DNA tests in family cases are in best interests of children, say Resolution

17 Feb 2015

Today’s announcement from the Ministry of Justice allocating funding for judges to order DNA testing in any family court is welcome news for the relatively small but nonetheless significant number of court users that need this service, says family law organisation Resolution.

Resolution chair Jo Edwards comments:

“While we don’t expect to see this affect huge numbers of people, it will make a big difference in the cases that need it. Since the removal of family legal aid there has been very little resource available to resolve this sort of dispute where the couple don't have the means to pay for a DNA test privately, particularly cases involving two self presented litgants. Paternity disputes are obviously a very sensitive and painful issue for everyone involved, so it’s good to see funding allocated for tests that can resolve these matters aS quickly as possible.

She continues: “It’s a very child-focused approach, as with other recent family justice reforms. Knowing who your parents are is crucial for any child. This also sits well with government policy to make divorce and separation less adverserial, with a focus on resolving more cases away from the courts. Doing this this is more difficult where there is a binary issue such as parentage in dispute."

While these tests will make a significant difference in the cases that require them, the numbers of cases involving paternity disputes are relatively low. More court resources (in terms of judicial sitting time) are diverted in family cases involving unrepresented litigants where there are allegations of parental drug or alcohol abuse, and those cases need attention also.

Jo Edwards explains: “What we would really like to see next is allocation of funds for drug and alcohol testing in the courts. This could lead to ‘fact finding’ hearings being avoided. Where one parent says they don’t want the other to spend time with a child because of drug or alcohol issues, these could easily be resolved through a simple hair test – but there are presently no resources allocated for these tests since the removal of legal aid. This leads to court resources being diverted into lengthy hearings where evidence is presented to determine whether these allegations are true. This causes delays in the courts and leads to cases dragging out much longer than they need to - ultimately to the detriment of the children involved."