To establish legal paternity, a person needs to file a Petition to Establish Paternity. Paternity can be established by producing a copy of a birth certificate that lists the mother and father on it, by filing a Petition to Establish Paternity alleging who the father is, or by obtaining a DNA test showing that a certain person is the father. It is not enough that the father is listed on the birth certificate; an Order of Paternity with a court case number on it must be in the court file to establish legal paternity. You can obtain an Acknowledgment of Paternity (which is the document signed by both parties in the hospital) from the Hospital Based Paternity Program at 3443 N. Central, 1st Floor, Phoenix, AZ.
Once paternity is legally established, custody, parenting time, and child support orders can be entered. This can be done in the same Petition to Establish Paternity, or at a later time after paternity has been established.
The court does not favor either parent when it comes to awarding custody or parenting time. The court is inclined to grant joint legal decision-making (formerly called custody) to both parents, unless there is some reason not to (such as significant domestic violence, drug use, distance, etc.). Likewise, depending on the age of the children, the court seems inclined to grant close to equal parenting time, depending on the distance between the parties, work schedules, among other factors.
One important thing to note: If paternity is established by court order and no custody or parenting time orders are entered, the paternity order says that custody is with the person with whom the child has resided for the greater part of the past six months. However, if the police are called to enforce custody, the criminal code that the police follow states that without a court order to the contrary, custody is with the mother. Therefore, it is important to establish custody and parenting time orders.
Establishing paternity allows a child to inherit from the father and affords the father the rights to custody and parenting time, and the obligation to pay or receive child support. With respect to support, support can be made retroactive to three years prior to the filing date of the Petition to Establish Child Support. This means that without proof that you have paid child support (in money, not diapers, food or clothes), you may have accumulated child support arrears that will have to be paid to the other party. Child support may be required of either the mother or father, depending on the amount of parenting time each has, and the income of the parties. Lying-in expenses (for pregnancy and childbirth related expenses) can also be recovered.
To determine a parenting time schedule, the court will look to the historic parenting time pattern the parties have worked out, the extent to which parenting time has been thwarted by one parent, the age of the child, work schedule, and distance between the parties. It is important to set up a schedule of access that meets the child’s need for contact and the child’s best interests. Both parties should try to work together toward that end. The “tender years doctrine” (which was premised on the idea that a young child belongs with the mother) is no longer followed in Arizona. The courts cannot favor one parent over another or favor the gender of the parent or the child. The judge must take the facts of each case into consideration when a decision is made.