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Everything You Need to Know About Getting a Paternity Test

Updated on August 8, 2019

What is a paternity test?

A paternity test is a specific type of DNA test to establish whether or not a child is related to an alleged father. The two individuals involved supply a sample of cells taken from the inner cheek, which are then examined back in a testing lab.

Many people wrongly believe that a test like this is expensive, complicated and difficult to access. In reality, there are dozens of commercial companies out there that will send you a testing kit in the mail and process your results for around £100 / $125. In fact, if you're willing to pay a little extra some companies can even have your results ready on the same day!

Why would you need one?

There are many reasons a person might order a paternity test. A man may suspect that his partner has been unfaithful, or an adult may suspect that the man they call "Dad" isn't really their biological father. Or perhaps a person who was adopted has tracked-down their birth father and wants some confirmation.

Whatever the reason, the testing science is always the same - two individuals provide a sample, and the laboratory will test to see if they are related. As well as paternity, you can also test for maternity, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on.

How does the test work?

The scientists in the testing lab extract the DNA from the samples and look for pieces of genetic code called "Short Tandem Repeats" (STRs). Most of your DNA is the same as everybody else's, but STRs vary from person to person. If two people are related, some of their STRs will match.

This is an over-simplified explanation of the testing science - If you're interested in the technical details, you can read a much more in-depth article here.

A paternity test will produce one of two outcomes:

  • A zero percent probability that the two people are related
  • A greater than 99% probability that the two people are related

A DNA test usually involves a buccal swab
A DNA test usually involves a buccal swab

What types of tests are available?

There are two main types of paternity test you can get, and it's important that you choose the right one.

A Peace of Mind test is purely for your own information. It cannot be used to settle legal matters, such as a child custody dispute or an immigration matter. Why? Because you are trusted to provide the DNA samples by yourself - with no witnesses and no guarantee that the samples came from the right person.

What are the benefits of a POM test?

  • It can be done discreetly in the privacy of your own home
  • The test is accurate, just as long as the samples are collected properly
  • It's usually a little cheaper

What are the disadvantages of a POM test?

  • The results are not admissible in court
  • If you end up needing a legal test, you'll end up paying twice

A Legal Test is done a little differently. The DNA samples have to be collected by a professional sample collector or a doctor. They will check your ID, take a photo of you to accompany the sample, fill in all the relevant paperwork, and transport the samples back to the lab under a controlled chain of custody. Because everything is done following a strict procedure, the results will stand up in court.

What are the benefits of a legal test?

  • The results will hold up in court
  • The test is guaranteed to be accurate

What are the disadvantages of a legal test?

  • They are usually more expensive
  • It might take a little longer to arrange the sample collection

Which company should I use?

With so many DNA testing companies advertising their services, it's difficult to know which one to choose.

Whoever you go for, make sure the company is accredited. Look out for the UKAS accreditation mark - in particular the ISO 9001 quality management mark and the ISO 17025 mark (which applies specifically to testing & calibration laboratories).

If you need a legal test, be sure to use an accredited lab. You can find a list of government-approved labs on the government website.

We also recommend you take a look at dnatestingchoice.com - it's an independent & impartial review site for DNA testing labs.

One final word of advice

Ordering a paternity test is relatively quick & easy, but the results can have life-altering consequences for everyone involved. Make sure you are ready emotionally, and prepare yourself for either outcome.

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