Contesting Paternity After Divorce
Some fathers may have reason to question their paternity of their children and, therefore, consider contesting paternity after divorce in Arizona. A child born to a married couple is presumed to be the child of the marriage in Arizona. No paternity testing is required to show that the husband is the child’s father. Where an unmarried couple has a child, paternity must be established for the father to have the rights to see the child and to have the responsibility of providing financial support. It can be established by testing or by the declarations of the couple.
In the case of Pettit v. Pettit, 189 P.3d 1102 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2008) the Arizona Court of Appeals reviewed the divorce judgment of a couple who married three years after their child was born. The issue concerned contesting paternity after a divorce in Arizona.
Bonnie Sue and Christopher Marc Pettit were living together in 1996 when their child was born. They married three years later, then divorced in 2002. In her petition for divorce, Bonnie stated that Christopher was the child’s father. He did not contest this, and was given visitation rights and ordered to pay child support. In 2006, Christopher heard information suggesting that he may not be the child’s father. He asked the court to stop his child support obligation until paternity testing proved that he was the child’s father. The court denied this request.
Contesting Paternity After Divorce | Paternity Determined in the Divorce
The divorce court judgment stated that Bonnie and Christopher were married at the time their child was born. Christopher argued and Bonnie acknowledged that this was not true. However, the Court of Appeals ruled that this error did not mean that he could necessarily contest paternity.
The Court noted that, in Arizona, a Superior Court hearing a divorce case must make decisions about any child born to a couple, whether they were married at the time she was born, or not.
Christopher argued that he could contest paternity anyway, since it was a separate legal matter from the divorce. However, Arizona uses the “same evidence” test to determine whether a second cause of action is the same as the first. Christopher cannot raise any issues in a second case that were actually and necessarily included in the divorce judgment.
The appellate court ruled that the custody and child support issues raised in the divorce case necessarily addressed the issue of paternity. Christopher could have denied Bonnie’s statements that he was the father’s child and asked for paternity testing during the divorce. Since he did not, he cannot bring a second, separate action on that issue, even though it might conclusively demonstrate that he was not the child’s father.