Paternity Tests and the Chain of Custody: What You Need to Know

No one who’s a father or a prospective dad wants to think about it, but sometimes circumstances arise that lead to questions about whether or not the child in question is indeed related to the person thought to be the father. There are of course easy ways to determine paternity, thanks to advances in medical science that have made DNA testing both affordable and accurate, but if the results of such a DNA test need to be considered admissible in court that’s another kettle of fish altogether.

Anyone can go down to a lab, fork over a few hundred dollars, and get their DNA tested against someone else’s. Two individuals get the insides of their cheeks swabbed to grab a sample of DNA, the lab workers do their magic, and then a few days later the results come out that can help determine the likelihood of a genetic match. However, when it comes to legal questions of paternity a very specific series of steps have to be followed or the results aren’t admissible.

More specifically, for any DNA or paternity test to be considered as legal evidence in a paternity proceeding, the samples from both the possible father and the child need to be collected while a neutral third party is present. This third party then oversees that the chain of custody of the test and its results are unbroken and that all those involved can be identified. Whether the test is done at a hospital, a clinic, or a lab facility, all the parties involved in it need to have their identities verified. This is usually accomplished with a case manager taking down the details of any adults involved by photocopying driver licenses and taking photographs of any children involved; the Social Security numbers of those involved are also often recorded as well.

The chain of custody for the test results must be unbroken from the time the samples are taken to the time the results are submitted to the courts in order to ensure there was no tampering and that the tests were performed correctly. If there is any doubt, the lab worker may be called into court to testify about how they handled the DNA samples of those involved in order to verify that the chain of custody has remained intact.

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