So should I sue my wife, then?

'This cuckoo stuff goes on a fair bit - a lot of children still say "Daddy" to the wrong bloke'

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Here's a story to divide couples. Bloke sues woman for recovery of dosh spent on child who turned out not to be his. Whose side are you on? Discuss it over breakfast, but remember that the first one to throw toast or cereal at the other is disqualified. Meanwhile, allow me to assist in the discussion.

Here's a story to divide couples. Bloke sues woman for recovery of dosh spent on child who turned out not to be his. Whose side are you on? Discuss it over breakfast, but remember that the first one to throw toast or cereal at the other is disqualified. Meanwhile, allow me to assist in the discussion.

The facts first. On Tuesday, a 55-year- old businessman, Mr A, was given leave in the High Court to bring a case for fraud against Ms B. A quarter of a century ago, Mr A had a vasectomy - so it was something of a surprise (he claims) when, 12 years later and living with Ms B (now 44, which you'll want to know, despite its being irrelevant), along comes a baby. Well, it happens (though not to anyone I've ever met). She swears (he says) that the kid is his.

They live together for eight years as Mum, Dad and junior, and then there's a separation. But Mr A, of course, continues to pay maintenance for Master A-B, until last year when, for some reason, he has cause to doubt the paternity of his son. Tests are done, and blimey O'Reilly, if for all this time he hasn't been shelling out for some other guy's nipper! Which is the ultimate male nightmare: not only was he tricked into a fatherhood he didn't want, then cuckolded, but he has been assiduously helping a rival male successfully to reproduce his genes. I can feel the testosterone boiling in my nether regions even as I write this.

So no wonder, if Mr A's account is accurate, that he's fed up. But surely he's an arse to sue over it. And the judge is an ass for letting him. As one lawyer remarked this week, the bringing of such a prosecution in a matter of domestic deception "opens the floodgates". If, for instance, a man cheats on his wife and furnishes his mistress with jewellery and rent-money (I know this example is a little hackneyed, but time is short), should his spouse - or their children - be able to sue either of the cheats for loss of benefit?

And, more important, if this man was sleeping with this woman at the time, and was therefore even in a position to believe that he might be the child's father - and then subsequently reared a child as his own - isn't it incredibly (as the woman's lawyers claim) callous for him to seek to get his money back, and claim damages on top of that? Isn't Mr A part of that post-feminist backlash misogyny, now so popular among some men; a misogyny that feeds on "false rape claims" and tales of women sexually harassing men?

Well, hold on a second. Mr A has got a point. Paternity is considered important under law in determining liability. The CSA is entitled to chase dads across dusty continents to extract maintenance for their biological offspring. You can, theoretically, end up in chokey if you don't pay your whack for your child. It would seem only a matter of natural justice then, that on discovering that you have been wrongly persuaded that you have a financial responsibility for a kid, you should have some possibility of gaining redress. What's sauce for the goose and all that.

How can it be fair to pay if it's yours and to pay if it ain't?

And there is the evidence that this cuckoo stuff goes on a fair bit. True, the alarming 15 per cent figure given for wrongly attributed sprogs in a survey not so long ago may have been called into question this week by genetic research, but even so, a lot of children still say "Daddy" to the wrong bloke. The most famous recent case was that, of course, of Jess Yates, nicknamed The Bishop, and presenter of Stars on Sunday. Only at the funeral in 1997 of his TV rival, Hughie Green, was it made public that Green had planted a love-child in Yates's nest. DNA tests subsequently proved that Paula Yates was Green's daughter. Though her mother, it must be said, somewhat implausibly denies the story to this day. It is a wonderful irony, however, that The Bishop was also the producer of a programme called Junior Showtime.

Furthermore, the idea that marriage and child-bearing aren't transactional is a romantic myth. Or rather, romance is the ideological fig-leaf with which we cover the nakedness of our selfish desires. Anyone who watches a 30-plus woman on the hunt can be under little illusion about what is going on. I generalise disgracefully, but nevertheless it's true; the "search for love" is really a hunt for fathers, a quest for someone kind enough, rich enough and (if adultery isn't your thing) sufficiently genetically well-endowed to be the co-guardian of your babies. The rest is a deal, a negotiation about terms - usually without words. The strongest marriages are often those where this truth is best understood.

Consider Hollywood, where the same film stars who grace movies in which true love wins out over adversity, then wed each other only after having signed strict pre-nuptial agreements. They sell us the idea of selfless adoration, of utterly spontaneous, uncontrollable feeling - but instruct attorneys when they themselves locate their soulmates.

And isn't this, when we come down to it, at least more honest than our usual pretence that love is the one area that cannot be legislated for? So, my submission is (notwithstanding the actual facts, which may be in dispute), that the man is entitled to bring his case. Well done, judge.

Now we've got clear my support for Mr A's right to sue, I want to go on to offer him this contrary piece of advice. Drop it. Drop it now. No wise, sensible man would go ahead with a case such as this. Because no wise, sensible man would be able to compute so easily the damage caused to him, when set against what he has almost certainly gained.

When I look back to the period when the missus and I were to be found in each others' arms beside the Serpentine (ah me!), I realise that we were both guilty of fraudulent self-misrepresentation. She pretended to be a series of things she wasn't so as to hook me. I pretended to be a nice person in order to get her. What we actually got was very, very different from the sales pitch. So different, in fact, that it does make you wonder whether it wouldn't be simpler to go back to the days of matchmaking, or just draw lots.

So what happened? Three children whom I love to distraction and beyond, and whose quarrelsome, hilarious personalities I never quite contracted for. Total support at the moment when I needed it the most and expected it the least. What didn't happen was the roller-coaster of parties and cultural excitements that we both promised each other, and that we both wanted. Should I sue? Should she?

So here's my question for Mr A. Did he really get nothing out of those 13 years of having a son, or the 11 years of having a spouse? Was there no time that he peeked into the cot and experienced a surge of joy, or helped with homework, or grew a bit because of the responsibility? What happened when the boy first smiled, first crawled, first walked, first spoke? Wasn't it worth £250,000? Maybe this vasectomised man was just lucky after all. His partner may have cheated him, but his son didn't.

David.Aaronovitch@btinternet.com

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