DNA Paternity Test

A DNA paternity test is nearly 100% accurate at determining whether a man is another person’s biological father. DNA tests can use cheek swabs or blood tests. You must have the test done in a medical setting if you need results for legal reasons. Prenatal paternity tests can determine fatherhood during pregnancy.


What is a DNA paternity test?

Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is the genetic material you inherit from your mother and father. Paternity refers to fatherhood. A DNA paternity test uses DNA, usually taken from a cheek swab, to determine whether a man is the child’s biological father.


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How accurate is a DNA paternity test?

DNA paternity tests are extremely accurate. A test can show with 99.9% accuracy if a man isn’t a person’s biological father.

Why do people need DNA paternity tests?

Establishing paternity can be important for several reasons. It can help:

  • Gain legal rights to child support, child custody, Social Security benefits and inheritance.
  • Identify links to genetic conditions that can affect your long-term health.

Test Details

What are the types of DNA paternity tests?

If you’re trying to prove or disprove paternity for legal reasons, the test must take place in a medical setting (a legal DNA paternity test). Otherwise, you can use an at-home DNA paternity test kit bought online or at a drugstore.

How is a DNA paternity test performed?

There are two equally accurate ways to test for paternity:

  • Blood tests: The potential father and child give blood samples at a medical office. The facility sends the samples to a lab for analysis.
  • Cheek swabs: The potential father and child swab the inside of their cheeks for buccal (cheek) cells. You mail the cotton swab applicators to a designated lab. If swabbing takes place in a medical setting, the office sends the samples to a lab.

How is paternity confirmed?

The lab runs a series of tests called DNA sequencing. These tests look for genetic matches between the potential father and child. A match confirms paternity.

Can a test determine paternity during pregnancy?

There are three different ways to test paternity before a baby is born. The tests are as accurate as those performed after a child’s birth. The three methods include:

  • Noninvasive prenatal paternity test (NIPP): This test analyzes fetal DNA found in a pregnant woman’s blood during the first trimester. A lab specialist compares the fetal DNA information to DNA from the potential father’s cheek cell sample.
  • Chorionic villus sampling (CVS): A healthcare provider takes a small sample of tissue from the placenta. This procedure takes place through the mother’s cervix or abdomen. A lab compares DNA from the sample to the mother’s and potential father’s DNA. CVS typically takes place between 10 to 13 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period. The procedure carries a slight risk of miscarriage or pregnancy loss.
  • Amniocentesis: During amniocentesis, a healthcare provider draws out a small amount of amniotic fluid. The test uses a needle inserted into the mother’s abdomen. A lab compares the fluid sample to DNA from the mother and potential father. Amniocentesis takes place between the 15th and 20th weeks of pregnancy. The test slightly increases the risk of miscarriage.

Can you use a DNA ancestry test to prove paternity?

An ancestry DNA can identify potential DNA matches, but only a DNA paternity test can prove a father-child DNA match.

What does DNA paternity testing cost?

An at-home DNA paternity test costs $60 to $200 (including the cost of the kit). You’ll pay more — up to $500 — for a legal test in a medical setting. Health insurance doesn’t cover these costs.

Results and Follow-Up

When should I get the test results?

Turnaround times for lab results vary. Remember to account for the time it takes for the sample to reach the lab and the lab to run its tests. Results may be available in two days — or longer. For an additional fee, some businesses offer same-day or one-day results. Many DNA testing centers post results on a secure website for faster access.

It may take several weeks to get results from prenatal paternity tests like CVS and amniocentesis.

When a child’s paternity is in question, a DNA paternity test can provide answers. Your healthcare provider can help you choose the best testing method for your situation. Whether you use an at-home test or go through a medical office, you should make sure the laboratory is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB). AAAB-accredited relationship (DNA) testing facilities must meet strict standards for testing and accuracy.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/21/2020.

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