Declarations of parentage in a world of DNA testing

Eva Akins, Partner in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, education law team.
Eva Akins
3 min Read

The recent case of Re Ms L; Re Ms M (Declaration of Parentage) determined that an adult who was adopted as a child can obtain a declaration of parentage in relation to the identity of their biological father. Given the rise in easily accessible DNA testing it seems likely that this type of application will become more common.

The facts

The application was made by two unrelated applicants, Ms L and Ms M, who were both adopted as babies in the 1960s. Both had good relationships with their adoptive families but had a desire to locate their biological families. Both women managed to find their biological mothers and had some contact with them over the past 40 years.  

Ms L found out the identity of her biological father from her biological mother in 2009. Ms L made contact with him and he responded warmly. They quickly established a mutual acceptance of their probable biological link and Ms L’s biological father welcomed her into his family. Sadly Ms L’s biological father died unexpectedly in 2020.

Ms M’s biological mother, on the other hand, would not tell her the identity of her biological father. As a result, Ms M spent much of the last 40 years trying to trace him. The breakthrough came when Ms M submitted her DNA results to a number of genealogy websites searching for matches. In 2020 Ms M was notified of a match who turned out to be her half-brother. After further online searches Ms M found a number of other members of her wider biological family who were identified as cousins or siblings. They were all quick to accept that Ms M was indeed a member of their family. Sadly, however, Ms M’s biological father had died about 10 years before.

Ms L and Ms M both decided to make applications to the court for declarations of parentage in relation to their biological fathers. They did not wish to disrupt or set aside their adoptions but rather wanted to correct the historical record on their original birth certificates, so as to add to that document the name and identity of their biological father.

Ms L explained:

“A Declaration of Parentage is personally a very important step for me as it strongly relates to my identity. My bloodline connection is important in terms of both my long-term psychological and material welfare.”

Ms L further explained that a practical benefit of a declaration of parentage would be the ability to acquire dual citizenship, as her biological father had Italian heritage.

Ms M said, following discovering her birth family:

“I have never ever felt so loved or accepted in my whole life. It was like I had never left…the more I find out about him [her birth father], the more I can see where certain elements of my personality come from.”

Considerations for the judge

Declarations of parentage are not uncommon; however, such a declaration had never been made in relation to a person who had been adopted before.

The main issue for the judge, Mr Justice Cobb, was whether making a declaration of parentage would conflict with adoption legislation. This is because the making of an adoption order extinguishes the parental responsibility of everyone other than the adopters and makes clear that the adopted person is to be treated in law as if born as the child of the adopters. The judge had to decide whether the applicants could obtain a declaration of parentage in respect of someone who had in law ceased to be their parent.

The outcome

The judge granted the applications and made the declarations of parentage in both cases. The judge made clear that the declarations would not extinguish the status of each woman’s adoptive parents, who would remain their legal parents, but it would mean that the women’s original birth certificates could be amended to include their biological fathers’ names.

Given the increase in the availability and popularity of DNA testing through companies such as AncestryDNA and MyHeritage we may see a rise in similar applications by adopted people who are keen to resolve their personal identities and lineage.

If you need advice relating to obtaining a declaration of parentage, or regarding any other children matter, please contact the Russell-Cooke children & education team on 020 3826 7528 or fill out our new enquiry form.

Briefings Individuals & families children childrens law education law declaration of parentage DNA DNA testing