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What should be done if paternity is unknown or contested?

Knowing the identity of a child's biological father is important for both Arizona parents and children. There are situations, however, in which paternity is unknown. In these cases, a father might not be aware that he has children or a mother might not know who the father is. Some cases involving unknown paternity are contested paternity cases. This may happen if a mother claims a certain man is the father but he denies it or if a man believes he is father but the mother denies it. Establishing paternity is often important in fathers' rights cases because it can prevent the father from being excluded from his child's life and enable him to better form a relationship with the child.

In Arizona, when paternity is unknown or contested, courts generally rely on genetic testing or DNA testing to determine who is or is not a biological parent. When paternity is contested, all of the involved parties are required to submit to genetic testing if the other party requests it. The testing will either eliminate the possibility that a man is the father or indicate a certain probability that he is the biological father. For legal purposes related to child custody and child support, Arizona law requires that the test results show at least a 95 percent likelihood of paternity.

The genetic testing performed to determine paternity requires genetic samples from the mother, alleged father, and the child. Although the state of Arizona will initially cover the costs of the genetic testing, the man ultimately determined to be the biological father will be saddled with the responsibility of repaying the costs of the testing to the state. When there are several potential men who may be the biological father, the process will often begin with the one the Division of Child Support Services has the most information about. If the testing reveals that he is the father, the process ends. If the testing excludes him from paternity, the state agency will continue attempting to identity and test other potential fathers. If a father wishes to prove paternity himself, he can initiate the genetic testing on his own.

Source: Arizona Department of Economic Security, "Paternity Frequently Asked Questions," last accessed Oct. 13, 2014

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