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Paternity questions plague 1 in 10, DNA test firm says

Gary Garner, 32, of Great Falls, Mont., and his son, Skyler, 14. Garner used an Identigene drugstore paternity test kit to confirm that he's really Skyler's dad.
Gary Garner, 32, of Great Falls, Mont., and his son, Skyler, 14. Garner used an Identigene drugstore paternity test kit to confirm that he's really Skyler's dad.

The company that made its name peddling drugstore paternity tests to uncertain spouses and skeptical kin now says that more than 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. has had reason to ask the question: Who’s your Daddy?

Twelve percent of men and 10 percent of women say they personally have been in a situation where paternity testing was "appropriate," according to a recent survey of 1,039 people conducted for Identigene, the Utah firm that markets direct-to-consumer DNA tests.

In addition, nearly 1 in 5 of those randomly surveyed said they have family members or close friends who’ve questioned paternity.

“There are a lot of situations where you can envision needing a paternity test,” said Steven Smith, president of Identigene, which has sold more than half a million kits for $29.99 a pop since 2008. “Somebody’s going through a divorce, child custody. Those things do come up.”

The survey, conducted late last year by the Los Angeles firm Impulse Research, is renewing debate about the touchy subject of confirming whether a child’s reported father is the real thing.

Smith said it proves there’s an unmet need for cheap, simple tests to solve crucial genetic questions.

But scientists who’ve studied what they call “misidentified paternity” say the actual proportion of faux fathers is much lower than the new survey would seem to indicate.

The population-based rate is probably closer to between 1 percent and 4 percent in western countries, with U.S. rates hovering between 2 percent and 4 percent, twice as high as Europe, said Michael Gilding, a professor of sociology at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research in Melbourne, Australia. He has spent years researching the issue.

“It is higher in the U.S. because there are more exnuptial births, less informal cohabitation and more divorce,” he wrote in an e-mail to

(In other words, the U.S. has more babies born outside marriage and more couples living together.)

Whatever the actual rate, those who’ve used the tests say the results can be life-changing.

For 14 years, Gary Garner of Great Falls, Mont., has questioned his relationship with his wife’s oldest son, Skyler. He always believed he was the boy’s father, but another man’s name was on the birth certificate. Garner admits he and his wife, Rhonda, 33, have had a rocky history. They've been married to each other three separate times and once each to other people. The pair have three other children together, in addition to Garner's child with another woman. But the issue of Skyler’s paternity was always in question -- until Garner finally decided to buy an Identigene kit at a local Walgreens store late last year.

“Anywhere else, a DNA test is $2,500,” Garner said.

On Jan. 4, he took a swab of cells from his cheek and from Skyler’s cheek and sent both samples to the lab run by Sorenson Genomics of Salt Lake City for analysis. For the price of the drugstore kit plus a $129 lab fee, Garner had an answer within days.

“I saw they had the results and I didn’t even want to open up the e-mail,” said Garner, a heating and air conditioning technician.

“When I did, I was like, ‘YES!,’ I felt like I won the most epic battle known to man.”

The tests verify paternity with 100 percent accuracy, according to material on the Identigene site. Garner said telephone counselors told him it was “99.9 percent” accurate and that he couldn’t be excluded as Skyler’s dad.

Overall, nearly two-thirds of the paternity tests Identigene performs come back positive, company officials said. That rate is naturally higher than the population-based rate because those who take the tests are a select group with a reason to wonder about paternity.

It’s taken a while for the news to sink in for Garner -- and for his son.

“Both of us are hurt through this whole thing,” Garner said, adding that he’s planning a father-son trip to an arcade to celebrate the confirmation of what he always believed in his heart.

“Everybody’s just glad that we know now,” he said. 

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