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Just how accurate is genetic DNA paternity testing?

If you've ever watched daytime TV programming, there is a good chance you scene shows that include DNA paternity testing. In a typical scenario, one parent will challenge the other regarding the parentage of a young child. Both sides often disagree, sometimes adamantly, until the program host reveals a DNA test that is regarded as incontrovertible proof. But how accurate are these tests in reality?

The first step in answering the question is to understand how DNA paternity testing actually works. Generally, researchers will take DNA samples from bodily fluids or tissue belonging to the child and both suspected parents. In most circumstances, this is done by collecting cells from the inside of the cheek using a cotton swab. Those cells are known as buccal cells. Those samples are sent to a laboratory where they are then examined for a specific set of DNA sequences. According to the Cleveland Clinic, after those samples have been tested, they can indicate whether the alleged father and the child share enough matching DNA to indicate paternity with 99.9 percent accuracy. Amazingly, those same tests can rule out an alleged father's paternity with 100 percent reliability.

Here in Texas, establishing paternity is the first step in deciding parental responsibilities for children of unknown parentage. In many cases, courts will actually order DNA testing when a child's paternity is in question. This usually arises in cases where parents are seeking child support or visitation rights.

Also, in some rare situations, it's possible to determine paternity before your child is actually born. The technology now exists for that testing to be done while the child is still within its mother's womb. In fact, a test known as chronic villus sampling can obtain tissue from the placenta for use in DNA testing. Additionally, a procedure known as amniocentesis, where fluid is collected from the "water" that surrounds the fetus, can also provide samples for DNA testing. However, these tests are somewhat risky and can result in miscarriage of the fetus in some cases. As a result of the increased risk, most physicians don't use CVS or amniocentesis solely for DNA testing.

As you can see, DNA testing for paternity is highly accurate. They are also admissible in court under certain conditions. A Texas family law attorney can advise you regarding the use of DNA testing to support or challenge your current paternity issues.

Source: The Cleveland Clinic, "Diagnostics & Testing- DNA Paternity Testing" accessed Mar. 03, 2015

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