Home paternity tests are not, in fact, carried out entirely in your home. The sampling can be done at home, but the actual tests are carried out in the laboratories of the company that you commission to do the testing.

This article on paternity tests is written by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

Sampling for DNA tests is easy and painless and can be done on any adult, child or baby, even a newborn. It just involves rubbing a cotton swab inside the cheek, to pick up some cheek cells. The cotton swab is placed in a sterile tube and posted off to the lab, where the cells are recovered. Just a few cells provides more than enough DNA for the test.

To be able to establish paternity – to say definitely if a man is the father of a baby – a cheek swab must be taken from the baby and the man. The test is easier for the lab if a swab of the mother’s cheek is also provided, but this is not absolutely necessary.

Who would use home paternity tests?

Relationships can often be complex. Babies can be conceived during times of turmoil and more than one man could be the father. Sometimes, the mother in this situation wants to know who the father of her child is and may ask the possible father(s) to provide a sample for a DNA test to prove paternity. Having a home paternity test saves you having to have a sample taken by a doctor or nurse – you can just do it at home and send it off.

It is also common for men not to be able to move on with their lives unless they know for certain whether they are the father of a child. If you do not need to prove your paternity legally, but would still like to know, a home paternity test offers a much cheaper way to find out.

Are results from home paternity tests accepted in court?

If your relationship with the child’s mother has broken down, you might find yourself having to prove that you are, or are not, the biological father of her child. If you are a mother whose partner claims not to be the father, you will need a legal paternity test before you can make any claim for child maintenance. 

The results of home paternity tests are not legally defensible – they are not accepted as evidence in a court of law. Home paternity tests involve you taking the samples yourself in your own home and this invalidates its use in a UK Court of Law. To gain evidence of paternity that is admissible in court, you need to have samples taken by an independent professional to guarantee that the samples have come from you, the baby in the custody or child support case, and from the biological mother. Documentary proof of identity is also needed.

In this case, you may need to go along to your own practice nurse or GP, who sends in the samples and declares they are genuine, or you might have to attend a laboratory or other centre to have the samples taken.

How do these home tests work?

Home paternity tests compare the DNA from the cheek cells of the baby to the DNA of its mother and the possible father. The test process is complex but basically produces a series of pictures that trained experts can analyse very accurately. Knowing that half the DNA of the baby comes from the mother and half from the father, they can compare the pictures produced by the DNA of the trio – the man, mother and child – to show whether or not the man is the biological father.

Consent for the tests

In the UK, everyone providing a sample to be used in a home paternity test must consent to their DNA being tested. Each adult must sign a consent form, and the mother of the child, or someone who is a legal guardian of the child, must sign their consent for the baby to be tested. It is therefore not possible for a man to provide the DNA sample of a baby that he only thinks may be his as he is unable to provide consent for testing. This consent must be given by the mother, or another guardian.

What do they cost?

Home paternity tests are offered by various private commercial companies in the UK. Fees can vary but as a general rule, tests that are carried out for peace of mind come in well under £200. One company quotes £159. Legal home paternity tests cost more – usually around £400 – as extra fees are required to cover the cost of an independent professional in sample collection.

What do the results of these tests mean?

Although home paternity tests are 99.9% accurate, no DNA test is 100% certain. So, if a test can show that there is a 99.9% probability that a man is the biological father of a baby, but it cannot prove it beyond all doubt. The test results are worded in this case that the man is not excluded as the baby’s father. A negative test, however, proves absolutely that a man is not the father of a baby. He is excluded as the baby’s father.

In practice, particularly in a legal home paternity test, the court accepts a 99.9% probability result as legally defensible evidence of his paternity.

Life after the test

Once it is clear whether the man tested is the father of the child or not, the work of the test is done. However, if you find yourself in the position of taking part in a home paternity test, you may find that the truth is difficult to accept. It is wise to chat with your GP or practice nurse – it may be that you can be referred for individual or family counselling to help you come to terms with your home paternity test results.

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