Parental Responsibility and Consent for a DNA Test

Parental Responsibility refers to “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”[1].  In real terms, this means having input into substantial matters affecting a child’s well-being, such as education, religion medical treatments, appointing a guardian, holidays and extended stays outside the family home. Importantly, this also relates to legal proceedings involving the child and registering/changing a child’s name. De facto, this applies to the non-medical matter of human identity testing using DNA technology, commonly known as for example, a paternity test, sibling test or indeed grand-parentage test.

So, who has Parental Responsibility for a child? Well firstly, the mother always (and automatically) has Parental Responsibility. Intuitively, we might think this named individual would necessarily be the biological mother (the individual who gave birth to the child) and this is generally the case.  Exceptions occur in the case of surrogacy where the surrogate mother will have Parental Responsibility until it is relinquished with a Parental Order. Interestingly, if a surrogate mother is married, the partner will also have Parental Responsibility order over the child.  In another notable situation, trans groups in Ecuador have been infuriated by a father that has declared himself a trans woman and claimed the rights of a mother, to better care for his child[2].   

Automatic Parental Responsibility is not conferred on unmarried biological fathers, unmarried partners (male or female), grandparents, other biological relatives or step-fathers/mothers.   Unmarried/non civil partnership fathers who (re-) register their names on a birth certificate after 1st December 2003 can gain Parental Responsibility. 

We always ask for the mother’s consent to a DNA test if the child is under 16 and encourage her to participate in the test by giving a DNA sample.  Our most common question is: “Why do you need that?  I know I am the mum.”  Well we are each made up of half of the mothers DNA and half of the fathers – though until we test it, we don’t know which half !  By determining which portion comes from the mum, we can then be sure which DNA relates to the father and this greatly improves the statistics of an inclusion, i.e. that the tested male is in fact the biological father of the child.

There are various additional ways that a father can gain Parental Responsibility over a child, these are: a) entering marriage or civil partnership with the mother, b) obtaining a Parental Responsibility order from a court, c) using a Child Arrangement Order, being specifically named as a resident parent, d) having a Residence Order in place (prior to 22nd April 2014) and e) entering a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother.  If there has been a marriage/civil partnership and then a divorce/dissolution, then the Parental Responsibility rights are retained.

The Ministry of Justice operates an accreditation system for bodies “that may carry out parentage tests where directed by a civil (including family) court in England and Wales, under section 20 of the Family Law Reform Act 1969”.  This list is reconsidered every year and requires the key accreditation for calibration and testing laboratories, ISO 17025.  We are pleased to say we are on the “list” and if you have a case requiring a DNA test or would just like some advice on how to establish a human relationship using DNA, please feel free to contact us.

[1] The Children Act 1989, s3(1)

[2] Man legally changes gender to help win custody battle, infuriating trans rights grou

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