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Charlie Chaplin's Battle In Court Changed Paternity Laws Forever

Although having big pockets warrants plenty of perks, it can also make one an easy target for lawsuits and money scams.

Celebrities often tend to be victims of legal battles that end with ridiculous settlements, but one particular case involving the iconic Charlie Chaplin forever changed the face of family law in America.

In 1943, the legendary entertainer was slapped with a lawsuit by an up and coming actress named Joan Berry (also known as Joan Barry). In the years prior to the legal battle, Chaplin and Berry were involved in an affair after they met to discuss working together on a potential film called Shadows and Substance.


The pair spent time together in Manhattan but it wasn't long until things turned sour and Chaplin ended the relationship.

A few months later, she was arrested in Los Angeles for breaking into Chaplin's house and flourishing a gun. To make matters even more complicated, FBI reports revealed that Berry violated the Mann Act (White Slave Traffic Act) because she had previously "attended various parties with Chaplin and it is alleged that he made her available to other individuals for immoral purposes."

Although the affair only lasted for a few months, Berry, who was believed to be mentally unstable later testified that they were together longer and engaged in "four acts of sexual intercourse at or about the date when, in the ordinary course of nature, the child must have been begotten. These acts occurred on the 10th, 23d, 24th and 30th days of December, 1942."

Berry named Chaplin as the father of her daughter, Carol Ann, whom she birthed on October 2, 1943. The actor denied the paternity claims which prompted Berry to take matters to court and file a paternity suit.

Since the only method of determining paternity was through blood, Chaplin, Berry and the baby were subjected to blood tests.

Click on the next page to find out how the if Chaplin was the father and how the case impacted today's paternity laws.

Doctors thoroughly studied the results of the blood test and concluded that Chaplin was not the baby's father.

"Three distinguished medical men, preeminent in their fields, have decided that Mr. Chaplin is eliminated. We must and do abide by their conclusions," said Berry's lawyer.

Berry and Chaplin had previously signed an agreement that all charges would be dropped if he was not the father, but the actress was quick to change her mind.

Turns out, Berry had a backup plan if the paternity test didn't go her way. At the time of the suit, blood tests were not recognized as evidence in California courts so Chaplin had to go through two more trials.

In the 2nd trial in 1945, the jury voted 11 to 1 in Berry's favor and Chaplin was ordered to pay child support until Carol Ann turned 21 years old. Chaplin filed an appeal in 1946 but it was to no avail.

Things may not have worked out well for Chaplin but thanks to him, other men were spared the same fate. Years after Chaplin's appeal and other similar cases, states began to consider a reformation of paternity laws.

In 1953, the Uniform Act on Blood Tests to Determine Paternity was put in motion. It states: "If the court finds that the conclusions of all the experts as disclosed by the evidence based upon the tests are that the alleged father is not the father of the child, the question of paternity shall be resolved accordingly."

Unfortunately for Chaplin, the act came into effect a year after the U.S. attorney general revoked his reentry permit. He returned to his hometown of London, UK and did not step foot on American soil until 1972 to accept an Honorary Academy Award.

[H/T: Mental Floss]

Blair isn't a bestselling author, but she has a knack for beautiful prose. When she isn't writing for Shared, she enjoys listening to podcasts.