DNA Tests for Paternity

Updated February 2, 2019

This article was scientifically reviewed by YourDNA

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A list of references is also included at the bottom of this article.

DNA paternity testing 1 is done to either establish peace of mind in knowing who the father of a child is or for legal purposes ranging from the collection of child support, to collecting Social Security benefits or in immigration cases, among others.

What's in this Guide?

Disclaimer: Before You Read

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Genetics is a quickly changing topic.

How DNA tests for paternity work

A child gets half of his or her DNA from a mother and the other half from a father.

To determine who the biological parents are, DNA samples are taken from the child, the mother, and the father under ideal circumstances.

The samples are sent to a lab where DNA fragments are analyzed. After the mother’s DNA is matched, then the remaining DNA is matched against the alleged father.

If it cannot be matched, then that person can be ruled out as the biological father.

Collecting a sample is relatively easy. In-home tests allow you to take a sample by running a swab on the inside of the mouth.

When a legal test is required, a sample must be collected by a doctor or a lab technician under strict chain of custody protocols. The sample may be a cheek swab or a blood sample.

Swabs are often preferred because they are much quicker and much less painful than drawing a blood sample.

Because cheek-swab samples are easier to collect, they don’t require specialized training from a phlebotomist for a blood collection.

DNA taken from cheek cells is viable for a longer time than with a blood sample. Blood samples also require refrigeration after collection.

In the lab, it is also much easier to extract DNA from a swab than a blood sample. Since DNA is the same in every cell of the human body, the accuracy of testing performed on cheek cells is the same as an actual blood sample.

After the sample is sent to a lab, it is examined to see how much DNA an alleged father has in common with the child.

Tests have an accuracy range of between 90 to 99 percent depending on a number of factors.

When there is not enough of a match, they can exclude a man who is not the biological father.

In legal cases where paternity is being contested, these tests are critical to establishing an exclusion or showing the likelihood of paternity if there is no exclusion.

In virtually all states, for wedded parents, the husband of the mother is presumed to be the father of the child.

Many states also allow this presumption to be overturned by the application of a forensic paternity test.

Is paternity testing covered by health insurance or Medicaid?

Paternity testing is not considered a medically necessary procedure, so it is typically not covered by health insurance or by Medicaid.

However, in cases where a woman must have an amniocentesis 2 for reasons other than paternity testing (i.e. Down syndrome testing), a DNA sample can also be collected at that time.

Can a DNA paternity test be performed without a mother’s or a father’s participation?

The answer in both cases is yes. Under ideal circumstances, both the mother and the father would participate in a DNA paternity test.

If both parents who contributed DNA are tested, it will give the full picture of the child’s profile.

Keep in mind that a child receives half of his or her DNA from the mother, and the other half from the father, and when samples are available from both, it is relatively easy to match the DNA.

But if a mother does not want to be tested, a “motherless” test can be performed but it may require more extensive analysis to reach conclusive results.

Keep in mind that in some cases paternity tests may be done through the state when ordered by a judge.

This is done primarily to establish legal grounds for child support and in certain cases, the judge can order the mother, the child and the alleged father to participate.

There are also cases when a father is either missing or deceased. If this is the case, then there are options that include testing other family members to determine the true biological father.

These tests may be performed on grandparents, siblings, aunts or uncles or through family reconstruction.

Peace of mind vs. legal testing

There are two main reasons why people have DNA paternity tests performed.

The first is strictly for peace of mind in knowing and proving that an alleged father is indeed a biological father.

At home tests are generally appropriate and adequate for this level of knowledge and used not only to establish relationship links, but as a means to track ancestral information as well.

At-home tests are readily available online from a number of suppliers or at pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS and Rite-Aid.

The second reason is for a variety of legal situations. For a test to be legally valid and admissible in a court of law and with government agencies, strict chain of custody protocols must be followed.

This means that the tested party must be properly identified when their samples are collected and that the samples are collected by a neutral third party such as a lab, hospital, or doctor.

Samples must then be tamper-taped and securely packaged when collected.

They must also be inspected for any signs of tampering when they are received at the testing lab. Finally, testing must be done by an accredited AABB laboratory 3.

Specifically, when a DNA test has followed chain of custody protocols, it can be used for

  • Collecting child support. An alleged father who is reluctant to take a DNA paternity test may be compelled to do so in certain situations.
  • Establishing a relationship for inheritance and probate issues
  • Validating claims for Social Security benefits
  • Social Security Survivor Benefits. Applies in cases where a single mother is not getting Social Security benefits for their children because the father or alleged father is deceased.
  • Immigration Visas. People attempting to assist an alien relative who wants to immigrate will usually file a Form I-130 4
  • as the first step in this process. Immigration DNA testing helps to expedite the application and approval process.
  • Prosecuting a criminal case
  • Completing a birth certificate
  • Adoptions proceedings
  • As part of a lawsuit

Some states have statutes of limitations when it comes to requesting or requiring a DNA test to be performed.

Also, tampering with the results of a DNA test can result in punishment that might include fines and jail time.

How much does a paternity test cost?

Costs vary but expect to pay about $100 to $200 for an in-home DNA paternity test that can be used for peace of mind only.

A legal DNA paternity test with results that can be admitted in court will run anywhere from $300 to $500 or more.

You can add additional tests such as for ancestry or request expedited testing if your situation warrants, all of which will add to your bottom line costs.

What will I see on my DNA paternity test results?

The most important thing you will see is whether the alleged father is Excluded or Is Not Excluded as the biological father of the child being tested.

When a test comes back with the results of Excluded, this means that the person in question cannot be the father because testing has determined that they do not share a biological parent relationship with the child who is being tested.

When a test comes back as Is Not Excluded, this means that the person in question is considered the biological father of the child because they do share a biological relationship.

A Probability of Paternity is also included, and this is what you should also focus on as well. It is scored from 0% to 100%.

A 0% result means that the alleged father is not the biological father. A result that approaches 99.99% means that the alleged father is the biological father.

Test results will also include the allele sizes of the different DNA markers that were examined and used in the analysis and a Combined Paternity Index value.

The CPI value shows the odds against another random untested male having the same results as the tested alleged father.

DNA paternity test accuracy

The short answer is that DNA paternity tests are highly accurate as long as testing protocols are followed.

This means that it is critical to make sure that samples being tested belong to the right people.

It does not matter if a sample is collected through a cheek swab or by a blood sample. Both methods produce the same paternity test results.

It’s also worth mentioning that DNA tests for paternity are much more accurate than those for siblings.

This is because siblings are not as closely related to each other as they are to their parents.

Passing specific DNA from a parent to a child can vary widely from child to child. Because of this variance, the amount of DNA that siblings share can be much lower than the amount of DNA shared between a parent and a child.

That means there are fewer markers to compare which results in the accuracy of the sibling DNA test being less than 100% certainty.

Can paternity tests be wrong?

There are some instances where a paternity test can be wrong, but such occurrences are rare.

DNA paternity testing is regulated by the American Association of Blood Banks. There are two committees comprised of volunteers from private paternity testing laboratories.

One of the primary goals of the committees has been to make sure that DNA paternity testing labs follow correct scientific procedures.

However, there are some instances where false results can take place.

DNA paternity tests identify certain specific sizes of DNA that the child received from his or her biological father. If the DNA tested man has those same size pieces, he could be the child’s biological father.

But other men can also have those same sizes, so a paternity test will also test other DNA locations.

The more locations that are tested, the rarer the pattern will be, thus eliminating more men and making it more likely that the DNA tested man is the biological father.

Unfortunately, sometimes DNA testing stops after only identifying a pattern that is somewhat common.

When this happens, it increases the chance that the tested man is not the biological father.

Technically, the DNA test has shown a commonality in the DNA, and that the probability exists of the tested man being the father, but it is not done with the utmost certainty.

Further testing may be needed to either confirm or deny the results.

Many DNA testing labs will continue testing until there is a genetic marker pattern that is rarer than the required minimum, providing a more reliable result.

In this case, the testing industry only requires a 99% probability of paternity to be achieved.

Unfortunately, this means that an identified DNA pattern could be possessed by one out of every 100 men.

Even a 1% margin of error is too great for such an important test.

That’s why it is best to find a lab that touts the highest degree of accuracy, perhaps as high as 99.99%. Although rare, human error can sometimes be the cause of a wrong result.

Samples can get mixed up. The wrong specimens can be placed in the wrong collectors and this can cause the wrong samples to be tested.

Some labs have quality control measures in place to guard against this, but it does happen.

While some instances are inadvertent, at other times a father will purposely send an imposter’s sample. Again, there are safeguards in place to prevent this, but at times it may happen.

Taking a paternity test while you are pregnant

There are noninvasive prenatal paternity tests 5 that can be done as early as 9 weeks into a pregnancy.

These tests are completely safe for the mother and the fetus. Fetal DNA combines with a mother’s DNA by passing through the placenta and into the mother’s blood stream.

There are two types of prenatal tests that are accomplished by collecting a cheek swab or a blood test from the father and a blood test from the mother.

Tests can be performed strictly for peace of mind, or they can be used to establish legal paternity.

This means the biological father can be determined months in advance of when a baby is born.

Results can sometimes be turned around in as little as three days after a lab receives the samples, although 7 to 10 days is more the accepted norm.

DNA tests while pregnant also come with the added benefit of being able to determine the sex of the unborn child as an option.

Some medical providers also offer a prenatal cvs/amnio test that is carried out by using CVS or Amniocentesis during pregnancy. A mouth swab from the mother and alleged father is also needed.

In this instance, the test cannot be performed if the placenta is not properly positioned. When this is the case, the test can be performed during the 16th week of conception when an amniocentesis can be carried out.

If you prefer to wait, a DNA test can be performed on a baby immediately following birth.

The baby must be cleaned up and it’s important that the baby’s mouth be free from meconium, amniotic fluid, breast milk, or formula when doing the DNA collection because a cheek swab is used to collect a sample.

Best paternity tests on the market

The best DNA paternity kits on the market depend somewhat on what you want to achieve with a test.

There are several “peace of mind” kits that will work fine for that instance, but if you need a test for legal reasons, they won’t do you a bit of good.

You will need to make arrangements to have a test done at a doctor’s office or a testing lab.

One site devoted to reviewing DNA paternity test kits is www.top10dnatests.com. Go here to get their guide to the Best Paternity Kits of 2019.

Another site that offers reviews of the 7 Best Paternity Kits on the market is Wiki.ezvid.co. You can view detailed information on these kits by going here.

Yet another site offering details reviews of the best Paternity tests is www.top10bestdnatesting.com. To view the site’s reviews, go here.

Perhaps the most comprehensive of all the testing sites is www.dnatestingchoice.com. The site lists reviews for 54 different DNA paternity tests and you can view that information here.

Different brands of paternity testing kits

There are many different companies you can use for at-home DNA paternity testing.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the more popular tests on the market. You should be able to find many of these as well as others on the shelves of drug stores or they can be ordered online.

International Biosciences. It is a simple process to order their kit online with costs starting at $129.

The package arrives in an inconspicuous envelope marked “private and confidential” so your private business remains private.

Results arrive in about five working days and are sent in a PDF file attached to an email.

Labcorp. LabCorp DNA Identity is part of the Laboratory Corporation of America, one of the world’s largest healthcare testing companies.

DNA Paternity tests start at $210. Extra participants can be added for $70 each.

In addition to at-home testing, the company has carried out tests in support of an impressive 2 million+ legal cases. Results arrive by email within a week and are followed by a hard copy version in the mail.

DNA Diagnostics Center. Quick results, numerous options when ordering and clear and well explained results make this one of the most popular and highly reviewed tests.

DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) is one of the largest consumer genetics companies in the world and offers a wide range of DNA tests. Options are offered for peace of mind, legal or prenatal testing.

Identigene. Paternity tests from Identigene have been in stores nationwide since 2007 and is currently available in 20,000 retail outlets.

The company has changed hands and merged several times since it was founded in 1993.

It is now part of DNA Diagnostics Center. The cost for the test kit is $25, but this does not include an additional lab fee of $119.

Results generally take less than a week and details can be viewed online along with detailed support information.

Alpha Biolabs. Inexpensive compared to other brands, their lab that conducts testing has multiple accreditations to give consumers added confidence. Costs start at $119.

What to know about at-home paternity test kits

As the popularity of DNA testing has grown, many people have turned to at-home paternity tests for peace-of-mind answers.

There are dozens of kits on the market and in general, ordering is easy, secure and fast, including getting results online in a matter of days.

Assuming that you follow the instructions carefully and depending on the qualifications and the reliability of the lab you choose, paternity tests can be highly accurate.

Make sure you look for a test kit that uses an accredited lab and adheres to industry standards for quality assurance.

Sample collection errors can be common due to contamination, improper collection or if samples are mixed during the collection process.

Keep in mind that at-home tests are not done using a verifiable chain of custody in collecting samples, so the results can’t be used for legal purposes.

However, they can be used as a stepping stone to a legally defensible test, although this will result in paying additional costs.

Also understand that because there are collection limitations, participants can intentionally switch out samples to secretly get a desired result.

For example, a man who does not want to be identified as the father of a child can switch out someone else’s sample for his own.

Results can be closely guarded and generally speaking only the person who sets up the online account when ordering the test will have access to the results.

This means that other may not be able to see the results even if they participated in the test.

If you decide that a home test kit is the best choice for your situation, take the time to research your options so that you can take appropriate steps to minimize your concerns and maximize your confidence in the results.

DNA paternity tests for dogs

DNA paternity tests are not just limited to humans. DNA paternity tests for dogs are conducted for a number of reasons.

Breeders will use a DNA paternity test to certify the parentage of their puppies. Similarly, some owners who purchase a dog will want to know that a dog has a DNA-certified pedigree.

Performing a DNA test eliminates doubts that a litter may have multiple sires.

The test compares the DNA of each puppy to the dam and to the potential sire. Results are then used to certify or disqualify a sire.

The American Kennel Club launched DNA testing and certification about 20 years ago and since that time has built a database of close to 240,000 profiles from 178 breeds.

DNA testing is voluntary for the most part, but is required when:

  • a kennel is inspected as part of the AKC's Compliance Audit Program
  • a litter has multiple sires
  • frozen or fresh extended semen are used
  • a stud sires seven or more litters in a lifetime
  • there is a consumer-initiated compliant about a breeder

Just as with humans, a sample can be gathered from a dog either by swabbing the inside of their cheek, or a vet can draw a blood sample.

Both methods are equally accurate.

It should be noted that just over 2% of all DNA canine testing is not accurate or can’t be interpreted.

This is because dogs have high levels of bacteria in their mouth that will cause a sample to degrade before it is tested, or current thoroughly isolated DNA markers in the available database represent the most common breeds found in the North American mixed breed dog population, but not all breeds are represented.

Costs for DNA paternity testing for dogs may vary widely depending on the number of dog breeds a company has in its database.

The more breeds, the more expensive the test. Pricing can range from $40 to $200 or more.

Some of the best rated DNA paternity tests for dogs can be found here.

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Referenced Sources

  1. Paternity Testing
    American Pregnancy Association
  2. Amniocentesis
    American Pregancy Association
  3. AABB Accredited Relationship (DNA) Testing Facilities
    AABB Accreditation Department
  4. I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  5. What is noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT) and what disorders can it screen for?
    National Library of Medicine , U.S Department of Health and Human Services