The 7 Best Paternity Tests
A Brief History Of Paternity Tests
For most of human history, figuring out who a child's father is has been tricky at best. Before the days of DNA testing, the best most people could do was ask themselves, "Does this kid really look like me?" Given what we now know about genetics, it's not a stretch to think that this method led to a lot of false positives.
Typically, the most common reasons a child's paternity was called into question was due to their skin tone or eye color not matching that of the father's. Of course, that's hardly an exact science. Due to the fact that there are a variety of genes involved in determining the hue of your iris, there's always a chance a child could have eyes that don't match either parent, even when the infant's lineage isn't in doubt.
By the early 20th century, however, the model shifted to favoring blood types instead. This was far more useful, as you can use blood types to disqualify paternity in some cases. For example, two parents with type O blood can only produce offspring with type O blood, so if the kid has something different, there was hanky-panky going on.
This method, while more scientifically-rigorous than simply comparing eye colors, still had only about a 30 percent success rate. Researchers kept trying, and in the 1970s, they discovered the human leukocyte antigen, which is much more dependent on genetic inheritance than blood type. Tests examining this antigen had closer to a 90 percent accuracy rate, which is obviously significantly better, but still provided lots of room for doubt.
DNA testing became the standard starting in the 1980s, due to the fact that every single person (save identical twins and the like) has a unique DNA profile that's an equal mixture of both parents. These tests boasted a staggering 99 percent accuracy rate.
Advances in testing continue to be made, and the most significant recent breakthrough involves using saliva instead of blood testing. These exams can be done at-home quickly and painlessly, and there are even tests using amniotic fluid that allow for establishing parentage before the child is born.
It's never easy when a baby is born amid questions of their lineage. However, modern testing makes it both easy and extremely reliable to determine the father, so that all parties involved can move on with their lives — and the child can grow up without any doubt as to who they truly are.
Choosing The Right Paternity Test
If you're investigating something as momentous as who a child's rightful father is, it behooves you to be sure that you get it right the first time.
The first thing you need to know is that paternity tests are much more specific than typical ancestry panels, so skip all the products that promise to tell you your entire family history. You don't need to know whether the kid's great-great-grandfather came from Spain or Norway in 1910 — you need to know which guy he came from nine months ago.
Paternity tests examine your DNA, while most over-the-counter ancestry tools just trace the history of your 23 chromosomes. For something this important, it's worth it to be as exact as possible.
See if the results will be sent to an AABB-accredited laboratory. Some of the less-trustworthy options might send your panels to labs without high quality-control standards, and this is not something that you want to introduce any doubt into.
If you're getting the test done as part of a lawsuit, check with your lawyer or local authorities to find out which ones the court will recognize. After all, there's no point in going through all this hassle only to have the judge throw out your findings. The court may require you to go through a medical professional or government agency, though, so check with them before you plunk down your credit card.
What You Should Know Before You Test
Sadly, the circumstances around ordering a paternity test are rarely happy. Most of the time, they're used to avoid paying child support, or due to a partner's infidelity.
That being said, it's worthwhile to at least acknowledge that asking for a paternity test isn't likely to be well-received. You should only do so if you're reasonably certain that the identity of the child's father is in doubt, or if you're already willing to move on from the relationship, as the request will probably put a tremendous strain on the bond you share with the mother.
That being said, there are ways to find out if you're the dad without alerting the mother to your suspicions. Since these tests don't require any information from her, you could swab yourself and the child in secret, before using the information to decide how to proceed in the relationship.
If you're up-front about your desire to test and the mother refuses, however, you can always get a court order to perform the test. This is likely to happen in a custody or child-support hearing anyway, assuming you contest paternity. Be aware, though, that in many places, acting like the father puts you on the hook for raising the kid, even if your DNA doesn't match.
You should also consider the cost. Most at-home kits are less expensive than their legally-accepted counterparts, despite being every bit as accurate. Still, you can use the at-home models to decide if it's worth it to move on to one that a judge will deem acceptable, but if it goes that far, you should expect to plunk down at least a couple hundred bucks by the time everything is said and done. Granted, this is small potatoes compared to a lifetime of child support, but it is something to be aware of.
Hopefully, if you do end up going through with testing, you'll find an answer that's satisfactory to all parties involved — but especially to the child.