How to get a a paternity test in Australia, and why it’s a good idea

If you’re questioning your fatherhood or who the father of your child is, then there are solid ways of getting clarity, thanks to DNA parentage testing. Here’s everything you need to know in an Australian legal context.

By Aaron Wallis, Lawyer at Australian Family Lawyers – Canberra. 

Paternity testing, or DNA parentage testing, can be performed where there is a dispute about parentage. Common disputes can be about who the father is or can be due to child support issues.

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to get a paternity test in Australia, and a few of your options for ways to go about determining parentage, according to the Australian law system.

When is a paternity test necessary?

Firstly, a dispute about parentage doesn’t automatically mean that testing will be needed. Generally, parentage testing will only be needed in the context of child support, or if a parent is raising the issue of parentage in the context of a post-separation parenting dispute. There are presumptions that apply to some circumstances which can limit the need for formal testing. However, these presumptions don’t prevent a party from seeking testing if there is still some doubt in their mind.

Child support is a common issue that is raised as part of parentage discussions. This can come about either from:

  • a person seeking to claim child support from another party, and requiring confirmation of parentage to do so, or 
  • a party claiming they should not be obligated to pay as they don’t believe that they’re the parent. 

In either case, Services Australia won’t be able to claim child support from an unwilling parent who isn’t listed on a child’s birth certificate. In parenting matters, it’s more common to see parties who are seeking to spend time with a child making these kinds of Applications. The Family Law Act doesn’t generally have the power to force a person to be involved in a child’s life. However, children have a right under the Act to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, and the Court can make such Orders following parentage testing.

What are the benefits of parentage tests?

Parentage testing can help clarify issues ahead of or during litigation. They can also resolve some issues entirely and help to bring about closure or confirm your part in a child’s life. For example, if you’re a father, it can prove paternity and open the door to negotiations about spending time with a child. It can also pave the way for applying to have your name on the child’s birth certificate.

If you’re a mother, parentage testing that proves paternity can be the first step towards Orders allowing you to have Services Australia assess the father’s liability to pay child support. However, other paths can achieve this same outcome without the need for testing if that is your preference. These alternate paths have limitation periods attached. You should contact Australian Family Lawyers to discuss how we can help with this.

The reverse can be true for fathers who don’t believe they’re the parent of a child. Orders can be sought to prevent an assessment from being made if you can establish that you’re not the Father through parentage testing.

What kind of testing is accepted for family law purposes?

There are strict requirements for parentage testing under the Family Law Act, including requirements designed to ensure the integrity and reliability of the test: 

  • A DNA sample, typically a mouth swab, must be taken by approved sample collectors in an approved process that follows chain of custody requirements. 
  • The testing will also need to be conducted through a NATA-accredited laboratory.
  • Nothing is stopping you and the other party from engaging in a less formal “peace of mind” test by agreement. However, the Court may not be able to strictly rely on that agreement if a dispute arises later.

Because of the strict procedures required, we recommend talking to us for advice about the process.

How to get a paternity test in Australia

How to get a paternity test in Australia

It’s always open to you and the other party to agree to do parentage testing through a NATA-accredited laboratory. Such testing can be informative but will not always be able to be relied on should there be a dispute. However, in the event of an agreement, there is nothing stopping you and the other party from acting on the results yourselves, including: 

  • Paying child support
  • Time with arrangements, or 
  • Amending the birth certificate. 

Australian Family Lawyers can help draft parenting plans for time, binding child support agreements or point you in the right direction for birth certificate amendments should you need assistance.

Court-ordered parentage tests

If you or the other party won’t agree to undergo parentage testing, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia can make an order, or facilitate testing for a child. You’ll need to provide proper evidence in support of this Application for parentage testing Orders. For example:

  • if you’re seeking an order for parenting arrangements when the other party is disputing that you’re the father, or
  • if you’re seeking a child support declaration that someone should be assessed to pay child support.

If the other party won’t agree to do parentage testing, even after Orders are made, then the Court can reach conclusions based on their refusal to engage. The evidence requirements and procedures for testing can be complex. Speak to us for advice about your options.

You should also keep in mind that testing may ultimately not be necessary. In cases of child support disputes, the Court has the power to make Orders for a child support assessment, even if the other parent isn’t on the birth certificate. However, the circumstances around these Orders being made can be restrictive. Contact us to discuss whether your circumstances will allow you to do so.

Overall parentage testing and child support are complex issues requiring detailed evidence and careful approaches. Our skilled Family Lawyers can provide you with expert advice to guide you through this process. 

Have concerns about parentage? Need advice on how to get a paternity test in Australia? Call our friendly team directly, or request a call back via the form below. Time limits can apply, so we recommend contacting us without delay. 

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