Paternity search limits

A paternity search is a limited tool that does not necessarily reveal all of a person’s children, the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages (BDM) advises.

Lawyers administering estates often approach BDM for paternity searches but there is no guarantee that such a search will reveal every child for whom a person is registered as a parent. A paternity search covers only a particular and quite limited register and cannot determine whether a person is recorded as a parent in the birth register.

Paternity searches are conducted under s9(2) of the Status of Children Act 1969.

The most common situation where a search is requested is when a person is applying for a grant of letters of administration. Such a grant will be made only where the applicant shows that he or she has made reasonable inquiries to determine whether there is any parent or child of the deceased who may have an interest in the estate (s5A(1)(a)). A person is deemed to have made reasonable inquiries if he or she has caused a search under s9(2) to be made, and looked through any papers of the deceased (s5A(2)).

The search under s9(2) covers a register of three things:

  • instruments acknowledging paternity;
  • declarations of paternity made by the High Court or Family Court; and
  • Paternity Orders made by the Family Court.

An instrument acknowledging paternity is a deed executed before a solicitor by the child’s mother and a man acknowledging he is the father of the child (s8(2)). The deed may then be lodged with the Registrar-General. So a paternity search is limited to deeds that the parents have chosen to lodge, which are rare, and declarations and orders of the courts.

It does not cover the birth register. A search of the birth register is quite separate and cannot be used to find a person’s children.

Searches of the birth register are governed by s74 of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 1995. Under this section, a search can be made only by using the subject of the record’s own name. One cannot search using another name that may appear on the record, such as that of a parent, so it is not possible to search the birth register for any children a person may have had (see s74(2)).

Births that occurred over 100 years ago can be searched by the public online using a parent’s name at although this will generally be of limited assistance in trying to find people with an interest in a current estate.

Something worth keeping in mind is that, although all of the instruments that can be searched under s9(2) relate to paternity, it is possible to search these instruments for the person listed as the mother, so a ‘paternity search’ can be of use in determining maternity.

However, a BDM search of the birth register cannot be made to find a person’s children, so other sources will need to be used if you require a person’s complete family history.

This article was published in LawTalk 742, 30 November 2009, page 7.