How Establishing Paternity Can Impact Your Family Lawsuit

How Establishing Paternity Can Impact Your Family Lawsuit

Fathers have rights in Arizona family court cases, including child custody cases and other family-related legal matters like child support obligations and visitation rights. But unlike mothers—for whom parentage is clear upon childbirth, fathers in Arizona court cases may not have presumptive parenting rights if they are not married to a child’s mother. 

Courts in Arizona place a child’s best interests as their highest priority and don’t show partiality for either mothers or fathers in a court case. Instead, judges base their decisions on the premise that a close continued relationship with both parents is in the child’s best interests unless one parent has clear evidence as to why this isn’t so. 

Unlike mothers, unmarried fathers have no automatic legal rights or obligations to a child. Establishing paternity can make all the difference in a family court case. Paternity tests not only determine legal rights for both parents but also establish emotional connections. In many cases, paternity testing is pivotal to courts in Arizona when making decisions that uphold a child’s best interests. The Phoenix family lawyers at Stewart Law Group are qualified and ready to help navigate your case’s circumstances

How Establishing Paternity Can Impact Your Family Lawsuit

Why Establish Paternity in Arizona Family Court Cases?

Proving a father’s paternity is a critical aspect of many family court cases in Arizona. When parents are married when a child is born, the husband is the presumptive parent of the child just as the mother, but when parents are unmarried, the child’s biological father has only two ways to gain parental rights:

  • The child’s mother can legally acknowledge the father’s paternity when both parents  sign an acknowledgment form and file it with both the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Economic Security (These forms are typically available at hospitals and birthing centers)
  • The father can establish his parental rights through a court-ordered paternity test

Without established paternity, a father has no legal rights to share child custody, have a visitation schedule, or make any important decisions for the child. The father also has no obligation to pay child support until they’ve established paternity.

Both men and women have the right to seek paternity testing to establish a child’s paternity. Men do not need the mother’s permission and women do not need permission from the father for DNA paternity testing under a court order.

Potential fathers (putative fathers) may seek to establish paternity to play a role in raising their child and mothers may seek to establish their child’s paternity to make a claim for child support. If a child’s parents aren’t married, the court requires an establishment of paternity before a judge will hear the case. 

When Do Arizona Courts Presume Paternity?

Signing a birth certificate alone may not be enough to establish paternity since this is a rebuttable presumption in court. Arizona presumes paternity under specific circumstances including:

  • When a man is married to a child’s mother for 10 months or more before the child’s birth
  • When a woman gives birth to a child within 10 months after a divorce, separation, or annulment
  • An unmarried father or same-sex spouse signs a child’s birth certificate
  • When both unmarried parents sign a statement acknowledging paternity

When the courts presume paternity, it’s a rebuttable presumption, meaning a man presumed as a child’s father may challenge the presumed paternity by showing clear evidence in court. On the other hand, when the court presumes paternity due to a man’s marriage to the child’s mother, but another man suspects he may be the child’s father, he may request a paternity test to establish paternity or to rule it out. In some cases, a mother, her spouse, and a third party may sign an acknowledgment of the third party’s paternity rather than request paternity testing; however, if there is any doubt, a paternity test resolves the issue.

Default Judgements of Paternity

When a child’s mother files a motion for child support and requests a paternity test, it’s important to understand the impacts of refusing to submit to a paternity test in Arizona. Not only does ignoring an order for paternity testing subject the putative father to contempt of court charges with fines and potential jail time, but it can also result in a default judgment of paternity, in which the putative father may be ordered to pay child support, including retroactively. The court may also establish a parenting or visitation schedule for the putative father. Although the court does not enforce child custody or visitation orders for a putative father after a default judgment of paternity, it does enforce the child support obligation.

The Importance of Paternity Tests in Arizona Family Law

If a child’s mother asks a putative husband for child support, the law requires scientific evidence of his paternity. What’s more, any putative father should insist on a DNA test rather than relying solely on the mother’s word, feelings, or intuition. Instead, the legal and emotional connections formed with a child should begin with factual evidence.

Paternity testing to establish a genetic connection is also important to families for medical information. Some medical conditions have a genetic component that makes access to a father’s biological parent’s medical history essential.

Court-Ordered Paternity Testing in Arizona

To determine whether or not he’s the father of a child, a man may request a court-ordered paternity test. If a court orders DNA testing, the law compels the mother to allow the test. Mothers may also request paternity testing to prove a man is the father of her child in order to obtain child support payments. The courts consider a putative father as the child’s father if DNA testing results show a 95% or greater likelihood of paternity.

Because the court has requirements for chain of custody, those taking paternity tests must do so at a qualified laboratory with records for chain of custody. Once a man’s paternity is established, the courts can make judgments on parenting time, legal decision-making custody, and child support obligation.

In Arizona, a putative father may register as the potential father of a baby through the Putative Child Registry so the state notifies them if the child is placed into foster care or for adoption. However, it doesn’t establish paternity. Instead, if a putative father is notified, the state requires a paternity test before placing the child with the father.