What are Your Legal Rights in Determining Paternity?

Arizona paternity laws do not require either parent to establish paternity, but in the interest of a child’s overall well-being establishing who the father is highly encouraged. 

The State’s paternity laws are intended to provide predictability and stability. For instance, there is a presumption that when a married couple has a child, the husband is the biological father of any child born during the marriage, or within 10 months after the marriage is terminated. 

Typically, any challenge to the presumption of paternity will require DNA testing to prove otherwise.

3 Ways Unmarried Couples Can Voluntarily Establish Paternity in Arizona

Pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-804, a parent can file to establish paternity during pregnancy, or after the birth of the child. If the purpose is to establish child support, the case must be filed prior to the child’s 18th birthday.

The State of Arizona operates a Hospital Paternity Program (HPP) that oversees and encourages voluntary declarations of paternity. HPP offers two ways to establish the paternity of a child born to unmarried couples. 

  1. Unmarried couples may sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form at the hospital after the birth of the child. 
  2. Parents can also complete and sign a Voluntary Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity at a Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) office, which is then filed with the court.

➤ Almost half of all births in Arizona (45%) in 2020 were to unmarried parents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The Role of DNA Testing to Determine Paternity

If paternity is not established voluntarily, court proceedings can be filed by either the mother or father. Arizona paternity laws underscore the parent’s responsibility to provide financial support to their children regardless of their relationship with their former partners. 

“We represent putative fathers who want to prove paternity and establish parenting time and legal decision-making rights, as well as mothers who wish to establish paternity and child support,” says Tabitha A. Jecmen, a partner in the Scottsdale family law firm Lawrence & Jecmen. 

Putative (presumed) fathers have the right to require their assumed children undergo a DNA test to establish that they are the biological father.  Courts can compel mothers to send the child for testing. Similarly, mothers seeking to establish paternity may require a putative father to submit to DNA testing. 

➤ It is important to note that DNA can be obtained through saliva and hair, and not just through a blood test that can be traumatic, however briefly, for a child. 

Arizona law requires a 95% probability of paternity for the Court to presume a man is the biological father. Notwithstanding this presumption, a person opposing paternity still has the opportunity to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the alleged father is not the biological father.

Determining Paternity Helps Unmarried Fathers Get Equal “Child Custody”

“Before the 1970s,” says the website The Fathers’ Rights Movement, “sole child custody was almost universally – and automatically – granted to the mother, especially for young children still in what were called the ‘tender years.’” But many people – not just fathers – felt the system unjustly favored mothers in custody decisions and minimized the time fathers, whether unmarried or divorced, could spend with their biological or adopted children. 

During the 1970’s, “most states adopted laws conferring an equal status on the custodial rights of mother and father,” Berkeley scholar Mary Ann Mason noted in her 1994 book From Father’s Property To Children’s Rights: A History of Child Custody. In addition, Mason wrote, “biological parents gained rights over the growing numbers of non-biological parents, particularly stepparents and foster parents” who were often raising children in an era when divorces rose, and families broke down.

Establishing paternity is an important step for fathers who intend to help raise their children outside of marriage.

Parenting Plans Have Equalized Parenting Time in Arizona

In Arizona, once paternity is established, the Court has authority to enter legal decision making, parenting time and child support orders. It is the declared public policy in Arizona and memorialized in statutes that absent evidence to the contrary, it is in a child’s best interests for both parents to participate in decision-making about the child, and for the child to have “substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing parenting time with both parents.” In Arizona, parenting plans specify important aspects of raising the child including:

  • Specific time each parent spends with the children, including a regular parenting schedule and a holiday schedule. US Census data shows most parenting plans in Arizona typically provide that children will spend equal time with their mothers and fathers – a balance we have observed in our practice.
  • Equal input on important child-rearing issues like medical care, education, and religious upbringing. 

Parenting plans can be adjusted and modified throughout a child’s life based on a substantial and continuing change of circumstances.  

Our website has more information about establishing parenting plans.

Mother’s Rights to Establish Paternity and Request Child Support

The state has a clear interest to see that children born to unmarried parents will be financially supported and not rely on state assistance, Jecmen and her partner Andi C. Lawrence observe. The Legislature has passed laws that allow mothers and the state itself to take action to determine a child’s paternity alongside requesting child support.

If a father has not voluntarily acknowledged paternity, a mother can file to establish paternity, including making a request for child support. The petition must be verified and allege that a child was born out of wedlock and that the respondent is the child’s biological father. 

Men who deny paternity may be required to submit to a DNA test. The Court will determine how the initial test costs are divided between the parties. 

How to Request Child Support in Arizona

A child support order can be requested by either mother or father. Prior to a child support order being entered, the Court must establish paternity through one of the methods referenced above. Once paternity is established, the Court will apply the child support guidelines to determine the child support amount.  The court can also award retroactive child support in appropriate circumstances.  

Child support orders are based on Arizona Child Support Guidelines, which establish a basic child support obligation considering each party’s income,  the parenting time allocated to each and various other expenses such as medical insurance and child care. 

Paternity Services in Arizona

If you’re in need of legal services in a paternity matter, please contact us at (602) 807-1400.