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When do you have to legally establish a child’s paternity?

| Feb 21, 2020 | Paternity |

In Arizona, the law assumes that the child of a married woman belongs to her spouse, but this is not always the case. When it is not, the parents need to establish legal paternity. This could be necessary, for example, when:

  • The mother is not married
  • The mother’s marriage ended more than 10 months before the birth of the child
  • There is reason to suspect the mother’s husband is not the father

Why establish paternity?

Generally, fathers seek to establish paternity so they can have a relationship with the child. Mothers may also seek to establish paternity so that the father can have a parent-child relationship, but they may also wish to have a child support order put in place.

There are many good reasons to establish paternity. It is important to a child’s identity to have a relationship with both parents. Also, a relationship with both parents gives a child access to full information on their medical history. Beyond child support itself, there may also be benefits to which the child is entitled through their father. For example, the father may be able to offer Social Security benefits, life insurance, veterans benefits and inheritance rights.

Ultimately, what most fathers want is a fair share of the legal decision-making authority and parenting time with their kids. These come in the form of court orders, and in order to get them you need to establish your paternity.

Even if there is an informal agreement for child support, legal decision-making and parenting time — even if you are still together and getting along — it may be a good idea to establish paternity so your rights are protected in the long run.

Even if you later marry, your paternity of a child can remain a legal issue.

How is paternity established in Arizona?

It depends on the situation. If the parents are married, they can rely on the law’s presumption that a child during a marriage is the child of both spouses. In such a case, the father can have their name put directly on the child’s birth certificate. This also applies to any child born within 10 months of a marriage ending.

If the parents aren’t married but there is no question about who is the child’s father, you may wish to sign and acknowledgement of paternity form in front of a notary or witness. Doing this legally establishes paternity when there is no presumed father.

If there is any question about the child’s paternity, a putative father, the mother or the child can request a genetic test. If the genetic test indicates it is at least 95% likely the putative father is the biological father, this is considered enough to establish paternity.

If the child’s biological father is not the legally presumed father, the parents must take steps to establish the child’s legal paternity. This is also often done by submitting a genetic test to the court, although any “clear and convincing” evidence is sufficient.

For example, if the mother were married to a military service member who was deployed for a full year before the child’s birth, this would be evidence that the military service member was not the father of the child. Additional evidence would be required to demonstrate paternity for the biological father.

Is establishment of paternity mandatory?

It depends on your circumstances. If there is a presumed father who is the biological father, you do not need to take any action. You do need to take action if there is no presumed father or if the presumed father is not the biological father.

Also, when mothers accept state assistance, they are generally required to cooperate with the Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) in establishing legal paternity over her children so that they may receive child support. In other cases, it is up to the parents whether to legally establish paternity.