Paternity Fraud: Laws, Cases & Statistics

Instructor: Deona Cureton

I have taught honors English in high school, have an BA in Political Science and English, Master's in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, and completing my PhD in Public Administration & Policy with a concentration in Law & Public Policy

In this lesson, you will learn about paternity fraud, including how paternity fraud occurs in the court system, examples of cases, and statistical information and data on how often paternity fraud occurs.


''You are not the father!'' This may be a common scenario on daytime talk shows, but in the real world, determining the paternity of a child may be difficult due to circumstances that the child's parents found themselves in during the conception of the child. And when a parent knowingly misinterprets facts and timelines to identify an individual as the biological parent on the birth certificate, it creates legal ramifications.

What is Paternity Fraud?

Paternity fraud occurs when a woman names a person as the biological parent on a birth certificate or in legal proceedings, even though she knows he may not be the biological father. Historically, paternity fraud was associated with adultery and lineage. For example, in England, they're ruled by a monarchy. If a queen had an affair, conceiving a child, then knowingly stated the child was the king's, this would be paternity fraud, because the child would fraudulently become heir to the throne. By knowingly lying about the child's paternity, the queen has committed paternity fraud which, due to the ability to inherit a kingdom, is a criminal offense.

In most cases, committing paternity fraud is not a punishable offense. There are many cases of men filing lawsuits in civil court seeking to terminate child support payments and asking for reimbursement upon discovering they were not the biological father of a child. But these lawsuits are often unsuccessful, requiring numerous appeals. Past court cases have also shown that suing for damages (e.g., emotional distress) as opposed to terminating child support tend to be easier to win.

Paternity Fraud: Cases

Let's look at some examples of paternity fraud cases in the United States.

In California, County of Los Angeles v. Navarro, Manuel Navarro sued in 2001 for relief of child support payments when he successfully proved via a DNA test he wasn't the biological father of his ex-wife's two children. Back in 1996, the Los Angeles courts had made a default ruling that assumed Navarro was the biological father, as he was married to the children's mother at the time of each conception. Mr. Navarro didn't appear in court for the child support hearing. Navarro stated he didn't show because he was unaware of the court proceedings taking place. The court made the determination of paternity based upon his ex's claims that Navarro was the children's father.

The County of Los Angeles denied Mr. Navarro's child support motion, arguing he filed against the findings after the six-month time limit. Additionally, his ex-wife's implying he was the father was not sufficient enough to establish extrinsic fraud (fraudulent acts which keep a person from obtaining evidence to defend oneself during a lawsuit or court). In 2004, after many appeals, the court of appeals overturned the civil court's ruling and found in favor of Mr. Navarro, becoming the first published case in California to state that the statute of limitations should not be applied to cases of old default judgments against paternity fraud victims.

The courts finally ruled in favor of Navarro after numerous appeals.
The courts finally ruled in favor of Navarro after numerous appeals.

In 2003 in Florida, Parker v. Parker occurred when Ms. Parker petitioned the court to enforce the 2001 ruling that her ex-husband was to pay $1,200.00 per month for child support as the father of her child, born during their marriage. This petition prompted a DNA test, which proved Mr. Parker wasn't the biological father. He then submitted a motion for child support relief, 16 months after their divorce, but Florida law only allowed for a 12-month window to contest paternity after the divorce.

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