DNA testing and the presumption of paternity


Understanding what a presumption of paternity is and situations which require paternity DNA testing.

Presumption of paternity: it might be time for a paternity test

Statistics are not very reassuring. The AABB (American Association of Blood Banks) estimates that hundreds of thousands of paternity tests are carried out every year and the numbers keep rising. There are also other figures which could be of concern: cases of misattributed paternity (in other words, cases where fathers have been registered as the birth fathers but in actual fact are not) lie somewhere between 1-4%. In some countries this figure is even higher. Unfortunately, such statistics are not completely representative as many cases go unreported. Luckily, for those dads that have any uncertainty and wish to solve it, a paternity DNA test is the clear-cut, simple and accurate option to do away with those torturous doubts. As well as peace of mind cases, paternity tests are also used for court purposes with judges often issuing court orders for DNA testing when the issue of paternity seems unclear or is being in any way contested. Although many cases still operate using a marital paternity presumption, countless cases of paternity are nevertheless disputed in large part due to the widespread awareness of the availability of paternity testing.

Where do I get a test done?

A paternity test can be done in many clinics and hospitals which would often be affiliated with laboratories carrying out DNA tests or sometimes have their own labs. Many accredited online DNA testing companies such as Genetic Testing Laboratories, homeDNAdirect and others also offer direct to consumer testing. This said, the trend these days is to get the test done online. Web-based companies offer a wide range of DNA tests at better prices than brick and mortar clinics. You will find quite a selection of companies online so you need to decide how to filter your results and pick the right one. The following may help.

  • Pricing: find a company that offers the best prices and that fits within your budget
  • Check for their accreditation: this is really important as you want a guarantee that your test is being carried out in a suitable laboratory with all the right equipment. The accreditations to look out for are ISO 17025 and AABB (this latter important accreditation is specific to the USA).
  • Try contacting the DNA testing company and see how quickly they get back to you and how easy they are to contact. Do they have a phone number, a physical address and some form of online assistance, perhaps a live chat service?

How is the actual test done?

A paternity test compares the DNA of the alleged father to the DNA of the child to confirm whether these match or not. If the DNA profiles of the father and child do not match, it’s simple, he is not the father. If the profiles on the other hand do match, then he is the father. But to know whether the DNA matches or not, the laboratory needs to have a DNA samples from the father and from the child.

DNA samples can be collected using home sample collection kits. Most online companies, including Who’zTheDaddy?™, which has its testing carried out at a laboratory accredited by the AABB and accredited in accordance with the recognized International Standard ISO/IEC 17025:2005 by a signatory to the ILAC arrangement, operate using these kits which they send to their clients. Inside the kit there are mouth swabs (used to collect the DNA), instructions, a return envelope and basic paper work to be filled in by the client and sent back with the samples. As the term “mouth swab” suggests, these swabs are used inside the mouth. In fact, they need to be gently rubbed inside the mouth for a few seconds and then allowed to dry. Once they are dry, they are ready to be sent back for testing.

If it is not possible to get somebody’s oral swab samples, there are alternatives. Many times there is a whole range of other DNA samples that can be tested. You can use cigarette ends, used tissues, envelopes and many, many more. You could use a sample collected by means of oral swabs for one person and another type of sample for another person in the same test. The samples do not have to be the same.

Once samples are in the laboratory, and the DNA profiles of the child and dad compared, a result can be issued. If the father tested is actually the biological dad, the result will show a probability of paternity in excess of 99.99%. If he is not the father, the probability is 0%.

Presumption of paternity

More correctly, this is referred to as a marital paternity presumption – the significance of this law is embodied in the name itself: marital paternity presumption means that any child born to a married couple is presumed to be the child of the mother and her husband. The law does not at this point consider the possibility of the born child having been fathered by a man other than the husband. The child becomes the heir of the father and is entitled to any benefits and financial support by that man. For the Child Support Agency and Child Maintenance Service, cases of contested paternity, mean the alleged father will need to provide DNA samples to prove his contention; should he do otherwise and refuse, the CSA is allowed to presume that he is the biological father.

If the child is born outside wedlock, he or she has no rights to parental child support and is not recognized as an heir (unless the man who fathered the child declares himself as the biological father and undergoes all legal proceedings to be recognized).

What is the logic behind a marital presumption of paternity?

This law is actually a very old law dating back hundreds of years. In the past, there would have been no way of proving who had actually fathered a child and all that could be relied upon was the integrity and ultimately the declaration of the mother. Whichever child born within a marriage, whether as a result of an extramarital affair or not, was seen as a legitimate child in order to protect the child from the crippling stigma attached with the now obsolete notion of bastards and illegitimate children. This law helped hold the family unit together. In cases of a contested or disputed paternity or where a child is born out of wedlock, it may be hard to allocate rights and responsibilities without a DNA test for paternity. Under Roman law, a well-known Latin locution, states: Mater semper certa est. Pater autem incertus / pater numquam. This means that the mother is always certain but the father always uncertain. DNA testing has luckily changed this, providing answers to cases of uncertain or disputed parentage.

Elena White is a freelance writer and writes articles related to parentage, child support, IVF and DNA testing.  A variety of articles by the author can be found on many online blogs and info sites.