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Lawyers see ‘Delphine effect’ as interest in paternity recognition increases

KONINKLIJK PALEIS BRUSSEL/ PALAIS ROYAL BRUXELLES/ KONIGLICHER PALAST BRUESSEL/ ROYAL PALACE BRUSSELS Hand out picture released on Tuesday 27 October 2020, by the Belgian Royal Palace showing Queen Paola of Belgium and King Albert II of Belgium during a meeting with Princess Delphine.
10:00 03/11/2020

The high-profile, successful conclusion of the seven-year court battle which ended with Delphine Boël being officially recognised as Princess Delphine, the biological daughter of former Belgian King Albert II, has led to an increase in interest in paternity cases.

While practitioners of family law have yet to see a notable increase in actual applications for paternity recognition, they have begun to field more enquiries and questions from people who now realise that the procedures that can lead to official recognition exist.

"It became apparent that people were not always aware that being an illegitimate child is quite common and that illegitimate children have rights,” Arnaud Gillard, a lawyer specialising in family law, says. “They now realise they can start actions against their biological father, whether they know them or not.”

The procedure is relatively simple, in theory. The court often orders a DNA test, like the one that finally proved Albert II was Princess Delphine’s biological father. After that, things can move very fast.

The question of the statute of limitations remains, however: it is, in theory, 30 years from the claimant’s 18th birthday: "The idea of the 48th birthday for the statute of limitations must be kept in mind,” says Arnaud Gillard, “even if the jurisprudence evolves and says that it could become an absolute right."

Frank Swennen, a professor of law at the University of Antwerp, and a family lawyer, believes that what we are seeing is clearly a ‘Delphine effect’: "We have experienced this in our firm,” he says. “Since the Delphine case, more people have come to us on this kind of business.” He even recently had a client come to him trying to establish paternity to his father who had died in 1965.

Before the Delphine case, lawyers were hesitant to start proceedings, saying that the chances were often slim. Today, their attitude is different: "We tell them to try, we'll see," says Frank Swennen.

Written by Nick Amies