Everything You Should Know About Paternity Testing

Paternity is defined as “the state of being someone’s father”, which is exactly what Darth Vader throws at Luke in his famous quote “I am your father” (yes, forget about the “Luke” at the beginning of the sentence, as this is an unfortunate misquote and the sith lord never actually said that). 

Paternity tests are a modern-day invention used to determine whether a man is someone’s biological father. Both the man in question and the mother may request such a test. The most common type of paternity test is the cheek swab DNA test, which involves getting a quick sample of buccal (cheek) cells to analyze in a lab. Determining biological paternity has legal implications, as the father will acquire both rights and duties regarding the child. 

Sometimes, paternity tests can be scary, uncomfortable, or straight-up taboo to navigate. To give you an overview of what you should expect if you were to request a test, we have gathered a series of questions and answers. Note that this article is for informational purposes only. DadLINE does not provide or request a paternity test for participating in the program.

What types of paternity tests are there?

Getting tested doesn’t hurt most of the time. This is because the method of choice is a cheek swab that gently collects cells from the mouth of both the potential father and the child. Cheek swab tests:

  • Cost less
  • Allow for easy collection in the newborn (as opposed to a spit test) 
  • Make DNA extraction easier than with a blood test.

Cheek swabs can be done in a medical office by a professional or at home, through the order of a paternity test kit. If done at home, the sample is then sent to a lab for analysis. 

So what about blood tests?

  • They are most usually done during pregnancy to determine the unborn baby’s biological father
  • Because the baby’s DNA is detectible in the mother’s blood, a medical professional has to draw blood from her to compare fetal DNA with the dad’s cheek cells
  • It is a “noninvasive prenatal paternity test” because It doesn’t increase the risk of miscarriage, as opposed to other methods such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. 

A prenatal blood test can be done as early as six weeks into the pregnancy.

How accurate is a paternity test?

Both blood and cheek swab tests are over 99% accurate in showing that a man is not the biological father of a child. The only concerns would be if:

  • The child or the dad has had stem cell treatments (also called “bone marrow transplants”)
  • The mother has received a blood transfusion less than two weeks before the test.

Does the mother need to give a sample as well?

The mother will need to give her blood (or have another procedure done) if the test takes place before the baby is born. Otherwise, it is usually not essential to have her tested. In some instances, though, testing the mother can provide more accurate results. For instance:

  • If two men are thought to possibly be the father of the child, and the two of them are biologically related, adding the mother’s sample would help untangle the situation. 
  • Some genetic mutations may also give a false negative. 

Where to get a paternity test, and how much does it cost?

Before a man decides to go ahead and get a paternity test, he needs to consider whether he wants:

Many DNA paternity testing organizations exist in the US, such as LabCorp and DDC DNA Diagnostics Center (we are citing these companies as examples only, not as an endorsement or recommendation of Lifeline). In addition, he may also decide to get tested at his doctor’s office.

Here is how it works:

Whichever option the dad chooses, he needs to make sure that the AABB accredits the lab. 

Why are paternity tests done?

Determining a child’s biological father is useful to:

  • Receive valuable health information (risks of genetic diseases, for example)
  • Establish certain benefits such as social security, veteran’s and inheritance rights

Sometimes, courts may also ask for a paternity test to solve custody and child support cases.

When to expect the results to arrive?

Contrary to what we see on TV, results may take days to several weeks to arrive. The person who makes the request is the one who receives the results.

How to approach the subject with the mother?

Some women may see such a request as a sign of distrust and get offended, especially if the relationship has been long-lasting and stable.

If you are set on taking a paternity test, here are a few tips on how to approach the topic:

  • First of all, try to address the subject early on instead of right after the baby is born. This way, you will prevent doubt from consuming you and potentially making the situation worse.
  • Explain your reasons for wanting to take a test. If this is something that is in your heart and you don’t believe it is a sign of distrust, share those thoughts with her. Some women may be perfectly fine with doing it simply to give peace of mind to their partners.
  • Avoid going behind her back, even if it’s tempting. Doing so could easily backfire; plus, you may not want to have a relationship built on poor communication.
  • Work on any underlying issues you might have. Has your partner ever given you reasons to be on guard? If not, could there be some unresolved issues from your past? Try to analyze what is going on, even if it’s uncomfortable. Having a better understanding of yourself could help you feel more confident about making decisions and in your relationship in general.

Would you like to talk more in-depth about paternity testing and to surround yourself with other dads interested in the same topics as you? Enroll in the DadLINE fatherhood coaching program. Subjects include healthy relationships and communication, parenting, career coaching, and more. Learn more about the program here