A Guide to Establishing Paternity in Arizona

Establishing paternity without science or admission is challenging. Legal issues can arise when children are born to unmarried parents. Unfortunately, there have been times where men have paid hefty child support payments for children who are not theirs, learned through genetic testing. Additionally, many single mothers who do not receive child support struggle daily.

A father has no enforceable parental rights concerning access without establishment. 

Assertions of paternity in Arizona may need scientific proof. So, genetic testing is routine. His custody status must be scientifically proven. Alternatively, a father’s paternity to a child voluntarily acknowledged. Otherwise, the mother can make custodial decisions without his input. 

Unmarried parents in Arizona face different problems than their married counterparts. (The parents could be married, but not to each other.) When a child is born within a marriage, the husband is presumed to be the father by Arizona law. However, if paternity is not established, this can negatively impact all parties involved.

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Guide How to Establish Paternity in Arizona

How is my Paternity Established in Arizona?

In Arizona, there are three main ways to establish paternity. Below discusses what these three are and how 

By the presumption of paternity;
By voluntary acknowledgment of paternity; or
By settling paternity in court.

Under Arizona law according to ARS § 25-803, not everyone can file a Petition seeking paternity of a child. The only people that may are:

Said Father
Same Sex Spouse/Partner
Conservator or guardian of the child
Public welfare agency in the county where the child lives
The state

Presumption of Paternity

Arizona law confirms four presumptions of paternity. A man is presumed to be the child’s father if:

He was married to the mother ten months before the child’s birth or separated from the mother ten months after the marriage. 
Genetic testing affirms paternity by a margin of 95% or more.
Both parents sign the birth certificate.
They both sign a voluntary agreement of paternity.

Presumptions can be challenged with supporting evidence, however. 

Does the Father Automatically Have Parental Rights if he Signs the Birth Certificate?

Not necessarily and this is a question often asked. Signing the birth certificate is one way to establish paternity in Arizona. However, the Presumption of Paternity can be refuted. It’s not a concrete method to prove the child is in fact that persons, but a signature is a vital piece of the puzzle.

Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP)

A voluntarily signed, notarized statement can settle paternity. Both parents signify that the child is biologically theirs. This VAP is then filed with the court and the Departments of Economic Security and Health & Human Services.

The VAP may be used to rebut the presumption that the mother’s current husband is the father of her child.

If the biological father was not married to the child’s mother, her current or former husband could intervene. 

He can acknowledge the other man’s claims of paternity.

By acknowledging paternity, both parents have equal obligations to support their children. Before they sign, they must be provided with a notice. It details the alternatives and legal effects of executing the document. They may also agree to bind themselves to certified DNA paternity test results. Paternity is confirmed by a minimum probability of at least 95%. 

These two options result in a paternity order with the same force and effect as a judgment. The court then sends a copy of its paternity order to DES and DHHS and will issue a child support eventually, if applicable. 

If a man doubts that he is the father, he should obtain a DNA test before signing paternity documents.

If the mother does not consent to DNA testing, get legal help promptly. Talk to an experienced lawyer about court-ordered genetic testing and other legal alternatives.

Paternity Establishment by Court Order

A paternity lawsuit can adjudicate the legal father born to unmarried parents. A custodial caretaker can file a petition to establish paternity in Arizona. This is done with the court clerk before or after the birth. However, the petition must be filed before the child turns 18. This will establish a parent’s obligation to pay or receive child support and also can establish custodial issues like parenting time and decision-making.

If the child is an heir, paternity proceedings can occur well into adulthood.

A word of caution, however. Be careful about default judgments in paternity lawsuits. If the putative father does not file a timely response to the petition, it can cost him. The judge can enter a determination of paternity even if he is not the biological father.

If the father fails to comply with a DNA test, a default judgment will ensue. Once a determination of paternity is entered, he must pay current and retroactive child support.

It is highly recommended to consult with an Arizona attorney if you have been served with or need to serve a paternity lawsuit.

Decision-Making and Parenting Time Upon Paternity Establishment

Paternity must be resolved when an unmarried father wants to participate in his child’s life.

Paternity establishment always precedes child custody hearings. Once determined, an unwed parent can seek custody.

Determining parenting time and custody (decision-making) is another area of family law that needs the guidance of a well-known family law and child custody attorney. Therefore, we urge people to speak to one of our family law attorneys for a free consultation where we can explore all options to ensure a smooth court process.

Child Support Orders Follow Paternity Establishment

A father can initiate a court petition to establish paternity in Arizona. Every putative father should get tested before paying child support. After the positive results, he can share in the child’s care. He can file for parenting time and decision-making rights. Therefore, establishing paternity in Arizona is a critical first step. Lawyers and judges rely on DNA testing for this. ARS § 25-814

Also, a father may have a familial medical condition. DNA testing could help his child get treatment. 

The father’s medical insurance may cover a child. And, the child could be eligible to receive life insurance payments and may qualify for Social Security or VA benefits. Establishing paternity may also affect the probate estate when the father dies intestate.

What is an Informal Parenting Agreement?

An Informal Parenting Agreement is a plan that both parents create. It details their child’s custodial arrangements. An informal parenting agreement may work temporarily. Nonetheless, it is not a good long-term.

Both parents find out quickly that casual custodial plans have their limitations. If a parent doesn’t get there way, then they can withhold the child from the other parent since there is no court order. Custody agreements are best resolved in a court of law.

How Do Court-Ordered Parenting Plans Work?

A court-ordered parenting schedule benefits all parties involved. It provides a defined custody arrangement. It spells out the terms of access clearly by which both parents must abide. The child feels secure by having a schedule upon which he learns to depend. And, flexibility can be built into the parenting plan if it is necessary. 

A court ordered parenting schedule is also enforceable. This may include, for example, preventing a parent from relocating with the child 100 miles or more away.  

Without a court order, one parent could move out of state which may cause the other state to have jurisdiction, not Arizona. 

The amount of time a parent spends with the child may affect child support. Under the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, it could increase or decrease the amount.

Having a family law attorney guide you through important elements of a parenting plan is beneficial.

Final Thoughts in Establishing Paternity of a Child

Matters of paternity establishment are not always cut and dry. They can be extremely frustrating and confusing. Perhaps you are an unmarried father desiring regular, meaningful contact with your child. Or, a mother who disputes a petition to establish paternity.

You should consult an experienced Arizona family law attorney at Coburn Hintze Maletta immediately to help establish paternity. We are available for a free consultation, simply call us at (602) 825-2500.

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