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Paternal Obligation Hinges on DNA Technology

In May of 2015, a New Jersey court issued a ruling in a paternity case holding a mother seeking child support for her twins would only receive child support for one of them.  After DNA testing was performed to determine paternity of the twins, the Court found that the Defendant in this matter was only the biological father of one of the twins.  Thus, the Court could only justify awarding child support to the twin who shared DNA with the Defendant.

The phenomena of twins having different biological fathers is coined “heteropaternal superfecundation.”  Although very rare, heteropaternal superfecundation has been an issue in an estimated one in 13,000 paternity cases.

Heteropaternal superfecundation can occur when a woman produces two eggs during her fertility cycle as a result of having sexual intercourse with two different men around the same time.  Both eggs can become fertilized and produce fetuses of the same gestational age, which can result in the mother bearing twins.

Courts in most states will not award child support to a mother unless paternity is established between the child and the Defendant father.  The only reliable method of establishing paternity is via DNA testing.

The first reliable form of DNA testing, with a 99.99% accuracy rate, became available to identify biological relationships in 1985 with “DNA fingerprinting.”  This test was based on a Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (“RFLP”) analysis, that involved obtaining DNA samples from the parent and child being tested, adding restriction enzymes to the samples to break them down into small unique segments, adding a staining agent for visual acuity, transferring the DNA onto a membrane, and then applying a radioactive probe, allowing the pattern of DNA to become detected by exposure to an x-ray film.  Close examination of the DNA patterns reveals one unique pattern for a mother, a distinguishably unique pattern for a father, and then a pattern of equal composition of both parent patterns for the child.  Thus, as early as 1985, scientists were able to identify whether an individual was a child’s biological father.

In recent history, DNA testing has evolved from the DNA fingerprinting method that applied RFLP to DNA testing involving polymerase chain reaction (“PCR”) techniques.  While similar to RFLP, DNA analysis via PCR allows a smaller sample size, such as DNA from a cheek swab.  The samples are then replicated and compared for similarities and thought to be more accurate than RFLP testing.

Often, child support hinges on accurate paternal identification. The technological advances of highly accurate DNA testing has aided in establishing paternity and compelling parental responsibility in unmarried parents.

Cassey Shashaty is pursuing her law degree and health law certificate at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago. Cassey completed her undergraduate degree at Florida State University in political science and international affairs. Cassey is most interested in how health care legislation affects individuals and their rights as patients.