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Lies, deception and paternity fraud

By Akiva Quinn - posted Thursday, 16 November 2006

Do the moral issues skirted by the High Court ruling against a finding of deceit in the Magill case indicate that when it comes to reproductive choices women have rights but men do not? Or should our social concern rather focus on the children who are denied knowing their natural fathers and hence lose the key to half of their genetic heritage?

The legal establishment, and others who think that society can do no better, may like us accept that mothers should make the choices about having children and therefore we should not be too dismayed about the possibility of paternity fraud.

But it is an historical, social and ethical mistake to consider mothers (and the courts) as the sole arbiters on the needs of children. Fathers can and should also be involved in decisions about what is best for their children.


Women have been insistent in claiming their rights to choose whether to become parents or not. The long-running debates on “a woman’s right to” abortion and the parliamentary debate on making the RU486 abortion drug available are testimony to these vocal claims.

Men would dearly like to assert similar rights to make their own reproductive choices.

But what happens when a woman exercises her reproductive choice to become a mother while misleading her male partner into believing that he has become a father?

According to last week’s decision by the High Court of Australia in the Magill case, the mother, Meredith Magill, is not guilty of the common law tort of deceit even though she knew that Liam Magill was not the father of two of her children.

Men choose to become fathers through insemination, adoption or assuming some of the fathering responsibilities for their partner’s children. What men do not freely choose is to become a “step-father” to children they believe are their own.

Men who are made aware that they are not the father of their partner’s children may still choose to take on a fathering role if they are comfortable doing so. Liam Magill was not given this choice. He was denied any knowledge of the children’s paternity and his right to make an informed choice was unjustly violated.


Any acceptance of paternity fraud sends a strong message that our society recognises the importance of women’s rights but fails to give men’s rights equal consideration.

Worse still in cases where paternity fraud is deliberate. It involves a calculated decision on the part of a mother to deny the children and the natural father the truth about their father-child relationships. This denies the children a key aspect of their identity.

Biological ties are important to each of us in understanding who we are. Family relations are central to our sense of self-identity: “Who are your parents?”; “Is this your child?”

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About the Author

Akiva Quinn is a research student in Applied Ethics at Monash University

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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