. What about where the father ditched the mom after the child is born and the child is raised by another man who becomes involved with mom? If the father reappears 10 years later is he still 'dad'? What about adopted kids? Do they not have a 'dad'?

Also, those results are only for cases in which paternity tests are requested. It's not all that surprising to me. You probably wouldn't ask for a paternity test if you didn't have SOME doubt.

Posted by: anonymous | Oct 3, 2005 5:19:15 PM

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