What Is Paternity DNA Testing?

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What Is Paternity DNA Testing?

DNA paternity testing is an important tool used to prove or disprove a biological parent-child relationship. The test uses a DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) profile for each individual and compares the data to determine if there is a genetic match. If the child and potential non-gestational parent genetically match, then they are the biological parent. If the data does not match, then they are excluded as the biological parent.

Paternity tests may be performed by evaluating blood or saliva from the non-gestational parent and the child. The tests are nearly 100% accurate.

How Paternity Tests Are Used

There are a number of reasons a paternity test might be useful. In some instances, they may be ordered by a court to establish parentage in cases of custody and child support. They can also assist in obtaining proper documentation for a birth record. 

Other uses for paternity tests include:

  • Establishing Social Security, veteran, and inheritance benefits
  • Providing health information 
  • Strengthening the bond between a non-gestational parent and child

Types of Paternity DNA Testing

Paternity tests may be done prenatally (during pregnancy) or postnatally (after birth). If the test is done after the baby is born, blood samples or cheek swabs are taken from both the potential non-gestational parent and the infant and are then tested in a lab. 

During pregnancy, there are several different ways to collect DNA samples.

Noninvasive Prenatal Paternity Test (NIPP)

A blood sample is taken from the pregnant person to analyze fetal DNA. It is then compared to a saliva sample collected from the potential non-gestational parent. NIPP may be done as early as six weeks. It is nearly 100% accurate.

Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS)

Chorionic villus sampling is usually done to determine the health of the fetus but the sample can also be used to determine parentage. The test is performed between 10 and 13 weeks of pregnancy and is done by taking a small sample of placental tissue through the pregnant person’s abdomen or cervix.

That sample is then compared against a cell sample of the potential non-gestational parent. This test carries a small risk of miscarriage so this option may be reserved for those already planning to have the test for fetal health screenings.

Amniocentesis

Like CVS, amniocentesis is performed to evaluate the health of the fetus and, because it is invasive, might only be used to determine parentage if the test is already being performed for other reasons.

Amniocentesis retrieves amniotic fluid by inserting a long needle into a pregnant person’s abdomen. This fluid is then compared to fluid samples from the gestational and potential non-gestational parent. It is typically performed between 15 and 20 weeks.

How to Choose a Testing Company

If you require a legal paternity test, you will need to obtain the test from a facility specified by the court. The legal test results can be used in court, such as for child support.

If you don’t need to prove parentage for legal reasons, there are non-legal paternity tests available. You can buy these tests online or at a pharmacy. Over-the-counter tests allow you to collect samples in the privacy of your home. The retail purchase price does not include the lab fees, but they are one of the lowest cost DNA paternity tests available.

At-home tests and those done in a private medical facility not approved by the court are not accepted by courts. Legal paternity tests must include specified documentation to support the collection.

The American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) provides a list of accredited relationship testing facilities on its website.

Paternity Test Cost

The cost of a DNA paternity test can vary. A legal DNA paternity test typically costs between $300 to $500, which usually includes the collection costs associated with the test. Health insurance does not cover the cost of paternity tests.

Non-legal paternity tests start at about $30 for the retail kit (not including the testing) up to around $200, depending on additional services such as expedited testing and shipping.

Paternity DNA Testing Results

Most laboratories can usually process results in two to five days from the time your samples are received. There are also expedited methods to ensure a fast turnaround time if results are needed more urgently, such as for adding a name to a birth certificate. Test results from amniocentesis or CVS may take longer, up to several weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How accurate is a home paternity test?

    DNA paternity tests have an extremely high rate of accuracy. A study of noninvasive prenatal paternity tests that collected blood samples from pregnant people as early as 6 weeks into their pregnancy and compared them against genetic samples from potential non-gestational parents confirmed parentage in 100% of the cases. The study additionally found that unrelated potential parents were excluded 99.95% of the time. Only 0.05% were indeterminate and there were no miscalls.

  • What do paternity test results look like?

    Paternity tests look for DNA markers to determine parentage. Your results will show a genetic system table that compares the different locations on DNA between the child or fetus and the potential non-gestational parent. A paternity index indicates the strength of the match. Paternity test results are classified as “not excluded,” meaning that there is a 99% likelihood that the person is the parent, or “excluded,” which means the person is not the parent.

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4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. DNA paternity test: Definition & types. Updated October 21, 2020.

  2. Judicial Council of California. Parentage (paternity).

  3. Ryan A, Baner J, Demko Z, et al. Informatics-based, highly accurate, noninvasive prenatal paternity testing. Genetics in Medicine. 2012;15(6):473-477. doi:10.1038/gim.2012.155

  4. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. DNA paternity testing

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