In some family court proceedings, there is a disagreement about who is a child’s father. If this uncertainty means a current application for a child arrangements order cannot be decided, the court may order a DNA test.
We provide a free DNA testing service to parents involved in family law proceedings. The only cost involved for parents is travel to the office where the DNA sample is collected.
Having a test
If a test is ordered by the court, you will receive an appointment letter from us. In most cases, testing takes place in a Cafcass office under the supervision of one of our officers.
This is a self-testing process. The sample is taken from a simple cheek swab. The adult being tested will take the sample themselves and the child’s sample will be taken by the adult accompanying them.
The officer’s job is there to help to make sure the sample is taken correctly and to confirm everyone’s identity.
The adult being tested and the child (with a responsible adult) will be given separate appointments. In most cases, there is no need to take a sample from the child’s mother.
You can find out more detailed information about what happens when a sample is taken in our leaflet: Completing a DNA test.
After the sample is taken, it is sent to a laboratory to be tested. The testing process is accurate, confirming with 99.99% accuracy if a person is a child’s biological father.
After the court has ordered a test, it will usually take 30 working days for the report to be received. The court will give copies of the report to all parties. Cafcass cannot provide you with the result of the tests.
If the test result raises any issues that you need help with, you should contact your local NHS for counselling or other support.
The service is only available for any family court cases where there is a disagreement about who is a child’s parent and this disagreement means a current application for a child arrangements order cannot be decided.
HMCTS guidance has been issued to all courts, alongside a letter from the President of the Family Division and our Chief Executive.
In the majority of cases, tests on the child and possible father give the necessary level of accuracy. Courts should not make orders for others to be tested, unless the men believed to be the possible father are genetically related to each other; in such cases, a test on the mother may be needed. Advice can be given by contacting [email protected].
The service is delivered by Cafcass in England and Cafcass Cymru in Wales. Any queries about the service should be directed to [email protected].
It is important that children know the identity of their biological parents and have honest information about the results of the test. It is important for the child that this information is given in a way that does not undermine their relationship with their parents or damage their sense of identity.
When thinking about explaining the test to your child, there are three things you should remember:
- Make sure you are ready emotionally.
Being ready emotionally means acknowledging your own feelings and any negative thoughts about your child’s other parent. It also means being able to manage them so you can stay calm when talking to your child.
You can find more information about listening and communicating with your children, as well as some steps that you can take to help with this, in the Parenting Plan.
It is worth spending some time thinking about how you will tell your child, anticipating their reaction and any questions and being ready to listen to them so that you can respond to what they need.
- Be clear about what taking the test involves.
You can help reassure your child about the test by speaking to them positively, calmly and clearly.
You can explain that it is quick and easy and that the person accompanying them, who they should know, will be taking the sample as well. You can also explain that someone will be there to check that the test is done right, but that they will not take the sample.
You should be clear about what the sample taking involves – this leaflet explains more: Completing a DNA test.
- Think about what is appropriate for your child.
Children need different levels of information depending on their age and understanding, as well as what they know about the dispute between you and the child’s other parent.
It may be helpful to mention that to make a decision the court must find out lots of information and the test is being done to help the court know more about your family and make the right decision. This places the emphasis on the test being carried out at the request of the courts and why – rather than focusing on you as parents. Approaching it in this way can help to protect your child from the adult issues around their biological parentage.
Once you have chosen the best approach, we know from parents who have been through it that gently sticking to it and staying calm can work well. What you say is of course up to you. You know your child best.