What’s a paternity test?

Prince Albert of Monaco is no stranger to paternity tests – twice before DNA tests have proved that he is the father of a child. And reports say that he faces another round, after a potential third child popped up just before his wedding last week. But what exactly are these tests?

A paternity test determines whether a man is the biological father of a child. South African law acknowledges three kinds of tests to determine paternity: an analysis of great blood cells, an analysis of white blood cells (called the HLA system of tissue typing), and DNA testing, which identifies the genetic ‘fingerprint’ unique to each person.

The first type – a straightforward blood test – can only exclude a man as the biological father of a child. This is because it identifies only the blood group of the mother, the child and the supposed father – and because so many people belong to the same blood group, this test can’t determine with any degree of accuracy who actually is the father of the child.

The second type identifies the haplotype (inherited gene) of the child, the mother and the supposed father, and in this way determines if the child has inherited one haplotype from each of the two adults. Tissue typing of this sort can either identify the biological father to 99.9% certainty or show that the man concerned isn’t the father of the child.

DNA testing is the most recent type of test and the most certain.

Why are paternity tests needed?

Paternity tests are required to determine if a man claiming to be the father of a child is in fact that child’s biological father, or if a man denying paternity is in fact the father. The Children’s Act makes allowances for paternity testing to be done in either case. Interestingly, the Act also states that if a man refuses to have a paternity test, the assumption might be that he has something to hide (ie, that he is, in fact, the father).

The mother must give her permission for biological samples to be taken from her child for the purposes of a paternity test. And, again, if she refuses permission, the assumption may be that she has something to hide (ie, she may know that the man she claims is the father is not, in fact, the father).

Paternity testing doesn’t guarantee the outcome of any legal battle – it’s only a tool to verify the identity of a biological father.

How are paternity tests done?

Depending on which type of test is done, blood and/or other biological samples (saliva, for instance) are taken from the mother, the child and/or the supposed father. Although home paternity test kits are now widely available (at www.easydna.co.za and paternitytestsouthafrica.co.za, for instance), they’re not always admissible in court. Consult with your lawyer and a social worker who will then work with your doctor to extract the necessary samples. The samples will be sent to an approved laboratory which can provide results that will be accepted in court.

DNA paternity tests don’t come cheap – expect to pay up to R2 500 per test.

That’s not my child

A 2009 study carried out at Leicester University in the UK revised the commonly accepted figure of one in 10 children unwittingly being raised by men who aren’t their biological fathers downwards to one in 25.

But what about men who father children and then deny they’ve done so? The world of celebrity abounds with them. Former world number-one professional tennis player Boris Becker, for instance, had sex with model Angela Ermakova in a broom closet at a restaurant in 2001. He denied he was the father of the daughter who was born as a result of the tryst, but a DNA test proved otherwise.

Millionaire playboy Steve Bing initially denied fathering actress Elizabeth Hurley’s child but once paternity had been proven by a DNA test, he agreed to support his son. In the same year, DNA testing proved that Bing – clearly, a fertile fellow – had also fathered the child of tennis player Lisa Bonder.

Comedian actor Eddie Murphy dated Spice Girl Melanie Brown and, when she got pregnant, denied paternity. DNA tests proved that he was, in fact, the father of Brown’s daughter – bringing Murphy’s total number of kids to seven.

Of course, celebrities also often fall prey to chancers. Comedian Chris Rock, basketball megastar Michael Jordan, singer Marc Anthony and retired boxer Mike Tyson have all been accused of dodging fatherhood. All agreed to paternity tests that proved beyond doubt that they were not the baby-daddy.

How should paternity testing be handled? Add your thoughts below.
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