DNA test funding that will be used to determine parentage in legal cases that involve financial matters and contact arrangements involving children could help create alternatives to harmful and stressful legal battles.
The government has announced that £500,000 – £1m a year will be used to pay for the DNA tests in England from September.
The money will come from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. It will most likely be commonly used to fund family mediation alongside DNA paternity tests when it is not possible for the parents (or alleged parents) of a child to pay for them.
DNA test funding – how it will help
In 2013 government cuts resulted in the demise of legal aid for DNA tests, which had reportedly resulted in longer court cases when parents could not afford the cost of DNA testing, so it is hoped that these reforms will put an end to prolonged court battles. The new funding also means judges could be more confident when making decisions about children and parents would be more likely to adhere to court orders.
Justice Minister Simon Hughes voiced his support for its introduction when he said: “I am determined that all cases involving children should be resolved quickly and wherever possible outside court. However, when they do come to court they should be resolved in a civilised way so that children don’t suffer.” He added: “Unambiguous and conclusive DNA tests will prove parentage and help to end acrimonious and embarrassing court battles.”
The new funding may also assist in cases where parents try to avoid providing DNA test samples in an attempt to stray from paying child support by claiming not to be a biological parent without providing any admissible proof. It could also challenge an alleged parent’s right of contact if it is found they are not the child’s biological parent through DNA testing.
A government press release announced some of the specific reforms to the system. It says that it is ‘easier for the public to use and understand’ and that ‘compulsory family mediation information meetings’ will be held where ‘separating couples must consider alternatives to harmful and stressful court battles when resolving financial matters and arrangements for child contact.’
It also announced new child arrangements orders, which will ‘encourage parents to focus on the child’s needs rather than what they see as their own rights’ and that ‘free mediation sessions for all couples where one of them is eligible for free legal aid’ will be provided.
Calls for quicker DNA and Drugs & Alcohol Testing
Although there are some clear benefits for those who may otherwise have to undergo drawn-out legal cases, the announcement has not received wall-to-wall praise. Jane Robey, chief executive of the charity National Family Mediation, said the government’s announcement to foot the cost of DNA testing in this manner was ‘puzzling’ as a biological parental relationship should be determined before reaching the courtroom.
She said: “It makes no sense to wait until a case reaches court – at the very end of a long and costly process – when it is possible to establish paternity or drug and alcohol use, much, much sooner.”
It is refreshing that Jane Robey makes such a distinction when it comes to the various forms of testing available in such cases. Many of the reports around the government’s reform of DNA test funding seem to have focussed solely on DNA paternity tests that involve testing an alleged father. However, it is possible to establish a probability of paternity in a DNA test without testing the alleged father and it is likely that this funding will also cover cases when it is not possible for the alleged father to be tested and the mother cannot afford to pay.