Paternity has to do with establishing the legal rights of a father, including a father’s right to make decisions regarding his child, to spend time with his child, to support his child financially, and to be listed on the birth certificate as the biological father.

How do I establish paternity?

The process for establishing paternity is much the same as it is for filing for a divorce. It involves filing a petition with the Superior Court, and then serving that petition on the mother. How it proceeds from there largely depends on whether or not the mother is cooperative. Ideally, the parties can reach an agreement and submit their agreement to the court. Otherwise, the parties will end up going to a trial where a judge will make the decisions.

Do I have to wait until my child is born to establish paternity?

No. Pursuant to A.R.S. 25-804, you can file to establish paternity anytime during the pregnancy or after the child is born. We recommend filing for paternity as soon as possible because the court can move slowly, and if the mother is uncooperative, you are relying on the court to order the mother to let you see your child.

What if I’m not sure I’m the father?

If you have any doubt whatsoever about whether or not you are the father, you should ask for genetic testing in your petition to establish paternity. A.R.S. 25-807(C) requires that the court order genetic testing if one of the parties requests it.

Why would I want to ask the court for an order requiring me to pay child support?

There are 3 good reasons to request an order for child support along with your petition to establish paternity.

  1. Almost anytime a paternity action is initiated, the mother will also ask for an order for child support. By asking for a child support in your petition, you should the court that you are a reasonable father who wants to support his child. Although child support should not factor into a court’s decision for legal decision making and child support, it would be naive to think that your appearance of reasonableness (or unreasonableness) will not color the court’s decisions.
  2. Similar to #1, asking for a child support order shows the mother that you’re serious about being a father, and that you’re serious about working with her to raise your child.
  3. When the court enters a child support order, it has the ability to make that order retroactive up to 3 years. Imagine the situation where no child support order is issued, and then when the child is 4 years old, the mother asks the court for a child support order. You would be hit with 3 YEARS of child support arrearages that could easily exceed $30,000 or more, and that accrue interest at 10% per year. By being proactive and requesting a child support order from the beginning, you making sure  that you do not end up with a surprise a few years down the road.