Q. I just split up with my ex-wife. She told me our last child was not mine and I just couldn't take it anymore. I demanded a DNA test – and sure enough she was right. But, then I got the bright idea to test my daughter who is three years older than the baby, and sure enough, she's not mine, either. This is the worst thing that has ever happened, and I am at a loss. I'm not sure I want to leave forever. What about my kids? Do I have to tell my daughter she's not mine? What's good ex-etiquette?
A. I would never tell someone to leave – that is your choice and only you can make that decision, but I also have to say that your wife has questionable integrity and it will be difficult to stay once the gravity of what she has done really sinks in.
Now, let's talk about telling the children. The speed in which you do this depends on first, their age, and how much they will understand, but also if the biological father now wants to be in the picture. Although I am not an attorney, it is my understanding that at this point your daughter is yours whether she is biologically related to you or not.
First, she was born during a marriage and I believe the law presumes her to be yours under those circumstance. Plus, you probably signed the birth certificate.
Second, there is a family law code in every state that helps to legally establish the Parent and Child Relationship. In California, the state in which I live, its Family Law section 7511 and other related sections. Again, my understanding is if you hold a child out as your own for at least two years after her birth, you are regarded as the "presumed father." It would be best to call an attorney that is familiar with the specific laws in your area.
Telling a child about their true parentage can be tough. Ask any adoptive parent and they will tell you that they thought about how to present it long and hard. But, it is imperative that you do it. I've worked with people into their 20s that were never told of their biological parentage and then a misguided relative decided to drop the bomb. It can be emotionally devastating when not expected and uproot everything they think they know about their selves and their family.
There's also the medical component to consider. Most everything is inherited, from diabetes to mental illness. Your children need to know their medical history, so they can take the precautions necessary to live a long and happy life.
Finally, taking everything into consideration, this level of betrayal is difficult to process. Many will stand back and dictate how you should handle it. Do what's right for you and do it at your own pace. And, talk to a therapist – someone who will help you walk through this. It's a tough one, but you can rise above it for your children. That's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)