Establishing Child Support, Parenting Time and Legal Decision Making (Custody)
Paternity 101; Everything You Need to Know
Paternity, in the dictionary, is defined as the state of being one’s father, or fatherhood. Establishing paternity means that a court or a government agency has ruled as to who is a child’s father which can provide legal, emotional, social and economic ties between a father and his child.
Once paternity is legally established, a father gains legal rights and privileges that are afforded to all parents, for example: legal decision making (what used to be called custody) and parenting-time. A child also gains certain rights when paternity is established. Among these may be rights to inheritance, rights to the father’s medical and life insurance benefits, Social Security and possibly veteran’s benefits, as well as child support. The child has a chance to develop a relationship with the father and to develop a sense of identity and connection to the “other half” of his or her family. Also, it may be important for the health of the child for medical history.
The easiest way to establish paternity in Arizona is by signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form. If both the mom and dad agree who the father is, signing this form will make it official and establish the child’s legal and biological father.
Under Arizona Revised Statutes 25-814, a man is presumed to be a child’s father if any of the following are true:
– He and the child’s mother signed the child’s birth certificate.
– He was married to the child’s mother at any time during the ten months before the child’s birth.
– He was married to the child’s mother and the child was born within ten months of the marriage’s termination.
If none of these conditions hold, or if another man claims to be the child’s father, paternity will need to be established through the courts.
Filing a Paternity Petition in Arizona with Child Support, Legal Decision Making and Parenting Time
In Arizona, either the mother or the putative father can initiate paternity proceedings. In addition, the guardian, conservator, or best friend (an individual granted by a court the right to file lawsuits on behalf of a child) of a child born out of wedlock may file a paternity suit. Finally, a public welfare official or agency or the state itself may file a paternity petition, depending on the circumstances.
Both a court ruling and an agency ruling are equally valid with regard to determining paternity. Both the court and the agency have the power to order genetic testing or blood testing. To be considered valid, the test result must show that there is at least 95 percent likelihood that the putative father is the biological father.
In addition to requirements on who can file a paternity petition, the state has requirements determining whether the petition can be filed in Arizona, i.e., whether the state has jurisdiction. A petition to establish paternity, parenting time, legal decision-making, and child support can be filed in Arizona if any of the following are true about the other parent (or putative parent):
– The parent is a resident of Arizona.
– You personally serve the other parent in Arizona.
– The parent agrees to have the case heard in Arizona and files written papers in the court case.
– The parent lived with the child in Arizona at some time.
– The parent lived in Arizona and provided pre-birth expenses or support for the child.
– The child lives in Arizona as a result of the acts or directions of the person.
– The parent had intercourse in Arizona that may have resulted in the child being conceived.
– The parent signed a birth certificate that is filed in Arizona.
– The parent did any other act that substantially connects them with Arizona.
The Process for Establishing Paternity
To establish legal paternity, one parent (or another entity, as described above) files a Petition for Paternity with the court. In it, the Petitioner lays out his or her claim that the man named in the Petition is the father of the named child or children.
The Petition also includes claims regarding:
– Why the court has jurisdiction to determine paternity (as listed above).
– Why the petitioner thinks that the alleged father is the child(ren)’s father.
– The mother’s marital status at the time the child(ren) was born or conceived.
In addition, the Petition allows the Petitioner to make requests of the court regarding the child(ren)’s birth certificate and surname, legal decision-making and parenting time, child support, tax exemptions, and other issues.
Along with the Petition for Paternity, the Petitioner files an Affadavit Re: Minor Children, giving additional information about the child or children involved, and several other forms required by the court.
Once the Petition for Paternity and other paperwork has been filed with the court, copies must be served on the Respondent. The Respondent then has 20 calendar days (if s/he lives in Arizona) or 30 calendars (if s/he lives outside Arizona) to respond to the Petition. Each state must give full faith and credit to paternity determinations made by other states in accordance with their laws and regulations.
If paternity has been established in another state by a court or administrative order or voluntary acknowledgement, the determination of paternity has the same force and effect in this state as if the determination of paternity was granted by a court in this state.
The Respondent has three choices for how to respond to the Petition:
– Do nothing.
– Admit paternity and reach an agreement with the other parent regarding legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, and any other issues raised in the Petition.
– File a written response stating disagreement with the Petition.
If the Respondent does nothing (or fails to respond within the allocated time), the Petitioner can ask the court for a default judgment and the court will make a decision based on the best interests of the child.
When the Respondent Does Not Agree
If the Respondent contests any of the claims in the Petition, s/he files a Response to Petition for Paternity. This form allows the Respondent to make his or her own claims about the child(ren)’s paternity and to make his or her own requests to the court regarding legal decision-making, parenting time, etc.
As with the Petition for Paternity, the Response must be filed with the court along with other forms and must also be delivered to the Petitioner.
If the Respondent files a Response to Petition for Paternity within the allocated timeframe, one party or the other must file a Motion to Set, requesting a trial date, or take other action to move the case forward. If neither party takes action for six months, the court will dismiss the case.
Once the Response is filed, either party may request that the court issue temporary orders to be in effect during the testing and trial process. If the man named in the petition believes himself to be the father of the child/ren, he may request parenting time to begin while the process is progress.
If paternity is contested, the court may order that the mother, child(ren), and alleged father submit to genetic testing. Genetic testing results indicate a probability of paternity and can establish a legal presumption of paternity. To establish a probability of paternity in Arizona, the tests must reflect a 95 percent likelihood of paternity. These tests can exclude a wrongly accused man, but can also indicate the likelihood of paternity if he is not excluded. All parties in a contested paternity case must submit to genetic testing at the request of either party. If the results of the genetic tests indicate that the likelihood of the alleged father’s paternity is ninety-five percent or greater, the alleged father is presumed to be the parent of the child. Depending on the results of the test, the court will order one party or the other to pay for the testing.
Pursuant to Arizona law, both parties involved in a paternity proceeding where the court has been requested to establish legal decision-making, parenting time, or child support are required to attend a parent education program. The deadline for completing this program is 45 days after receiving the court order notifying of this requirement.
If another man is presumed to be the child’s father by marriage, an acknowledgment of paternity may be effected only with the written consent of the presumed father or after the presumption is rebutted. If the presumed father has died or cannot reasonably be located, paternity may be established without written consent.
Any presumption shall be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. If two or more presumptions apply, the presumption that the court determines, on the facts, is based on weightier considerations of policy and logic will control. A court decree establishing paternity of the child by another man rebuts the presumption.
Even if paternity is established or presumed, this does not guarantee legal rights to the child born out of wedlock for a father. If a child is born out of wedlock, the mother is the legal custodian of the child until paternity is established and custody or access is determined by the court. See A.R.S. § 13-1302. It is important for fathers of children born out of wedlock to establish paternity and to establish their rights. Even if the relationship with the child’s mother is solid and going well, there may be a time in the future where things will change. Without a legal document establishing paternity, decision-making and parenting time, only the mother is legally entitled to make decisions and have access to the child. If the mother refuses to allow the father access to the child, the father will have to file documents with a court to establish his rights and gain access to his child, which could potentially take months.
What Happens After Paternity is Established?
Once the court establishes the legal paternity of a child, it will enter orders concerning legal decision-making, parenting time, and child support. The parents may agree on these issues, in which case they can work together to write a Parenting Plan. A Parenting Plan is a proposal for the judge that includes how you and the other parent will act in the best interests of the child.
For the man who is unable or unwilling to pay child support, having a paternity order forced on him could be unwelcome. The court has the power to order child support retroactively to three years before the case was started. The judge can order a reluctant father to pay the costs of the pregnancy and child birth as well.
If a government agency has started the case, the agency may seek the father to reimburse the agency for welfare and other benefits paid out on the child’s behalf.
If the father’s name is not listed on the birth certificate, a new birth certificate listing him as the legal father will be issued. The child(ren)’s surname may also be legally changed, depending on the requests that were made in the Petition for Paternity and the Response.
Establishing Paternity Without Legal Decision-making
Paternity may also be established in a case in which legal decision-making, child support, etc. are not relevant. For example, an adult may wish to legally establish his or her biological father. For the adult who wants to determine who his or her biological father is, the law allows only that person to start a case after his or her 18th birthday.
How We Can Help
If you choose to represent yourself in a paternity case, we can help you in that process.
– We will prepare all the documents
– We bring them to Court to be filed.
– We will arrange to “serve” the opposing parties.
– We will make sure that an Affidavit of Service of prcess is filed
– We will obtain a court date for a Temporary Orders Hearing and “serve” that on the opposing party.
– We will keep track of all deadlines and keep you informed of the progress of your case.
Statewide Paralegal offers professional legal document preparation services. We have decades of experience preparing documents for proceedings in Arizona. By using our service you can avoid the expense of a high priced attorney. There is no need to worry about deadlines and properly completing the forms. We know what to ask and provide this service to hundreds of clients each year. Contact our office in Tucson, Phoenix, or Mesa today so that we can walk you through the legal document preparation services we offer.