Standard of Proof to Challenge Paternity of a Child
Paternity blood testing allows a court to determine a child’s biological father. Generally, courts order paternity testing when a child is born out of wedlock. This often happens when the mother wants the father to provide financial support for the child. However, a putative father may also ask for testing to obtain visitation or custody rights. Can a court order paternity testing to determine the biological father of a child born to a married woman and what is the burden of proof to challenge paternity of a child in Arizona? The Arizona Court of Appeals considered this issue in Ban v. Quigley, 812 P.2d 1014 (1991).
Facts and Background
Mr. Fraulenfeld lived with Mrs. Ban during a period when she and her husband, Mr. Ban, were separated. Mr. Fraulenfeld claims that they became lovers in February, 1985. Mrs. Ban had a child in November, 1985. At that point, she and Mr. Ban reconciled.
Mr. Ban claimed to be the child’s father and the couple began raising the child together. Mr. Fraulenfeld asked the court to order paternity testing to determine whether he or Mr. Ban was the biological father. The trial court agreed and ordered testing. Mrs. Ban and Mr. Ban appealed.
Mrs. Ban and her husband argue that in Arizona, a putative father cannot bring a paternity action unless the child is born out of wedlock. The law provides that “the paternity proceeding may also be commenced by the filing of a verified complaint by the mother or father, with the mother or father as plaintiff, or by the guardian or best friend of a child or children born out of wedlock”.
Mr. Ban and Mrs. Ban argue that the phrase “born out of wedlock” modifies all the parties listed. They claim that it does not just modify the clause, “guardian or best friend of a child or children”. The Court of Appeals rejected this narrow interpretation of the statute.
Under this construction, the mere fact that a mother is married when she gives birth would preclude a putative father from claiming paternity of a child. The Court ruled that the legislature did not intend such a result. It said that the word “father” in the statute included any putative father, not just the mother’s husband.
Best Interests of a Child
Arizona’s public policy is to preserve the family unit when a woman and her husband claim to be a child’s parents. Because of this, the Court ruled, a court must consider the best interests of the child before ordering paternity testing.
A putative father can seek blood tests to rebut the husband’s paternity only after the court concludes it is in the child’s best interests to do so. To reach this conclusion, the Court of Appeals relied on several out-of-state cases. These included McDaniels v. Carlson, 738 P.2d 254 (1987), where the Washington Supreme Court interpreted the Uniform Parentage Act. In that case, the court discussed the requirements for a paternity hearing brought by a man outside the family. It held that the court must first consider the action’s impact on the child and the child’s best interests.
The child must be a party and have a guardian ad litem appointed to look out for his interests. In some circumstances, a child’s interests may be better served by maintaining a stable existing family relationship. In others, his interests may be better served by learning his true identity. The court must balance the interests of all parties involved. It must also keep in mind that the child’s interests are paramount.
Although Arizona has not adopted the Uniform Parentage Act, the Court of Appeals found this reasoning persuasive. It said that requiring a specific finding about the child’s best interests does not violate a putative father’s constitutional rights. In fact, the Constitution does not protect the rights of a man who fathers a child with a married woman to a relationship with his child. Michael H. v. Gerald D., 491 U.S. 110 (1989).
The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to determine the child’s best interest before ordering paternity testing. It vacated the lower court order and remanded for a best-interest hearing.