There are a number of reasons why you may seek a paternity test, from a dispute over child maintenance to securing child contact through the courts.
Whether you have decided to get a paternity test for peace of mind, or a test has been ordered by the Child Maintenance Service or the courts, this guide answers some of the most frequently asked questions about paternity testing.
What is a paternity test?
A paternity test is a way of scientifically confirming or disproving the father of a child.
Typically, a paternity test will require a sample from the father and the child, as well as the child’s biological mother. The sample can be taken from cheek cells inside the mouth or by way of a blood sample.
Whilst a paternity test can be carried out without using a sample from the mother, the results can be less accurate. Having the mother’s DNA makes the testing process much easier, because the test can eliminate the matching maternal DNA, leaving just the father’s DNA to match.
Most DNA paternity tests that examine only the father and the child show a probability of paternity, albeit up to 99.9%. Having the mother’s DNA will provide a conclusive result.
When is a paternity test necessary?
Paternity testing can be used to resolve various different disputes, not least in the context of legal applications for contact with a child, visa applications for a child to settle in the UK or even inheritance disputes. Disagreements about parentage are also especially commonplace in the context of payment of child maintenance.
When someone denies they are the parent of a child, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will ask for evidence to either prove or disprove parentage. The CMS can also ask both parents to take a DNA test.
If the person named as the parent was married to the child’s mother at any time between the conception and birth of the child or, is named on the child’s birth certificate (unless the child was adopted), the Child Maintenance Service will assume parentage. The CMS will also assume parentage if the person has legally adopted the child, or is named in a court order as the parent when the child was born to a surrogate mother.
If parentage is assumed, the person named as the parent must pay child maintenance until they can prove otherwise by way of a paternity test. In the event that this person proves, through paternity testing, that they are not the parent, these payments may be refunded.
How can a paternity test be arranged?
If you decide to have a paternity test you can arrange this yourself. Paternity testing is not available on the NHS, rather you will have to pay for it. The cost varies depending on the test provider you use. It is important, however, to use a company with high quality service and standards.
If the Child Maintenance Service orders a paternity test as evidence to confirm whether or not you are the child’s father, they will tell you which accredited testing laboratory you should use.
If you are ordered to get a paternity test by the court, or you would like the results of a test to be accepted in court, you will be expected to use a testing laboratory accredited by the Ministry of Justice. Further, the court will require that the DNA samples be taken under strict conditions.
How much does a paternity test cost?
If you are looking to arrange a paternity test yourself, testing laboratories set their own fees. You will need to check the website of any accredited testing laboratories for details.
If you are asked by the Child Maintenance Service to get a paternity test because they think you may be the father of a child, you will have to pay the test fee currently set at £258.60. The test fees will also be higher if more than one child is involved. However, if the test reveals that you are not in fact the father, any fees will be refunded.
In the event that you are unable to afford the fee, the Child Maintenance Service may pay this, although you will be obliged to pay this back if the test reveals that you are in fact the biological father.
Is consent needed to take a paternity test?
In England and Wales, the Human Tissue Act 2004 regulates how individuals give consent to their DNA or any tissue from their body being used. Accordingly, the issue of consent from all tested parties is central to any paternity test.
In all but exceptional cases, the law requires that consent must be obtained from the person whose DNA is to be tested. Non-consensual analysis of DNA is a criminal offence carrying a sentence of 3 years imprisonment and/or a fine.
Accordingly, when carrying out a paternity test, each person must give written consent to their sample being taken and tested. Even with a pre-paid paternity testing kit, using the necessary swabs to take the samples from home, the testing provider will still require all test participants to sign for their own DNA sample.
In many cases, a test is ordered by the courts because one party has refused to take part in a paternity test, in which case consent is only required from those people who are not the subject of the order.
In all cases, a sample must also be taken from the child so that the paternity test has something to match with the alleged father’s DNA. For a child under 16, a person with parental responsibility may give consent on their behalf. This could be the mother, the father, an appointed guardian or trustee, or a representative of the authorities if the child is in care.
Is parental responsibility needed to consent to a paternity test?
A person who possesses parental responsibility holds all the legal rights, duties and responsibilities for the child under the age of 16. Parental responsibility also gives a person the right to be consulted about important decisions relating to a child’s health, welfare and education, including DNA testing.
The mother of a child automatically gains parental responsibility for the child to which she gives birth. The biological mother can therefore always provide consent for the child to take part in a paternity test.
However, the law is slightly different when it comes to who else has parental responsibility. For example, an unmarried father does not automatically have parental responsibility.
When taking a sample from a child you must ensure that you have consent from a person with actual parental responsibility, so as to avoid any criminal sanction. The parent, or person with care, should also ensure that anyone else with parental responsibility is consulted about the paternity testing.
Should I get a paternity test?
If you are considering getting a paternity test it is important to think carefully about the consequences of testing, for example, whether this is in the child’s best interests or the effect on your relationship with the child.
If the result is unexpected, or not the result you would like, it can have a significant impact on everyone involved, not least the child. Whilst paternity testing can provide peace of mind, it is an important decision that should be approached with both care and, of course, consent.