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Commercial Genetic Testing in Family Law

How often have you heard someone claim their grandmother was Native American? What about Italian? More people around the world claim to be Irish than there are people in all of Ireland! The lure of knowing where you come from has led to an explosion in commercial testing services like 23 & Me. As technology has advanced and databases of genetic profiles have grown, so has the information that those commercial genetic tests can provide. This includes health information and wide nets of genetic relatives you may have never known about. Everyone is familiar with genetic testing in custody and child support cases, but learning one’s genetic parentage can lead to a host of issues beyond custody and child support.

Many adults have taken genetic tests only to find out that a person they have seen as a parent for their entire life is not actually genetically related to them. For an adult child, there’s no custody or child support to worry about, but there are still legal implications. It is estimated that 5% of children born to married women do not belong to their husbands, so it is no surprise that discovering a surprise biological father has exposed huge numbers of past affairs. These exposures have led to an equally unsurprising high number of divorces. In North Carolina, proof of infidelity can also impact whether a spouse is entitled to alimony. A spouse who has had an affair may not be able to get any alimony at all, regardless of how much the other party makes.

Alternatively, the parents may have known all along about the child’s biological parentage. The child may have been adopted or conceived via a donor and never known it. Finding this out as an adult can have major psychological impacts, especially if it is discovered by accident during a genetic test. These discoveries can carry legal and social weight for the newly discovered genetic parents. Gamete donors or birth parents who place a child for adoption need to be aware of these possible consequences. Most adoptions and donor agreements include some measure of anonymity, but any agreements or contracts to stay anonymous are now useless.

Because of the huge network of genetic profiles now available, even if you don’t ever get genetically tested, there is a high likelihood that someone related to you has. Once someone conceived from your genetics undergoes genetic testing and finds that relative, making the connection to you will probably not be hard. While donors and birth parents are protected from issues like child support, having an adult child come out of the woodwork may upset their own current family structure.

Finding out where your ancestors come from or tracing your family tree can be fun, and finding out about health markers can be useful, but those aren’t the only things to consider when you think about getting commercial genetic testing done. It is important to be sure that you have considered all the possibilities and are ready for whatever you might discover when you open up those results.