Prenatal paternity testing for court

Casey Randall AlphaBiolabs

By Casey Randall, Head of Genetics at AlphaBiolabs

Last reviewed: 06/09/2022

A non-invasive prenatal paternity (NIPP) test is the safest option for anyone looking to establish paternity before a baby is born and can be extremely beneficial for legal purposes.

As the only testing laboratory in the UK to be ISO 17025-accredited for prenatal paternity testing, we are often asked about the circumstances in which prenatal paternity testing might be required for court proceedings.

In this article, we discuss prenatal paternity testing for legal matters including how the test works, how soon the test can be performed, when the test is useful for legal matters, what samples are required, and the accuracy of the test.

Table of contents
  • What is a prenatal paternity test?
  • When is a prenatal paternity test needed for legal matters?
  • What are the benefits of prenatal paternity testing for child welfare?
  • How does a prenatal paternity test work?
  • What samples are required for a prenatal paternity test?
  • When can a prenatal paternity test be performed?
  • How are the samples collected for a prenatal DNA paternity test?
  • How is a prenatal paternity test performed?
  • Is non-invasive prenatal paternity (NIPP) testing accurate?
  • How much does a prenatal paternity test cost?
  • When will I receive my prenatal paternity test results?
  • Where can I get a prenatal paternity test for court?

What is a prenatal paternity test?

A non-invasive prenatal paternity test or NIPP test, is a DNA test performed while the mother is still pregnant, to verify paternity before the baby is born.

Based on the same principle as a standard paternity test, expert geneticists examine the baby’s DNA together with the parents’ DNA. By doing this, expert geneticists can identify paternal DNA, which can then be compared to the tested man to determine whether he is the biological father of the baby.

If the tested man is the biological father, both will share enough DNA markers to verify a biological relationship. If the tested man is not the biological father, this will not be the case.

All that is needed to perform the test is a blood sample from the mother (pregnant woman), and cheek (buccal) swabs from the alleged father and the mother.

Unlike other prenatal tests which involve taking cells from the placenta (chorionic villus sampling or CVS test) or extracting a sample of amniotic fluid (amniocentesis), NIPP testing does not require any needles to be inserted into the womb or abdomen.

This makes NIPP testing the safest option for verifying paternity before a baby is born, with zero risk posed to the mother or the unborn baby.

When is a prenatal paternity test needed for legal matters?

While in the past the court would have been left in the dark about a child’s paternity until after birth, advances in DNA analysis mean that it is now possible to perform a NIPP test as early as seven weeks into pregnancy.

There are several circumstances in which a prenatal paternity test might be required for legal matters, including:

  • Child welfare or protection – babies who are at risk of harm can be identified sooner, enabling authorities to make plans for safeguarding at the earliest opportunity.It also allows local authorities to perform assessments early on, prior to issuing a letter of Pre-Proceedings.
  • Child maintenance or custody arrangements – where the parents no longer have a relationship or the alleged father is disputing paternity, the court may order (or the mother may instruct) a prenatal paternity test to ensure arrangements can be made for custody or child maintenance once the baby is born.

What are the benefits of prenatal paternity testing for child welfare?

The benefits of prenatal paternity testing for child welfare include:

  • Plans to safeguard babies who may be at risk can be developed before the baby is even born
  • Local authorities can carry out assessments early in the process, including assessing the suitability of potential carers before the baby is born
  • The baby can then be moved into the care of a suitable guardian immediately after the birth. This significantly reduces the costs associated with keeping the baby in the hospital or in foster care while a decision is made about their ongoing care
  • The number of times the baby must be moved between carers/homes is reduced – which is much better for the baby

How does a prenatal paternity test work?

Once the DNA samples have been safely transported to the laboratory under chain of custody, expert geneticists can then work on extracting DNA profiles from both parents’ samples.

The very latest scientific techniques are used to identify the baby’s DNA within the mother’s blood sample.

Every person inherits half of their DNA from their mother and half from their father. Provided there is sufficient foetal DNA within the mother’s blood sample to extract the baby’s DNA profile, expert geneticists will compare the DNA profiles of the alleged father and the baby to identify matching DNA markers.

If the tested man is the biological father of the baby, both will share enough matching DNA markers to verify a biological relationship.

If the tested man is not the biological father, there will be significant differences between the DNA of the man and the baby.

What samples are required for a prenatal paternity test?

Three samples are required to perform a non-invasive prenatal paternity test:

  • The man’s DNA (alleged father) – collected using cheek swabs
  • The pregnant woman’s DNA – cheek swabs and a blood sample and
  • The unborn baby’s DNA – identified via the mother’s blood sample

Unlike other types of prenatal paternity test that require cells to be taken from the placenta (chorionic villus sampling or CVS test) or a sample of amniotic fluid (amniocentesis), a NIPP test only requires a blood sample from the mother and cheek (buccal) DNA swabs from the mother and the alleged father.

This means that a NIPP test is 100 per cent risk free for mother and baby.

Unlike a peace of mind prenatal paternity test, DNA samples required for a legally admissible prenatal paternity test must be collected under strict chain of custody conditions to prevent sample tampering, and ensure samples are collected from the correct people.

When can a prenatal paternity test be performed?

A prenatal DNA paternity test can be performed as early as seven weeks into pregnancy, or five weeks since the mother’s last period, right up until the point of labour.

Even if the test is performed later in pregnancy, it is still 100 per cent safe and risk-free for both mother and baby.

In fact, the later in pregnancy the test is taken, the more foetal DNA can be detected in the mother’s blood sample – making a conclusive result even more likely.

How are the samples collected for a prenatal DNA paternity test?

For DNA evidence to be accepted by the court, the DNA samples must be collected in line with chain of custody procedures.

When DNA samples are collected under chain of custody conditions, a trained sample collector will obtain the DNA samples from each donor, and photographic identification must be provided by the sample donors.

Consent (usually a signature) must also be given by each donor for their DNA samples to be used in testing, and the sample packaging sealed with tamper tape to prevent any interference with the samples.

For prenatal paternity testing, a blood sample must be collected from the mother. This blood sample collection must be performed by a trained medical professional such as a phlebotomist, nurse, other medical practitioner or one of AlphaBiolabs’ professional sample collectors.

The blood sample must then be transported to the laboratory to be analysed as soon as possible. This is to avoid degradation of the sample which can render a blood sample unusable.

Cheek (buccal) DNA samples are also required from the mother and alleged father. These samples are collected by rubbing a cheek swab quickly and painlessly on the inside of the cheek to collect DNA.

The cheek samples do not need to be collected at the same location. However, reputable testing laboratories will advise that both parents’ samples should be collected around the same time.

This helps avoid any delays in getting the samples to the laboratory and lowers the risk of mother’s blood sample degrading.

How is a prenatal paternity test performed?

Once the mother’s and alleged father’s samples have been received by the testing laboratory, DNA is extracted from both samples.

The very latest scientific techniques ensure the baby’s DNA can be identified within the mother’s blood sample.

Every person inherits half of their DNA from their mother and half from their father. Provided there is sufficient foetal DNA within the mother’s blood sample to extract the baby’s DNA profile, expert geneticists will compare the DNA profiles of the alleged father and the baby to identify matching DNA markers.

If the tested man is the biological father of the baby, both will share enough matching DNA markers to verify a biological relationship.

If the tested man is not the biological father, there will be significant differences between the DNA of the man and the baby.

Is non-invasive prenatal paternity (NIPP) testing accurate?

A NIPP test provides an extremely accurate, reliable and 100% safe way of finding out who an unborn baby’s father is.

However, the scientific limitations of a non-invasive prenatal paternity test mean that for a very small number of people it’s not possible to retrieve enough foetal DNA to perform a conclusive test.

Your chosen testing laboratory will be able to advise you of the next steps if your client is one of the small number of mothers whose blood sample does not carry enough foetal DNA for a conclusive result.

Testing later in pregnancy is the best way to obtain the highest levels of foetal DNA.

How much does a prenatal paternity test cost?

The cost of a prenatal DNA paternity test for court depends on several factors, including the location of the DNA sample collection, and how soon the DNA test results are required.

There are a number of steps we have taken to make our legal DNA testing even more cost-effective for our clients, including offering free sample collection for legally-instructed DNA tests at our walk-in centres.

Additionally, we will match any like-for-like quote for DNA testing provided by other testing laboratories and reduce it by a further 5 per cent – this is our Price Match Promise.

Private individuals can also benefit from 6-months’ interest-free credit on all testing over £500.

To request a quote for legal prenatal paternity testing, call 0333 600 1300 or email us at testing@alphabiolabs.com.

Alternatively, complete our online quote form, and a member of our Legal team will be in touch to discuss your needs.

When will I receive my prenatal paternity test results?

At AlphaBiolabs, we appreciate the urgency involved in receiving DNA test results for court.

That’s why we provide the fastest DNA test results in the industry, with prenatal paternity test results available in four-to-seven days.

A Certificate of Analysis is provided as standard for legally-instructed prenatal paternity tests, offering a concise summary of the results including probability of paternity based on analysis of the DNA samples.

Our legal DNA test results are court-approved and accepted by Family law courts, the Ministry of Justice, the Child Maintenance Service, UK Visas and Immigration and the Home Office.

*working days from when the samples arrive at our laboratory before 10am

Where can I get a prenatal paternity test for court?

Prenatal paternity testing can provide the vital evidence needed for parents, family courts and social workers to reach important decisions about a child’s future.

An AlphaBiolabs’ prenatal paternity test can be used to test more than one alleged father, with results available in four-to-seven days.

A Certificate of Analysis is included as standard. We also offer free sample collection for legally-instructed DNA tests at any of our 11 nationwide walk-in centres.

For expert advice on prenatal paternity testing for court, call our friendly and knowledgeable Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email testing@alphabiolabs.com and a member of the Legal team will be in touch.

Prenatal paternity testing for court

Court-approved prenatal paternity testing, direct from our award-winning laboratory.

Casey Randall AlphaBiolabs

Casey Randall

Head of DNA and Covid Testing at AlphaBiolabs

Casey joined the AlphaBiolabs team in 2012 and heads up both the DNA and Covid-19 testing teams.

An expert in DNA analysis and a member of the International Society for Forensic Genetics (ISFG), Casey holds an MSc with Distinction in DNA Profiling and a First-Class BSc with Honours in Forensic Science.

Casey is responsible for maintaining the highest quality testing standards, as well as looking for ways to further enhance the service that AlphaBiolabs provides and exploring new and innovative techniques in DNA analysis.

Connect with Casey on LinkedIn

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