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Your dad might not be yours; Paternity Fraud

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

But better to get hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie - Khalid Hosseni.

A meme was once trending with a wicked copy - "Imagine being born because yo momma needed an iPhone". What could be worse than that? Nothing? No, here's what's worse.

“I once heard someone say that a child is the most expensive "thing you can ever buy." Raising one or a couple of them costs quite a lot of money in terms of diapers, food, clothes,school fees and countless demands. There's also a truckload of love, commitment and attachment involved too.”

You cannot possibly begin to imagine the emotional pain of Mr A who is confused as to whether or not he should take the word "father" out of his twitter bio.

With tears in his eyes and a sigh on his lips, he stares again at that piece of paper. A DNA test result, that was all it took to make him unsure of who he really was. Just a few weeks ago,he would have referred to himself as a proud father of three lovely daughters and a son between the ages of 9 and 17.

Here is a fact; paternity fraud is particularly prevalent in Nigeria (almost like "The secret lives of Baba Segi's wives" was reality). I could probably even bet that a story like Mr A's has popped up on your newsfeed at least twice in the past few weeks. The facts may have been slightly different but the pain and feeling of betrayal is a common unifying thread in these stories.

Paternity Fraud

Paternity fraud simply refers to a deliberate act of misidentifying a man as the biological father of a child. It occurs when the mother of the child either knows that he is not the biological father of the child or she is unsure.

Paternity fraud can occur within or outside the institution of marriage. Just like the society, once a couple is married, the immediate assumption of the court is that any child born within the marriage belongs to the husband. This presumption also applies to any child born at most 280 days after a divorce.

This assumption can however be proved to be wrong beyond reasonable doubt (Adeyemi v Abayomi). The most convincing way to prove otherwise will be to conduct a DNA test.

In the words of Tristan Wilds; "finding out the truth is only half of it. It’s what you do with it that matters.” Now that Mr. A knows he is not the biological father of his children, what next?

The court does provide some sort of remedy for men like Mr. A. If Mr. A is married to Miss. B at the time that he finds out about the paternity fraud, then Mr. A can claim a few reliefs including damages.

If the child was born at such a time that the only possible explanation would be that the woman must have been pregnant by someone else just before the marriage was conducted, Section 5(1)(d) of the Matrimonial Causes Act provides that the man can go to court and seek that the marriage should be declared void as long as he was not aware that the pregnancy was not his. This however only applies if the marriage is less than a year old

If, on the other hand, the child was conceived when the marriage was existing, this may mean that the wife committed adultery. Under Section 15(2)(b), adultery can be used to prove that a marriage has "broken down irretrievably".

There is more. The father could also claim "damages" which is monetary compensation from the mother and the biological father for his time and emotional trauma he has suffered. He can also claim maintenance from the mother. This is, however, subject to the court's discretion.

If the marriage however was a customary marriage; the marriage can be brought to an end by the husband without having to go to court.

What if Mr A was not married to Miss B? The best way that Mr A can seek any form of relief is to sue Miss B under the "Tort of Deceit" for damages.

The issue of Paternity fraud is not without controversies. Some people have also sought to explain it's prevalence in Nigerian society in terms of the high premium placed on having biological children culturally.

Whatever the motivations and justifications, paternity fraud still remains one of the most heart wrenching discoveries that anyone could ever make. Also, in spite of the various forms of relief that might be available, it still leaves a. mark on the affected parties particularly the children who have to carry that burden of rejection all through their lives.

We love you so much so we put this in PDF for you to have. How does that sound? Here, download away.

Oyemaja Law Opinion Concept Note 003
Download PDF • 831KB



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