The reliability and accuracy of a DNA paternity test depends primarily on two things: (1) the level of confidence that the samples that were submitted to the laboratory are those of the stated test participants, and (2) the level of technical competence of the laboratory performing the DNA analysis. Various paternity testing options are currently available to consumers. Of these options, a “chain-of-custody” paternity test performed by an AABB Accredited lab provides the highest level of trustworthiness.
A chain-of-custody paternity test, sometimes called a “legal”, “legally admissible” or “legally defensible” paternity test, is one in which neutral third parties that have no interest in the test outcome perform the following procedures:
(1) Obtain proper consent and positive photographic identification for all test participants;
(2) Collect, label, and package all samples in a tamper-evident manner;
(3) Receive and test the samples at the laboratory; and
(4) Thoroughly document each stage of the testing process.
These procedures not only minimize identification and laboratory errors, but they also ensure that a verifiable chain-of-custody of the samples is maintained, and that each step in the testing process is traceable, should an investigation be necessary.
Most labs that perform chain-of-custody paternity tests hold one or more accreditations or certifications that reflect their proficiency in various aspects of the testing process. In the U.S, the most widely recognized accreditation program for paternity testing laboratories is that administered by AABB. Through regular on-site inspections, AABB ensures that the policies, processes, and procedures in place at its accredited facilities adhere to AABB’s published Standards for Relationship Testing Laboratories, which govern quality control and quality assurance in chain-of-custody paternity testing. The AABB Standards encompass areas including sample collection, laboratory testing, safety, confidentiality, competence, qualifications, experience. and maintenance of records. AABB is approved by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services as a body whose accreditation, in most states, qualifies a lab to perform chain-of-custody paternity tests for civil court cases (e.g. child support). In addition, the U.S. Department of State requires that DNA tests performed to provide evidence of biological relationship for U.S. immigrant visa petitions and U.S. citizenship applications be performed only by AABB Accredited facilities.
If the DNA test results may potentially be presented as evidence in civil matters to any government entity—including family courts, the IRS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Social Security Administration (SSA), and the U.S. military—or other official tribunal such as an Indian tribal council, then tested parties are advised to obtain a chain-of-custody test from an AABB Accredited Relationship Testing facility. In so doing, they can be confident that their results are trustworthy and unlikely to face judicial challenge or rejection. Moreover, because sample identification and chain-of-custody is rigorously documented and maintained, test participants may be protected and have legal recourse against the lab in the event of a lab error. While some paternity testing labs hold other accreditations that may offer additional assurance of reliability, AABB Accreditation is considered the gold standard in the industry. In the State of New York, paternity tests must be ordered by a court or physician and performed only by New York State Department of Health-certified laboratories, most (if not all) of which are also AABB Accredited. As one might expect for paternity tests that must comply with strict regulatory requirements, chain-of-custody tests performed by AABB Accredited facilities are not only the most trustworthy, they are also the most expensive, typically ranging from about $400 to $700, depending on the particular type of testing performed.
Because the outcome of a DNA paternity test can completely change the course of a life—sometimes many lives—the highest priority of those seeking a paternity test should be obtaining a test that they can trust, even if that means spending $400 for a chain-of-custody test. If you decide that a “personal knowledge” or “non-chain-of-custody” test, such as a home paternity test, is the best choice for your particular situation, please take the time to research and consider the potential disadvantages, risks, and limitations of your options, so that you can take appropriate steps to minimize the concerns and maximize your confidence in the test results.