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DEAR ABBY: Our 32-year-old daughter was raised in a home with traditional values. She was excited when she got engaged last February to the fellow she was living with. We began making wedding plans.

Her interest in the wedding began to wane. On a recent visit she stated that a marriage certificate was just a piece of paper, and they don't need to be married to be committed to each other or to have children. Her fiance told us that giving their children love would be enough.

We don't understand why she changed her mind about marriage in such a short period of time. They are talking about having children, so please answer soon. What can we say to make her see the importance of traditional family life? -- WORRIED MOM, ROSWELL, GA.

DEAR WORRIED: You are overdue for a frank talk with your daughter. Why on earth is she planning to have children with someone she wouldn't want to marry?

A marriage certificate is far more than a "piece of paper." Your letter brings to mind one that appeared in this column in 1996. Its message bears repeating. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Many couples who live together without marriage say, "We don't need a piece of paper to make our commitment to each other binding. A piece of paper doesn't mean a thing!"

WRONG! May I point out that when a person buys an automobile he had better have that "piece of paper" or he could be in a lot of trouble.

Also, a driver's license may be "just a piece of paper," but you'd better not be caught driving without it.

When a person buys a home or any other piece of property, he makes sure that he has that "piece of paper."

And when a person graduates from high school, college or trade school, that "piece of paper" can make the difference between getting a job or not getting one.

We live our lives with pieces of paper, beginning with a birth certificate and ending with a death certificate. And let's not forget the will -- another very important piece of paper.

So, when I hear people say, "A piece of paper doesn't mean a thing," I'm reminded of the classic adage, "Ignorance is bliss." -- PAPER IS PROOF

The signature says it well. A marriage certificate is written proof that a couple is officially one unit, with legal protections and benefits for spouses that single people do not enjoy. These include rights of inheritance, the ability to hold title to community property, health insurance benefits, and later in life, Social Security benefits. There is also the psychological benefit for all concerned.

If something were to happen to the father of her children, with no marriage certificate, your daughter and the children would be left with nothing -- no voice regarding his medical treatment, no claim to his body.

I'm all for "romance," but when children are being considered, it's time for a dose of practicality. Please urge your daughter to rethink her position.

DEAR ABBY: I am director of client relations at Genelex, an accredited DNA testing lab. In your Amber Alert column, you recommended that parents "keep a sample of DNA, such as several strands of hair" for identification purposes in case the child is kidnapped.

Strands of hair are good for DNA testing only if the root is intact. Chances are that if it were needed, no DNA could be recovered from several "strands" of hair. A more effective way to collect DNA is to utilize a cheek swab, using a kit that is available through many police stations. A full DNA profile can also be run in advance through a DNA testing lab. -- KRISTINE ASHCRAFT, SEATTLE

DEAR KRISTINE: Thank you for enlightening me. Parents, please take note.

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