Paternity in Arizona: Understanding the rights of unmarried fathers

When married couples in Phoenix, and throughout Arizona, have children, state law generally presumes that the mother's husband is the child's father. However, there is no such presumption regarding the identity of a child's father if his or her parents are not married. While married and unmarried fathers typically have the same parental rights for their children, unwed fathers must establish paternity in order to enact their rights.

Why is it important for fathers to establish paternity?

Establishing legal paternity is important for fathers and their children alike. Until they have taken this step, unmarried dads do not have legal grounds to seek child custody and visitation. Furthermore, their children's mothers or guardians do not have to let them be involved in making important decisions relating to their children. This means they may not have a say in their child's care, upbringing, health care or education, among other things.

For children, having paternity established may help them to develop a sense of identity, and to build a relationship with their fathers and the other sides of their families. Additionally, establishing paternity afford children the right to inherit from their fathers' estates. The Arizona Department of Economic Security points out children are also able to receive benefits, such as Social Security, Veteran's benefits, and health and life insurance, through their fathers once paternity has been established.

Voluntarily acknowledging paternity

Possibly the easiest way for unwed fathers to establish paternity is through a voluntary acknowledgment. This may be done by if parents sign a statement, together or separately, which recognizes a man as a child's father. Under Arizona state law, these acknowledgements must include the social security numbers and signatures of both parents, and they must be notarized. Parents may file these acknowledgments with DES, the Department of Human Services or a clerk with the superior court.

Agreement to abide by genetic testing results

Unmarried fathers may also voluntarily acknowledge paternity by agreeing to be bound by the results of genetic testing. Their children's mothers must also agree to accept the DNA test results. Paternity is legally established when these agreements are put in writing and, along with DNA test results and an affidavit from a certified laboratory that confirms a man cannot be excluded as a child's father, are filed with DES, DHS or a superior court clerk.

Court ordered paternity

If they are unable to agree on a child's paternity, or their children's mothers are unwilling to cooperate, fathers may go through the court system to establish paternity. In these cases, a judge will typically hear from both sides, and review facts and evidence to determine if a man is a child's father. Often, family law judges will order genetic testing in order to help them make these decisions. It is important for unmarried fathers to keep in mind that they may be responsible for court costs and testing fees if they go through the legal system.

Seeking legal counsel

Establishing paternity may be complicated for some unmarried fathers in Arizona. This is especially true when their children's mothers contest their claims. Therefore, those who have had a child out of wedlock may find it of benefit to obtain legal representation. An attorney may explain their rights and options, and help guide them through the process.