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Furious dads not only ones wanting tests

The Australian, Australia, Leigh Dayton and John Stapleton, November 14, 2008

ANGRY fathers wanting to shirk financial responsibility are not the only group of people going to court over paternity issues.

In an analysis of legal cases in which people intentionally seek a genetic test, US researcher Gregory Kaebnick found that women seeking testing to impose paternal responsibilities were also highly represented.

Dr Kaebnick -- from the Hastings Center in Garrison, New York -- also found two other categories: women attempting to deny paternity rights, and men seeking to obtain them.

Lyn Turney, a sociologist at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne who has studied the experiences of people involved in paternity tests, said that Dr Kaebnick's categories also applied in Australia, although people had many motivations for wanting DNA paternity tests.

"I think most fathers (who seek testing) have a genuine desire to be the father of the child," Dr Turney said.

James Fitzclarence would certainly agree. His relationship with his child's mother broke up shortly after she became pregnant. From previous experience, Mr Fitzclarence had come to believe he could not have children and this was the child he had always wanted.

Despite his wishes to be involved, the child was born without him even knowing. He hired a solicitor and with the co-operation of the mother, who had previously declared she was not certain he was the father, he paid for genetic tests.

They proved he was the father of his daughter Katya, now four years old. Eventually, he was able to establish a close relationship with her.

"For me, DNA testing has been a very positive thing," Mr Fitzclarence said. "I have another little girl now from another relationship and she has a sister. They all love each other dearly and get on very well."

"Joan James" -- who chose not to use her real name, to protect her now six-year-old son -- had a very different experience. After a short relationship she became pregnant and the father disappeared.

"He refused to acknowledge he was the father," said Ms James, who has since married. "He would not pay for or take a (paternity) test."

She claimed it took nine months of stressful legal action to obtain a court order demanding the man take the test. Despite a positive test he has continued to deny any association with the child, even refusing to sign documents needed for Ms James to acquire a passport for her son.

According to Dr Turney, emotions surrounding disputed paternity are often intensified by the marketing of paternity tests by private firms and the vocal concerns of fathers' rights groups.

"These situations often arise in very volatile relationships that have already broken up," she said. "There is already unhappiness and no longer a relationship between the partners."

The external push for "peace of mind" tests can bring about a less traumatic end to an already damaged relationship.

This week's release of a discussion paper for public consultation about new laws covering DNA theft has fuelled the emotions of people involved in paternity disputes. The proposed laws would make it unlawful to obtain a sample of someone's DNA for testing without permission.

Not everyone in a dispute disagrees with the premise of consent. Mr Fitzclarence sought permission from his child's mother and even Ms James backs the proposed law.

"It's really, really important that there is regulation to ensure genetic testing is used responsibly," she said.