How To Get a Court-Ordered Paternity Test

If possible, a child should have two legal parents.

Parenthood allows an adult to exercise their parental rights (like seeking custody of the child) and to be held accountable for their responsibilities (like paying support to the other parent).

When the mother isn't married, a court can establish who the other parent is. Here's how to seek a court-ordered paternity test.

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How to get a court-ordered DNA test

For a paternity test to be legally valid, the child and their possible biological father — often, their biological mother too — must be tested by an accredited laboratory.

If a possible father can't be located, the court may order one of his biological relatives to be tested.

If there are multiple possible fathers, tell the state agency or the court. The court may order all of them to be tested. This may increase the cost.

Today's tests are highly accurate, and judges accept these results as proof of who the child's biological father is.

There are two ways to get a court-ordered DNA test.

The state may decide that you have to take a court-ordered paternity test.

Both parents — instead of the government, if possible — should financially support the child. So, in the United States, if one parent receives (or applies for) public assistance, the state's child support office opens a support case to try to recover funds from the other parent. A court often orders a paternity test if the father hasn't yet been established.

If there's been a concern about neglect or abuse, a state social worker or state prosecutor may request a court-ordered paternity test.

Furthermore, if you've raised allegations or doubts about who the father is during your divorce or custody case, the judge may order a paternity test to end your argument.

Or you can ask the court to order a paternity test.

Someone who's already a legal parent, or someone who believes they might be the biological father, can request a paternity test. Judges are generally willing to approve these requests because the information has legal and financial implications.

How to get a court-ordered paternity test without a lawyer

If you're requesting a court-ordered paternity test without a lawyer, ask your local court or child support agency what form to use. For example, California, Texas and New York provide such forms. The process is called establishing filiation in Québec and declaration of parentage in Ontario.

If you need help filling out the form but you can't afford a lawyer to help with your entire case, search for lawyers who perform "unbundled" services. That means they'll charge a fixed fee to help you complete specific forms and submit them to the court, and they won't represent you on an ongoing basis.

A few U.S. states have a professional role called legal paraprofessional. These people aren't lawyers, but they can perform basic legal tasks like submitting petitions to the court.

If the state has asked the court to order a paternity test, you don't need to request the test, so you won't need a lawyer's help with that process.

Who pays for a court-ordered paternity test

When the state is involved and demands the court-ordered paternity test, the state often pays for it. The state feels that this very important information is worth the cost.

Otherwise, the court DNA test may cost you about $500. (Contrast this with an at-home test that may cost only $250 but whose results can't be used in court.) The judge typically orders parents (or potential parents) to pay for it. The judge may pick which person pays based on their income, allegations raised against them, or the way they've behaved during the case.

Additionally, one parent may need to pay a court filing fee to submit the petition, while the other may have to pay a separate filing fee to respond. These fees vary locally and might be about $50.

You'll likely also need to pay to serve the other person with court papers. As with serving child support papers, serving a request to establish paternity costs about $50 — and more if you hire a private process server to locate someone who's hard to find.

Court-ordered paternity test results

After you provide a sample for a legally valid paternity test, it may take several weeks to receive your result.

The court will receive the information from the lab first, and it will decide how to deliver the court-ordered paternity test results to you. If you have a lawyer, they may be involved in passing along the information.

If you're not ready to parent, plan to pay child support

Sometimes, the confirmed biological father doesn't want to be a parent. It's unlikely that a judge would allow him to terminate parental rights. Instead, the mother would likely receive sole custody, and the father would owe child support. Generally, your child support amount depends on your parenting time, income and number of children.

If you do want to parent, organize your custody case

If a court says you're a parent, you have the right to seek custody or visitation. You may need to draft multiple parenting plans and schedules, take notes of interactions with the other parent, print messages you exchange with them and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place. With a parenting plan template, custody calendars, a parenting journal, parent-to-parent messaging and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for child custody court.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

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