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Paternity testing using DNA

Louise Wilkins-Haug, MD, PhD
Vanessa A Barss, MD, FACOG
Section Editor
Lynn L Simpson, MD
Deputy Editor
Vanessa A Barss, MD, FACOG


Historically, the primary objective of paternity testing was to determine whether a man accused of paternity (ie, alleged father) could be accurately excluded as the biological father of a given child. Testing was performed using systems involving red cell antigens, serum proteins, red cell enzymes, and human leukocyte antigen. Actual proof of paternity is not possible with any laboratory test because there is always a chance that another man could have the same test results as the alleged father since the number of markers tested is limited. However, advances in DNA technology have made it possible for paternity testing to produce highly conclusive evidence of paternity or absence of paternity.

Clinicians should have some knowledge of paternity testing because they may face situations where they will need to understand the process, results, accuracy, limitations, and implications of these tests. For example, court-ordered paternity testing is becoming more common. In addition, patients may ask for these tests or for help with interpretation of test results since paternity testing is now directly available to the general public.


Paternity testing may be ordered by a court or initiated by individuals for personal reasons. Reasons for testing include issues relating to:

Child support.

Child custody.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jun 27, 2016.
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