Paternity/Maternity—A Guide to the Court Process
Establishing Paternity/Maternity is a necessary court process which legally determines who the biological father or mother is of a child born outside of marriage. If a child is born to parents while they are married, then legally, the spouses are considered the legal parents. Although the parent’s name may already be on the birth certificate, this does not guarantee maternity or paternity when the parents were not married before the birth of the child. In these cases, Paternity/Maternity must also be established in the courts by a court order. There are a few ways this can be accomplished.
This article is a brief step-by-step guide about how to start the process and what steps to take to move the case along. It is not meant to be an all-inclusive guide as every case is different. Depending on your situation, you may benefit from additional legal advice.
I Already Pay or Get Paid Child Support Through the State
If either parent applies for state benefits, the state may start a child support case. This type of child support case is referred to as a “Title IV-D” (pronounced Title 4D) matter because the law that governs the state involvement is located in Title IV of the federal statutes.
These cases are unique because the Attorney General’s office is involved in all hearings, and the hearings can only deal with the issue of child support. If Paternity/Maternity hasn’t been established, then the judge will order that it be established at the very first hearing.
So, if you have already had a case that established child support through the state, then you have probably already established paternity or maternity through the court. It is important that you check the court minute entries from the hearings you have attended to be certain.
So, How Do I Get Parenting Time and to Participate in Legal Decisions?
Even though you have established maternity or paternity through the IV-D child support process, there are still no orders regarding parenting time and legal decision-making. In order to establish predictable, scheduled time with your child or equal participation in decisions about their life, you need to take the following steps.
- File a “Petition to Establish Legal Decision-Making & Parenting Time” located in the post judgment/post decree section of the self-service forms. See the link below:
2. Complete a proposed “Parenting Plan” (Packet #9)
- File the completed packets and pay the filing fees. It will cost $89.00 to file this petition as of the writing of this article. You will also have to each pay $45 to take the mandatory parent education class. You may complete an “Application for Fee Waiver or Fee Deferral,” and ask the court to either waive the fees or defer the total depending on your qualifications. See Packet #12,
- Serve the other party. Serving the other party simply means the formal steps you must take to provide the documents you filed to the other parent. There are several service options available. Once the other party is served, they get 20 days to respond once if they live in Arizona or 30 days if they live in another state. See Packet 10, “Service on the Other Party”
- Request mediation. You must both complete the mandatory Parent Education class before a mediation order can be issued, but it is an amazing opportunity for the two of you to discuss a parenting plan that works for your particular circumstances. See Packet #15 once you have completed the mandatory class to request mediation.
- File a “Motion to Set” in order to get a hearing date, if mediation fails (meaning there is no agreement reached on any of the issues, or it is only partially successful), see Packet #14, Trial Preparation.
- Follow the deadlines set on the Family Law Trial Notice that will be issued by the assigned Judge. This notice will identify the deadlines and documents you must prepare for trial. Your case will also be set for either a Resolution Management Conference or a Pretrial Settlement Conference. Either option, will provide an additional opportunity to reach an agreement if possible before setting the final hearing dates.
- Prepare for and attend your hearing.
***Because child support is a IV-D matter, the trial cannot touch child support. Any proposed modifications to child support will have to go through the AG’s office.***
There is no Child Support—I am not even sure the child is mine.
If child support has not been established, then paternity/maternity has not either. So, the other way to obtain this court order would be through filing a traditional paternity/maternity petition. In this petition, the court can make the following orders:
- Establish Paternity/Maternity (official court order about who the legal father is)
- Order genetic testing
- Establish Parenting time and Legal Decision-making
- Establish child support, including orders regarding past support. Child support can be backdated as far as three years prior.
- Establish joint responsibility for any medical bills incurred for the birth of the child.
- Establish joint responsibility according to the incomes of the parties for uncovered medical bills for the child.
You need to take the following steps:
- Complete the “Petition to Establish Paternity” (Packet #18)
- Complete a proposed “Parenting Plan” (Packet #9)
- File the completed packets and pay the filing fees. It will cost $269.00 to file this petition as of the writing of this article. You will also have to each pay $45 to take the mandatory parent education class. You may complete an “Application for Fee Waiver or Fee Deferral,” and ask the court to either waive the fees or defer the total depending on your qualifications. See Packet #12,
- Serve the other party and follow the same timeline as outlined above (Steps 5-8). Before you can ask for mediation, you also have to ask the court to make a paternity/maternity determination. If you and the other party agree about who the father/mother is, then the court will be able to issue a paternity/maternity order based on the contents of your petition and response (called the pleadings). What this means is that the petition would say that “John Doe” is the dad. If the Response also says that “John Doe” is the dad, then both parents have agreed that “John Doe” is the father. With this agreement, the judge can issue the order of paternity declaring “John Doe” as the legal father without holding a hearing. In order to attend mediation, you and the other parent must have this court order establishing maternity or paternity. You cannot attend mediation without this order. If you disagree about paternity/maternity, then you would file a “Motion to Set” as outlined above and ask for a court hearing on this issue. Even if a complete agreement is reached in mediation, a hearing will still be necessary to establish orders regarding child support and possibly medical bills. You will need to complete the child support calculator. See the following link:
Navigating this process can be confusing at times. Don’t hesitate to use the available resources to help you along the way. Family Law Legal Consulting offers flat rate fees and affordable consults. For more information, see our website at www.familylawlegalconsulting.com