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I discovered that my daughter is not mine: Can I claim back child support?

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 12/9/2019 Quentin Fottrell

Dear Moneyist: 

I recently found out through a DNA test through 23andMe that my “daughter” isn’t mine. I was forced to marry, thinking the baby was mine. My wife passed away in 1990. Can I claim back child support from the biological father? I reside in Pennsylvania. Thank you.

Al K.

Dear Al:

There’s a phrase in Ireland that resulted from a political scandal in the 1980s involving the then Attorney General, a debonair party boy and murderer named Malcolm Daniel Edward McArthur and a nurse named Bridie McGargan who was bludgeoned to death while sunning herself in the Phoenix Park on the outskirts of Dublin City. McArthur was arrested while staying at the home of the Attorney General, who was on vacation. The then Prime Minister declared the case: “Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented.” It led to the slightly absurd acronym GUBU, which found its way into the Irish vernacular and, for a brief period, a pub also called GUBU. 

Why am I telling you this sordid and tragic tale? Because I never fail to find some letters sent to the Moneyist grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. There are no winners here: Your wife did not behave in an honorable manner, and your “daughter” (your quotation marks) was not brought up knowing who her real father was. Were you in her life when she was growing up? Did you try to be involved with the girl you believed to be your flesh and blood? Do you have any love or affection for her? If the answer to those questions is no, I feel for her and the absence of a loving father in her life.

I feel less concerned about the payments you made to help this young girl. You could ask a lawyer for his/her advice, but my suspicion is you will get the same response you will get here: This man cannot be held responsible as a “deadbeat dad” if he did not know he had a daughter and, as such, you can’t ask him or your “daughter” (your quotation marks) for this money back, and the statute of limitations has long passed. Plus, your daughter is no longer a minor. Take pride and heart in the fact that you helped this young woman and think what it would do to her if she knew you wanted such cruel reparations.

Related: I discovered through that my biological father is someone else

Not everyone feels that way. Some members of the Moneyist Facebook Group have sympathy for you, and they’re not all men. They believe you were led up the garden path and around the mulberry tree for 18 years. A woman writes: “He was lied to and forced to take responsibility for someone else’s actions.” Another man adds: “Paternity fraud is a real and disgusting thing that happens frequently, and takes years to uncover when a father puts his trust in an untrustworthy woman. There is an entire “subreddit” dedicated to men being forced to pay child support for children they are not biological fathers to. Totally disgusting!” 

I, however, find this situation GUBU for another reason. Is a DNA test the only measure in life that determines whether someone is your child or not? Legally, perhaps. But what about emotionally, spiritually or morally? I recently watched a story on “The Dodo” Facebook page: A stray dog was found cuddling up to two abandoned kittens to keep them warm. It was moving and beautiful. I saw another video where a dog rocked a baby’s crib and licked the baby’s hand until he/she stopped crying. The instinct for one living creature to care for another runs in our DNA too. 23andMe and can’t measure that.

Sometimes unexpected and challenging situations can reveal who we are because it presents us with a choice. Choose to be the best man you can be. Wish this young woman well and move on.

Related video: Only half of parents get the child support they are owed (provided by CBS News)


Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used). 


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