Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Deny thy father and refuse thy gene sequence?

There’s a fascinating article in the NYTimes magazine, “Who Knew I Was Not the Father?” It’s all the impact of cheap paternity testing on conceptions of fatherhood. Men now have a cheap and easy way to discovering that children they thought were theirs really carry someone else’s genes.

This raises the question, what is fatherhood? Is it the genes or the relationship? There’s obviously elements of both, but perhaps there’s a rule in here: adding identity to a system makes the system more brittle.

4 comments on "Deny thy father and refuse thy gene sequence?"

  • rob sama says:

    Technology is supplanting what used to be cultural norms. Once upon a time, adultery was a felony offense, jailable, for this very reason. But if we aren’t going to enforce marital bonds with the courts or with social pressure, then technology will be the last refuge of paternal certainty. It’s time the law catches up to technology here. The times article you cite is heart wrenching.

  • rob sama says:

    Also worth noting that the way that Smith is portrayed is rather one sided. Smith makes his own case here:

  • Chris says:

    I wondered if the non-bio dad might have a cause of action against the biological one now married to and living with the mom. I am OK with non-bio having to pay support, but it seems that the bio dad is somehow being unjustly enriched. Nice title for the post, btw.

  • DanT says:

    I was disappointed the article did not mention a better way of handling this situation, which would require a minor change to current law to accomodate DNA testing.
    Current law allows a mother with custody to sue a father for child support AND allows a father with custody to sue a mother for child support. The term “father” in these cases is either a legal father (aka husband) or biological father (asserted by the mother). Unlike the past, with DNS testing biological fatherhood can now be determined with certainty.
    Why not allow a legal father to sue a biological father for child support? This could be done at any time, either during marriage or after a divorce. Thus, a man who cuckolded a married man could be made to pay for the results of his actions. After a divorce, the state could continue to make the legal father pay child support; but the legal father could, at his choice, seek to be reimbursed by the biological father.
    This is in the best interests of the child: no renunciation of legal fatherhood is needed and the legal father remains legally bound in all respects. This is in the best interests of the legal father: he can be financially reimbursed for raising a child which is not biologically his which may be a burden upon him. This is also in the best interests of the mother: her financial burden for raising her children is more likely to be met. This would be great for lawyers, they could initiate more lawsuits. The only ones who lose are the biological fathers who cuckold another man.

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