What is Paternity?
Paternity means fatherhood. Establishing paternity means that a court or a government agency has ruled as to who is a child's father.
How to Establish Paternity
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.
If the mom and alleged father don't agree about who the father is, under Arizona law, a paternity matter can be started by:
- the child's mother
- a man who believes he is the father (also known as the "putative father")
- the child's guardian or the person the child is living with also called a "custodian,"
- a government agency that is providing welfare or health insurance benefits for the child.
A paternity case can be initiated in the superior court where the mother, the putative father or the child lives. A government agency can also start paternity proceedings out of court. 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.
When to File a Paternity Case
Generally speaking, a paternity action can be started before the child's birth, but at least prior to the child's 18thbirthday. When the case is started before the child's birth, the court will delay the trial until after the birth. 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.
What are the Benefits or Drawbacks to Establishing Paternity?
When paternity is determined, Arizona courts can order one parent to pay child support and can determine a parenting plan that sets forth both custody and visitation.
Obviously, for the person who is raising the child, be it the child's mother or a guardian, it is helpful to get financial support for the child. For a father who may want to be part of the child's life, the court can order a set parenting schedule as well as rule on the father's rights to be involved in the child's major life decisions such as medical choices, educational issues and the like.
The child may benefit from having a dad in his or her life as well. The child may also realize an inheritance upon the bio dad's death. If the dad is disabled and collecting Social Security benefits, the child may also be eligible for benefits as the disabled dad's dependent.
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 childbirth 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.
On the other hand, some mothers do not want the dads entangled in their kids' upbringing. If a court finds that either the mother or the putative father has acted unreasonably in the process, the judge could order the difficult party to pay the other side's attorney's fees as well as the cost of the genetic testing.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security has a community outreach project for paternity. Go to the website,www.azdes.gov and click on the "voluntary paternity program" link for more information.