“The issue…shall be whether or not the defendant is the father of the child.”
—Arizona paternity statute
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Either parent, the child, or the state may file an action to establish paternity. Given the importance of establishing paternity, paternity proceedings have priority over other civil proceedings. When paternity is established, the court may award custody and parenting time, and will provide for the payment of child support.
Starting the Proceedings
Proceedings to establish paternity may be started during the mother’s pregnancy or after the birth of the child. Paternity proceedings are started by the filing of a verified petition with the clerk of the superior court. The petition must allege that “a woman is delivered of a child” born out of wedlock or is pregnant with a child conceived out of wedlock, and that the defendant is the father of the child.
The alleged father must appear and answer the paternity petition within 20 days if he is served in Arizona, or within 30 days if he is served outside Arizona. The case will be set for trial within 60 days from the father’s denial of paternity. In an action started before the birth of the child, a delay will be granted until the birth of the child for purposes of paternity tests.
If the alleged father fails to appear or otherwise answer the paternity petition, fails to take a court-ordered blood or genetic test, or voluntarily admits paternity, the court will enter an order of paternity. In other cases, paternity will be established by trial to the judge. (A party in a paternity action does not have a right of trial by jury.)
The court can order the mother, her child, and the alleged father to submit to genetic testing, and will direct that inherited characteristics to determine parentage, including blood and tissue type, be determined by testing procedures. An expert in the field of genetic markers will be agreed on by the parties or appointed by the court to analyze and interpret the results and report to the court.
If the results of the genetic tests indicate that the likelihood of the alleged father’s paternity is 95% or greater, then he is presumed to be the father of the child. If the results of the examiner’s report are challenged, the court may order an additional test to be made at the expense of the party requesting additional testing. The court will also determine the amount of the initial test costs to be paid by each party.
Presumption of Paternity
A man is presumed to be the father of a child if:
- he and the mother were married at any time in the 10 months immediately before the birth, or the child is born within 10 months after the marriage is terminated
- genetic testing affirms at least a 95% probability of paternity
- a birth certificate is signed by the mother and father; or
- a notarized or witnessed statement is signed by both parents acknowledging paternity
Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity
The parent of a child born out of wedlock may establish paternity of a child by filing a document with the clerk of the superior court, the Department of Economic Security, or the Department of Health Services. The document may be
- a notarized or witnessed statement that contains the social security numbers of both parents and is signed by both parents acknowledging paternity (if the acknowledgment is filed with the court, the filing party must remove the social security numbers and file them separately on a confidential data sheet), or
- an agreement by the parents to be bound by the results of genetic testing, together with an affidavit from a certified laboratory that the tested father has not been excluded. On the filing of one of these documents, the clerk of the superior court will issue an order establishing paternity.
If the father admits parentage or if the court determines that the male is the father, the court will direct the father to pay for the past support of the child, current support, and may direct the father to pay the costs of litigation. The court will not order past support retroactive to more than three years before the filing of the paternity suit, unless it finds good cause to do so.
The court will also direct the amount that the father must pay for the actual costs of the pregnancy, childbirth, any genetic testing, and other related costs. In ordering the payment of child support, the court will apply the child support guidelines.
When paternity is established, the court may award custody and parenting time. The parent with whom the child has resided for the greater part of the last six months will have legal custody, unless otherwise ordered by the court.
The above article is an excerpt from Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, 2nd Edition (Fenestra Books, 2012), by Donald A. Loose, republished with the author’s permission.
Disclaimer: Laws change constantly. Specific legal advice should be obtained regarding any legal matter. The information contained on this website does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created.
Donald A. Loose is an Arizona attorney, and the author of Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, and Estate Planning in Arizona: What You Need to Know. Mr. Loose is a regular guest on radio shows featuring local newsmaker interviews. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.