How do unmarried fathers establish paternity in Arizona?

Unmarried fathers may establish paternity voluntarily or with court assistance, allowing them access to their parental rights.

When married couples in Arizona have children, the mother's husband is presumed to be the father of her children. For kids who are born to unwed parents, however, there may be no such assumption. Rather, unmarried men must establish paternity for their children in order to access their rights as fathers.

Establishing paternity is important for fathers, as well as for their children. Taking this action allows men to gain legal privileges afforded to all parents, including being able to seek custody or visitation time. Children also access certain rights once paternity is established, such as the ability to receive medical, life insurance and other such benefits from their fathers. Establishing paternity may develop their sense of identity, as well as aid in facilitating a father-child relationship.

Voluntary acknowledgment

The easiest path for unwed fathers to create a legal relationship between them and their children is through a voluntary administrative acknowledgment. To establish paternity voluntarily, both parents must complete and sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity. Parents may obtain these forms at the hospital when their children are born, or later through the state's Department of Child Support Services or Vital Records offices. Once completed and signed, such affidavits are filed with the Office of Vital Records and the DCSS Hospital Paternity Program, establishing paternity and amending the child's birth certificate.

Genetic testing

When there is a question regarding a child's parentage, parents may choose to have genetic testing conducted to aid in the establishment of paternity. In such circumstances, mothers or fathers may request a DNA test through the DCSS. If the results show a 95 percent or greater probability that a man is the biological father of a child, the department forwards a request for an order of paternity and the results to the court. The court may then issue an order establishing a legal parent-child relationship.

Court-ordered establishment

Sometimes people disagree about a child's paternity, but do not want to involve the DCSS. Rather than opening a case to establish parentage with the department, then, they may choose instead to petition the court themselves. A hearing is held to review the evidence, which may include DNA testing ordered by the judge, and determine paternity. Should the court issue an order, it serves the same as a voluntary acknowledgment in enacting a man's parental rights and privileges.

Seeking legal guidance

Even when unwed parents in Arizona are in agreement regarding the parentage of their child, navigating the process of establishing paternity may be complex. Thus, those who have had a child out of wedlock may benefit from consulting with an attorney. A legal representative may help them understand the options, as well as guide them through the associated legal proceedings.