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What Is a Non-Paternity Event?

Posted on Thu, 20 July, 2017

I want to talk about something I’m seeing more of lately in my practice: “non-paternity events“.  These are events as termed by law, sociology and clinical genetics to describe cases of false paternity, where a biological father is someone other than who is presumed to be.  Talk about Oops!  As it turns out, this is really common. Everywhere.

Evidently up to 15% of men on birth certificates are not the biological father. As one article in The Atlantic puts it, “In other words, as many as 1 of every 7 men who proudly carry their newborn out of a hospital could be a cuckold”. And with each generation it will rise in percentage.

“Non-paternity events” really needs a new name or reference cause it doesn’t convey and accurate description. Nor does it roll off the tongue.  It’s a rather cold and impersonal name which as it turns out is exactly the kind of feeling individuals going through this experience: isolation, confusion, numbness, detachment or even dissociation; all part of an unsuspecting identity crisis.  And it’s all verified through DNA testing.

The Rub

Local to my area is genetic genealogist, Christina Fitzgibbons, who has a lot to say on the subject. Using, 23andMe or Family Tree DNA (the three main companies) she cross references the results and voila! You can confirm your paternity, ancestry and health history, just like that.

It also confirms the lying family members engage in.  Usually the mothers it seems, since it’s harder to falsify maternity.  Christina describes that, “non-paternity events are not that uncommon.  I find it doesn’t discriminate by race, religion or socioeconomic status.  The explanations can vary from pure selfishness and lies to understandable concern to protect a child. Carrying the non-paternity event into the child’s adulthood is where the damage is done.”


Dealing With It

That’s where I come in.  Therapy is a great place to untangle the web of deceit and subsequent feelings.  Especially using EMDR which can do so quickly and successfully by addressing how you feel about yourself as a result of the trauma. Whether it be from an adoption or a straight up lie to cover bad behavior or other trauma, non-paternity events trigger raw emotions around acceptance, abandonment, rejection, importance, trust and confusion about where you belong.

I imagine that a child coming in with these experiences wouldn’t be able to make sense of it for a long while, probably until their adult years when maturation allows for different perspectives and insight is greater.  The adults who come however, are rocked with the above mentioned emotions.  Depression and anxiety go way up to say the least and it mimics grief in the stages they travel through from denying the DNA test is accurate to bargaining that none of this has happened and they can just go back to normal, to intense anger.  It’s all there, and it can rapid cycle.

The one thing you can trust in this process is the science.  The DNA testing we have now is superior to that of even 20 years ago according to Christina. The deceit unravels relationships that were once rock solid and creates a crisis demanding change of some sort.  It also affects how the person sees themselves in the family, now probably not blood related and for a while anyway, that messes with your sense of belonging.


This seems to be one of those issues that is rarely spoken about, like miscarriages.  You do not have to traverse the journey alone.  Find a skilled therapist and a good friend or two and keep processing it until you land on feelings that no longer feel like quicksand.


Jodi Klugman-Rabb is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Marin and Napa Counties. She specializes in connecting with clients on a humorous and practical level, helpful when specializing in ADHD, trauma and anger/communication skills. She uses EMDR to treat traumas and fears of all types. She is the mom of two funny and awesome kids. Connect with Jodi on her website or

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A blog written by a hip, sometimes irreverent shrink who’s been around the block and calls it like it is

Humor is a great way to make sense of the world around us - and a little psychological perspective never hurt

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