How is paternity established in Arizona?

Unmarried parents in Arizona must sign a voluntary acknowledgment form, open a case with the DCSS or pursue a court order to establish paternity.

In Arizona, there is no presumption as to the identity of a child's father if the parents are unmarried at the time of his or her birth. Therefore, one or both parents must take action in order to establish paternity. This important step may be accomplished voluntarily, through the state's Department of Child Support Services or by court order.

The action of establishing paternity is important and affords benefits to children, fathers and mothers alike. For children, this gives them the opportunity to know and draw benefits from both of their parents. Establishing paternity enacts the parental rights of unwed fathers, including the right to request parenting time or child custody. This action provides mothers someone to share the responsibility of raising their children with and allows them to request child support.

Voluntarily acknowledgment of paternity

When unwed parents are in agreement about paternity, they may choose to sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. This form must be signed by both parents and notarized. Parents may complete voluntary acknowledgments at the hospital or birthing centers when their children are born. According to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, voluntary acknowledgment forms are also available at the Office of Vital Registration and other vital records offices.

Once completed and sign, voluntary acknowledgments of paternity must be filed with a vital registration office. At that point, paternity is established and the father's name is added to the child's birth certificate.

Opening a DCSS case

The DCSS may aid in establishing paternity whether parents are in agreement or not. The Arizona Department of Economic Security points out that unmarried parents may choose to open a DCSS case and sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. If there is a dispute regarding a child's paternity, one parent or the other may request genetic testing through the DCSS. In the event that the results are 95 percent or greater, the DCSS will submit a request for an order of paternity along with the results to the court. Unfortunately, a case initiated through DCSS case cannot include orders regarding custody (legal decision making) and parenting time.

Court ordered paternity

If an unmarried parent wants to have custody (legal decision making) and parenting time at the same time paternity and child support are established, either parent may go directly to the court in order to establish paternity, custody, parenting time and child support in one action. This is often the case in situations when there is a question or dispute as to who the child's father is. In order to determine whether a man is a child's father or not, the court will hold a hearing, listen to testimony and review evidence from both sides. The court may also order genetic testing to help make this determination. If paternity is established, custody, parenting time and child support orders will be entered also.

Working with an attorney

An important step for unwed parents in Arizona, establishing paternity is not always a straight forward process. There are a number of complexities that may exist, particularly when one or both parents dispute the identity of a child's father or if the parents cannot agree upon custody (legal decision making) and parenting time provisions . Therefore, unwed parents may find it helpful to consult with an attorney. A legal representative may explain their rights and options, as well as guide them through the legal process.