It’s usually evident who the mother of a child is, but what about the father? In many stable relationships paternity is not an issue, but it has been estimated that around 5% to 20% of children have the wrong man identified as their parent.
Paternity testing uses DNA analysis to accurately determine whether or not a man is the biological father of a child. It has become more widespread in recent years, as it is now cheaper and more easily available.
Many people believe that as long as a child has a pair of loving guardians, it doesn't matter who they are genetically related to. However, there are some circumstances where paternity becomes a matter of law. Here’s what you need to know.
Note that we are not lawyers and this guide should never be interpreted as legal advice.
There Are Two Types Of Paternity Testing
Home DNA Testing
Home DNA testing has not been ordered by a court. It is normally used within private disputes, when the law hasn't been involved. Whilst the samples may be verified by a government accredited body, there will be no independent witness present. Therefore, a home DNA test cannot be used as evidence in a UK court.
UK Legal DNA Testing
A legal DNA test will be sent to a registered Doctor/nurse who will collect the samples from the participants. During the process the practitioner will check for a valid photo ID and will also ask for two passport photos. The practitioner will then send the samples securely back to a DNA analysis company, and the evidence can then be used in court.
Under What Circumstances Will Court-Directed Paternity Testing Be Carried Out?
Court-directed paternity tests are most commonly used in relation to custody and child support hearings. In the modern world more and more couples are deciding to have children outside of marriage. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, it can create legal problems if the relationship breaks down.
If an unmarried relationship ends, a child will normally be sent to live with its mother, as she would have been granted parental responsibility at its birth. A father will only be granted parental responsibility if he is/has been married to the mother or is listed on the birth certificate after a certain date.
This parental responsibility is hugely important, as without it, the father has no say over aspects of the child’s life, such as where they live or go to school.
If an agreement cannot be reached with the mother, the father can apply for parental responsibility, after which both parties will appear in court and a judge will hear from both sides. Factors taken into account will include how much the man has financially contributed to the child and what is in the child’s best interests.
If the order is denied an appeal can be made and a paternity test can be very important in this case.
You can find out more about parental responsibility at DNA Worldwide.
Another common use for paternity testing is in child support disagreements. The Child Support Agency and The Child Maintenance Service can use DNA testing to resolve disputes about parentage. If the test proves that the person in denial is in fact the parent, the service managing the case will work out what their payments should be. You can find out more at Direct Gov
In some cases a court may order a test in a support hearing. For this to happen they must, first, be satisfied that the man is refusing to take the test. Secondly, the Child Support Agency has tried to establish paternity without success and the test is in the best interests of the child. In this case a compulsory order may be given to resolve the dispute.
A UK court has the right to order compulsory paternity testing, if there is a dispute over parentage. Where possible these disputes can be resolved privately using home DNA testing equipment, but in some cases this may not be possible.
This article should only be taken as an overview. The laws regarding paternity testing are complicated. Make sure you seek legal advice, if you require it.
Image by Stephen Cochran