Dear Mr. Dad: I’m in the early stages of what is going to be a very contested divorce. One of the core issues is that my soon-to-be-ex-wife admitted that she’s been having an affair for the past four years. As if that weren’t bad enough, we have two children that were born during that time and she’s pregnant with another. I’m quite wealthy and she’s already demanding a lot of money for child support. I’m quite concerned, though, that some (or none) of the children are mine. Is there anything I can do to protect myself?
A: I’m sorry to hear about your situation. Divorce is never easy, and, as know from experience, it’s even tougher when you’ve been cheated on and children are involved.
The first thing you need to do is hire a lawyer. Then get DNA tests for you and the children. Your goal here is to avoid becoming a victim of what’s being called “paternity fraud.” This is when a mother knowingly lies about who the father of her child is for the purposes of monetary gain. In your case, you could be on the hook for 18 or more years of child support for a child or children who aren’t yours.
The bad news is that paternity fraud is not uncommon. Accurate statistics are impossible to get, but estimates range from 4 to 25 percent. The good news (if there is such a thing in this kind of situation) is that you’re early in the divorce process and may be still able to shut down attempts at paternity fraud. If the DNA tests show that you’re not, in fact, the father, ask your lawyer how to challenge paternity. Depending on where you live, you’ll typically have between six months and two years to do so. Don’t let that window of opportunity close.
The stories of paternity fraud range from the mildly amusing (men who were confirmed to have been sterile but were told that “their” children were theirs) to the tragic (men who, out of nowhere, get a bill for back child support for children they never knew they had—and who aren’t actually theirs—but because they missed the deadline to contest the court order (which they hadn’t known about), were nevertheless legally required to pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in support).
So why are the courts making men pay child support for children who aren’t theirs, whom they may never have met or known about or have no legal rights to see? Unfortunately, it’s big business. Aside from the money received by mothers, many states and local jurisdictions receive government funds for every child support claim they issue and/or take a percentage of money they collect—often to the tune of tens of millions of dollars per year.
In your case, though, none of this may batter, since the biggest issues is that you undoubtedly love the two children you’ve raised as your own and you may decide that you want to continue to be their father—with everything that entails, financial and otherwise—regardless of what a paternity test might show. This means that you’ll need to work out custody and child-support arrangements with your ex. Be aware, though, that if someone else orders a paternity test later (say she marries the man she’s been having the affair with and wants him to be the daddy) and you’re ruled out as the father, you could lose your legal rights—along with any hope of having a relationship with those children or even being able to see them again—completely.
This article first appeared on MrDad.com