Scandals involving high-profile unmarried men fathering children after a one-night stand or a “meaningless” tryst are nothing new. Think, for instance, of Boris Becker and the restaurant broom cupboard. The typical thrust of these stories is that the man’s behaviour is despicable and outrageous and that he deserves everything coming to him.
As many family law specialists are witnessing, men in these situations often feel that they would never have agreed or wished to become a parent under these circumstances and that having a child with a person they may have literally only just met was the last thing they intended.
From this, there can be a feeling that there should be no financial responsibility on their side for a child conceived in a situation where they haven’t agreed to become a Father or have relied on an assertion by a woman that there is no possibility of her conceiving. In these scenarios, the man is often the significantly wealthier party and in any event will have an on-going financial commitment until the child is an adult.
These men perceive themselves to be a new breed of victim, believing that their crime is taking women at their word. They tell the tale of a woman actively pursuing a wealthy and successful man and without his agreement, deliberately becoming pregnant by him. They feel gullible, used and humiliated. They have fallen foul of “financial entrapment”.
Whereas previously men would recite tales of women who, fearing that their partners are losing interest or are never going to propose, effectively tie men down by “accidentally” forgetting to take the contraceptive pill, now, many men in this situation make the accusation that the motive behind these cases of entrapment is something entirely different. In some cases, women never have any intention of forming a lasting relationship with the man involved; instead their motivation is purely financial.
On-going financial liability for the child can include substantial sums for the mother and child’s housing settled in trust, capital payments for a car, furniture, child set up costs etc"
But, despite the fact that men feel they have been entrapped by these women, there are always two sides to every story. Men in these situations will incur financial consequences following moments – in some cases, literally – of passion but are the wealthy men themselves actually at fault for making themselves ‘available’ to these situations by flaunting their wealth or using their ‘celebrity’ status for their own gratification?
Are these women really trapping men or is this an unfair accusation? As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango and (in most cases) – two to make a child. Rightfully, the law does not discriminate between the claim for a child born of a 20-year loving relationship or a 20-minute brief encounter with a stranger. In fact, under English law, if paternity is proved, a man will incur financial liability for his child’s upbringing, irrespective of the brevity of relationship or the circumstances in which the child was conceived.
Even if the court is plainly aware that the man has been duped and “entrapment” has taken place, the father of the child will still be financially liable for the child’s minority since the court will not punish the child however extreme or manipulative the behaviour of its parents or the circumstances of its conception. The Court’s focus is the welfare of the child, who must be provided for. The Court does take into account that as parents both parties are responsible adults and therefore both should be responsible for the consequences according to their needs and ability to meet them.
On-going financial liability for the child can include substantial sums for the mother and child’s housing settled in trust, capital payments for a car, furniture, child set up costs etc but also monthly maintenance payments for the child until he or she is at least 18 years old. There may also be orders for school fees and the cost of a full time nanny. Additionally, in some circumstances, a father is ordered to make payments to the mother herself – a “carer’s allowance”, for her role in caring for the child.
Once the support payments begin, it is unfair to assume that the mother will automatically have an easy and financially stable life. Bringing up a child is often a testing, challenging experience and the financial obligation that the father has towards the child is actually the minimum contribution that he could offer.
Whilst most men (and women) would no doubt admit to having a casual sexual encounter at some stage of their lives, or to have been in a relationship that they did not imagine would last forever, it is self-evident that having a child is life-changing. It is best agreed by both mother and father.
Article by Richard Collins
Divorce lawyer at Charles Russell LLP