Arizona law provides that every child is the legitimate child of its natural parents and is entitled to support and education as if born in lawful wedlock. But when a child is born to an unmarried couple, while the mother of the child is automatically identifiable, the father of the child is not. In order for the father of the child to be recognized legally and to be able to assert legal rights as to the child, it is necessary to establish those rights by a determination of legal paternity. There are procedures for both parties to acknowledge paternity at the time of birth that hospital personnel can assist with. But there are also legal provisions by which one of the parties may later revoke that acknowledgment. Otherwise, a paternity proceeding must be initiated in court. In order for one parent to hold another person legally responsible for child support as the other parent of that child, a paternity determination is necessary so that other person’s parentage can be established legally established. In some cases, the State of Arizona may initiate a custody proceeding against an individual in order to establish a child support obligation on the part of that individual. This is most likely to occur when the custodial parent is on some sort of public assistance and the State seeks to have the court establish a support obligation in order to recoup some of its costs in providing that assistance.
A man is presumed to be the father of the child if he and the mother of the child were married at any time in the ten months immediately preceding the birth or the child is born within ten months after the marriage is terminated by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity or dissolution of marriage or after the court enters a decree of legal separation. This means that if a marriage terminates through divorce or legal separation and the parties have a child that was born earlier than ten months after the date of marriage, a determination of paternity is necessary even though the parties are married to one another. If another man is the biological father, this presumption may be rebutted in court proceedings involving all three of them. In cases where parties have a child and subsequently marry, that subsequent marriage does not, in and of itself, make a legal determination of paternity.
Because paternity of a child carries with it an obligation for financial support of that child, most paternity cases that are brought seek not only a declaration of paternity, but also, the establishment of a child support obligation, and often, it seeks retroactive child support. Particularly in cases where one parent has received some manner of public financial assistance, that paternity case may be brought against the putative father by the State of Arizona. While a paternity action will typically seek a declaration of paternity and the establishment of child support, it does not automatically seek to establish parenting time or visitation rights for the putative father. If those are sought, he must engage in the action and take the initiative to ask that those be established as part of the case. Once he does, however, the action will proceed like any other case determining legal decision-making and parenting time in accordance with the best interests of the child.
Can a paternity action only be instituted by the mother of the child?
An action for paternity can be initiated by either the mother or the person who believes himself to be the biological father. An action can also be instituted by the State of Arizona, particularly where benefits are being paid for or funded by the State for the benefit of the child.