Even if a man has been conclusively proved, by DNA evidence, not to be the father of a child, it remains possible for him to retain parental responsibility for that child. The High Court made that important point in a decision that clarified the law.
A mother was granted a declaration that a man was not the father of her child. In the light of DNA evidence that definitively disproved his paternity, he did not contest that part of her case. What he did oppose, however, was the mother’s application to discharge his parental responsibility for the child.
Ruling on the issue, the Court noted that the question of whether a man is the father of a child is one of biological fact. Parental responsibility, on the other hand, is a legal status. Section 4(2A) of the Children Act 1989 states that a person who has acquired parental responsibility for a child shall cease to have that responsibility only if the court so orders.
On a true interpretation of that provision, the Court found that a removal of parental responsibility is not the automatic consequence of a declaration of non-paternity. In deciding whether the man should retain his parental responsibility, the welfare of the child was the paramount consideration. Having ruled on the point of principle, the Court adjourned consideration of the mother’s substantive application to a further hearing.