Paternity is defined as the state or quality of being a father. If the two parents were married at the time when a child was born, then the court will presume that the child was born from the fruits of the marriage, and paternity will be automatically established for the husband. However, if the parents were not married when the child was born, paternity must be established, because children that are born to unwed persons do not automatically have a “legal father”. 

Thus, a paternity action is a court suit filed to have a man declared the legal father of a child. Paternity actions can be brought by either the mother, father, or in some circumstances, the child. 

Most commonly, paternity actions are brought by the mother of the child when the father of the child denies paternity. If the man is determined to be the father, the court will order child support payments and will grant him parental rights, such as custody or visitation rights. Sometimes, a father may wish to file a paternity lawsuit, if their parental rights have been denied by the mother of the child, although this is much less common. 

DNA tests can currently determine paternity with 99.9% accuracy and can rule out paternity with 100% accuracy. Thus, DNA tests have become the primary admissible method of establishing paternity in court.

What is DNA Testing and How is it Performed?

As noted above, the matter of establishing paternity has become an easier and more reliable method of establishing paternity than methods used in the past. In connection with testing for paternity, DNA profiling allows for the direct examination of a child’s genetic material. 

Then the genetic characteristics of the child are compared to their mother. The characteristics that are compared that are not found in the mother are determined to have been inherited from the father. Next, the suspected father is tested. 

There are several different methods for collecting DNA, including cheek swab tests, blood samples, and DNA genetic identity. Once the DNA testing is performed, if the suspected father does not have the genetic characteristics of the child, then they will be legally determined not to be the father of that child. 

If the suspected father does have the characteristics inherited by the child, then the probability that he is the biological father will be calculated and presented as evidence to the court. 

What Else Should I Know About DNA Testing?

If you are thinking about having a paternity test executed, then there is certain information that you should be aware of. The following is a list of information you should be aware of when DNA testing may be conducted:

  • Can an Unborn Child Be Tested? In short, yes. A DNA specimen can be obtained through a chorionic villus sampling, which can be done ten weeks into the pregnancy, or through amniocentesis, which can be done 15 weeks into the pregnancy;
  • Can DNA Testing Be Done Without the Mother? It is possible to accurately test the the child and alleged father when the mother is not available, because the locations of child’s DNA will match the DNA location of their biological father; 
  • Who Does the DNA Testing? DNA testing should be done by a laboratory approved by an accreditation body designated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. DNA testing centers are simple to locate and their costs are reasonable; and 
  • Who Pays for DNA Testing? A court can order payment by:

    • The party seeking the testing;
    • Both the mother and the alleged father;
    • The government agency seeking the testing. In this situation if the man is found to be the biological father, he may be ordered to reimburse the agency; or
    • The state may be ordered to pay for DNA testing, if the parents are found to be indigent.

Are there Alternatives to Establishing Paternity, other than DNA Testing?

In general, paternity may be established automatically, by a paternity affidavit, by a court order, or by an administrative order based on the results of DNA testing. DNA testing only determines whether there is a biological link between the father and the child. 

However, courts have long recognized that a father does not need to be genetically linked to a child to become their legal father. Therefore, a man can be the legal father of a child, even if the DNA test rules out a biological link, such as through adoption.

Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with Paternity DNA Testing Matters?

As can be seen, DNA testing can often become a very complicated matter, and establishing paternity has a tremendous impact in the life of a child. Thus, before taking a paternity test, it may be in your best interests to consult with an experienced and well qualified family lawyer. An experienced family lawyer can help you establish or deny paternity, as well as represent you in court, if necessary.