- Be sure that a paternity test is the best thing to do in your circumstances, the child’s wellbeing is especially important.
- Decide whether you need, or might need, the results for legal decisions, now or in the future.
- Choose a “peace-of-mind” test or a legal test depending on your needs.
- Make sure you choose a test that satisfies the legal requirements for paternity testing according to your local state laws. (At the time of writing this, if your lab achieves a probability of paternity of 99.9% or more you will meet or exceed the legal requirement in your state, but check because things do change! Currently, if you are resident in New York State, tests must be ordered through an authorized judge, attorney or physician and are not allowed direct to private individuals regardless of whether the test is for legal or “peace-of-mind” purposes. If you are unsure check with your testing company who should be able to give you accurate up to date information).
You need to be sure that it is in the child’s best interests and is the right thing for you to do. It is best if those directly involved agree and give their consent to provide a sample. In the case of children, a parent or legal guardian can usually give consent on behalf of the child. Usually fathers can test their children without consent (and without a sample) from the mother.
In some countries, states and jurisdictions the consent of all adults being tested is a legal requirement, regardless of the circumstances, and testing of samples taken from people surreptitiously is considered “DNA theft”. There are some companies offering “discrete” or “infidelity” tests but if this is something you are considering be careful, think it through and be sure you know what is legally acceptable where you live.)
Next you need to decide whether you need the test report to help resolve current or possible future legal issues such as child support, custody, adoption, inheritance or immigration. Testing companies offer slightly different services for peace-of-mind as compared with legal tests so it is important to be clear which best suits your needs. Generally, for both types of service, the scientific method is the same and the reliability of the results are similar provided you choose a reputable laboratory and you are taking the samples yourself you take great care to label them correctly. The main differences are as follows:
- Peace-of-mind services start with self-sample kits that are used at home. The customer conducts sampling and sample labelling themselves.
- For legal tests:
Samples are taken by a neutral, trusted third party such as a health professional
Samples are packaged in sealed tamper evident packaging where disruptions or breaks to the seal are obvious
Documentation is checked to show sample continuity or “chain of custody”
The extra steps for legal tests are needed so that the court or legal authority can be satisfied that samples are correctly identified and have not been mixed-up, swapped or interfered with in any way. Because of the additional costs, legal tests are more expensive, usually more than twice the price of a piece-of-mind test. (see Cost of Paternity Tests)
In addition, for tests to be court admissible or recognized in other legal settings there are usually other requirements depending on where you live. For example in some jurisdictions the DNA testing company must be on an approved list of testers, and/or they have to meet accreditation requirements such as ISO 17025 (See Choosing A Test Lab). In the United States, there is a requirement to meet a minimum probability of paternity which is anywhere between 95.0% and 99.9% depending on your State. Fortunately the 99.9% level is easily achieved if mother is tested along with father and child but you should check your state requirements and ensure you choose a tester that will meet them. In the US there is a further accreditation standard issued by AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks). AABB accredited laboratories must be used if tests are needed for US legal purposes. Furthermore if you are resident in New York State you are required to use a laboratory that is approved by Department of Health regardless of whether the test is for piece of mind or legal purposes and tests must be ordered through an authorized judge, attorney or physician. (See also Cost of Paternity Tests, Choosing a Test Lab, Unexpected Results).