A child born outside of marriage may lose inheritance rights and child support if the fatherhood of the child – paternity – isn’t legally established. To establish the paternity of a child in Arizona, your first step should be discussing your rights and options with a Phoenix family law attorney.

Typically, the need to establish paternity arises in a child custody, child support, or child visitation dispute when the child’s parents have never been married. A paternity action may be filed by either parent to establish custody (legal decision making), to set visitation times, or to request child support.

How does a father establish paternity in Arizona? What is the legal process? Why will you need a lawyer’s help? If you’ll keep reading this brief discussion of paternity law in Arizona, you will learn the answers to those questions, and you’ll also learn more about parental rights in this state.

How Is Paternity Defined?

When a child is born into a marriage in Arizona, the law simply presumes that the husband of the mother is the child’s legal father. An unwed mother automatically has custody rights at birth, but unless paternity is established, the mother will have no right to child support from the father.

Paternity is the legal determination that one specific person is the father of a child. Child support is not the only reason an unmarried mother may need to establish paternity. A mother may also need access to the father’s family medical records, health insurance, and/or government benefits.

If you are seeking to establish your own or someone else’s paternity in this state, or if you need to prove that you or someone else is not, in fact, a specific child’s father, it can be a daunting and complicated legal task. You will need the right attorney’s help from the very beginning.

What Is an “Acknowledgement of Paternity” Form?

When children are born outside of marriage in Arizona, the easiest way to establish paternity is if the father signs a Form CS-127 (“Acknowledgement of Paternity”), which is made available at Arizona hospitals. Do not sign the form if you have any doubt at all about the child’s paternity.

By signing the Acknowledgement of Paternity form, a man is acknowledging that he is in fact the child’s legal father. The father then has legal parental rights as well as legal parental responsibilities.

However, without a signed Acknowledgement of Paternity form, a court in Arizona must establish a child’s paternity before a child support order can be issued by that court and before a presumed father can obtain and exercise legal parental rights.

What Happens in a Paternity Action?

At the first hearing after a paternity action is filed, no evidence will be presented. Instead, the court provides each party with the opportunity to acknowledge who the child’s father is, and if the parties agree, the court accepts that acknowledgement and establishes legal paternity.

However, if either party contests the identity of the father, an evidentiary hearing will be scheduled. DNA testing for this hearing is required for the purported father, for the mother, and for the child as well. Both parents will want to be represented by a Phoenix paternity lawyer.

How Do the Courts Use DNA Test Results?

DNA testing is now exceptionally accurate. Many tests show a higher than 99 percent probability of fatherhood. Arizona courts presume that a 95 percent probability of fatherhood is enough to establish legal paternity. DNA results may also exclude someone as a child’s biological father.

You must respond and cooperate with a paternity action. If you don’t, the court can enter a default judgment against you and order you to pay child support. If you fail or refuse to take a DNA test ordered by the court, the court can likewise enter a default judgment against you.

What Does Establishing Paternity Accomplish?

When paternity has been established, an Arizona court will proceed on the underlying question of child support, visitation, custody, or parental rights. A father could be ordered to pay up to three years’ worth of back child support. A mother may have to share joint custody with the father.

Even when paternity is established, a father does not necessarily gain visitation or custody rights until those rights are established separately by the court. However, the law presumes that a relationship with both parents is in a child’s best interests, whether or not the parents are married.

Nevertheless, the presumption that a relationship with both parents is in a child’s best interests may be overcome by clear evidence of domestic violence, a parent’s drug or alcohol abuse, or any other risk to the child’s safety and well-being.

Which Attorney Should You Choose?

Cases that involve children can trigger some powerful emotions, so if you are a parent in Arizona on either side of a paternity, custody aka legal decision making, visitation, or child support dispute, be sure that you choose to work with an Arizona paternity lawyer who routinely handles paternity actions.

Family law changes rapidly, and paternity cases are more complicated now than ever before. You will need a family law attorney who stays abreast of current legal developments and who provides you with reliable advice and aggressive, effective legal representation.

What Will Your Attorney Do on Your Behalf?

In any case that involves a child, the court makes the child’s best interests its top priority. If you have any questions about paternity, custody, parental rights, or if you have other questions or concerns regarding family law in this state, speak at once with a Phoenix family law attorney.

A family law attorney will advise and represent you in a divorce proceeding, a child custody or child support proceeding, if you need to modify a court-issued child custody or child support order, or in any other family-related legal matter.

If you need to file a paternity action or take any other legal step that involves a child, in this or any other state, you should have a good attorney’s advice, insights, and services from the very beginning, because nothing is more important than your children and your rights as a parent.