Establishing paternity has several important legal consequences. However, before paternity can be legally established, a party alleging paternity must have reliable evidence to present to the court.
In the past, paternity could be difficult to determine and courts were often forced to rely on testimony or other anecdotal evidence in order to do so. However, recent advances in technology have made DNA paternity testing readily available and relatively inexpensive. DNA testing provides incredibly accurate results to private parties and the courts.
There are several types of DNA paternity tests that can be performed both before and after the child is born. There are three main tests that can be performed prenatally: Amniocentesis, Chronic Villus Sampling (CVS), and SNP Microarray. An amniocentesis can be performed in the second trimester of a woman's pregnancy. An SNP can be performed as early as the 9th week of pregnancy and CVS can be performed as early as the 10th week. After the child is born, there are several postnatal DNA paternity tests that can be performed. These include blood samples, buccal (cheek) swabs, and umbilical cord tests.
Today, paternity testing can be necessary to address a variety of legal issues, such as: child support, adoption, inheritance, social security/insurance/military benefits, immigration issues among others. However, to be legally admissible, the paternity test must follow a strict chain of custody rules in order to ensure the reliability of the results as evidence.
In New Mexico, the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) establishes chain of custody and other rules regarding genetic testing to establish paternity. To establish chain of custody under the UPA, the specimens must be taken by a neutral, accredited facility. The facility must comply with accreditation requirements of the UPA. A representative of the laboratory must sign the genetic testing report under penalty of perjury. The report must include: (1) names and photographs of the person(s) the specimens were taken from, (2) name of the person collecting the specimen, (3) location and date of collection, (4) names of persons receiving specimens in the testing lab, (5) date specimen was received, and (6) laboratory accreditation documents.
Under the UPA, a man is identified as the father of a child if the results of the DNA test show that the probability of paternity is at least 99% or shows a combined paternity index of at least 100 to 1. The only way to rebut the genetic testing results is by providing other genetic tests that either (1) exclude the man identified as the father of the child or (2) identify another man as the child's possible father. If tests identify more than one man as the child's possible father, the court will order further genetic testing.
Results of DNA paternity tests are strictly confidential. According to the UPA, paternity test results should only be shared with the person tested, their attorney, the court, and the support enforcement agency involved. Under New Mexico law, releasing paternity results to anyone other than the persons listed above is a fourth degree penalty.
There are many home DNA testing kits available on the Internet today. Although these tests may be helpful in clearing up doubts regarding a child's paternity, it is important to understand that the results of a home DNA kit are not admissible as evidence in court. As discussed earlier, to be admissible as evidence, paternity testing procedures must adhere to strict chain of custody rules that are simply impossible to achieve with a home test.
Paternity has many consequences, some welcome and some not so much. A finding of paternity means that the father is now responsible for child support until the child is 18 or graduates high school. This can obviously be a great financial burden. The emotional burden may be equal in weight. If faced with a situation disputed paternity, it is important to know your rights. It is equally important to assert those rights which may require the assistance of an experienced New Mexico family law attorney.