Timing to Challenge Paternity in Arizona
In Arizona, a man whose wife has a child is presumed to be the child’s father. However, he can challenge paternity if he has reason to believe he is not the father. He must act without unreasonable delay in order to avoid prejudice to the child’s mother. In Arvizu v. Fernandez, 902 P.2d 830 (1995), the Court of Appeals considered a father’s 12-year delay in challenging paternity.
Facts and Procedure
Mrs. Fernandez and Mr. Arvizu divorced in 1971. They had two minor children, the younger one being Mr. Arvizu, Jr. The court gave Mrs. Fernandez custody. It ordered the husband to pay $50 in child support per month per child.
In 1981, the court increased the child support to $200 per month per child. In 1985, Mrs. Fernandez filed a petition for contempt, alleging that Mr. Arvizu owed back child support. The court held a hearing and awarded Mrs. Fernandez judgment for arrearages in the amount of $13,175. It also increased child support to $310 per month for Mr. Armando, Jr., who was still a minor.
In 1993, Mrs. Fernandez filed another petition for contempt. She again charged Mr. Arvizu with failing to pay the back support due. Mr. Arvizu responded by alleging that Arvizu Jr. was not his son. Wife denied this.
The court entered a minute entry ordering DNA paternity/maternity testing. Mrs. Fernandez filed an appeal from the trial court’s order requiring the paternity testing.
Not every order after judgment is appealable. An order is only appealable if it meets two conditions. It must relate to a subject that could not have been raised in an appeal from the underlying judgment. It must also affect the judgment, enforce it or stay its execution.
Here, although the first requirement was met, the second was not. If the court had vacated the child support order, that would have affected the judgment. But an order is not appealable if it is merely “preparatory” to a later proceeding that might affect the judgment.
The trial court’s paternity testing order has not yet affected Mrs. Fernandez’s right to support or husband’s duty to pay it. And if the blood tests confirm paternity, the court would presumably leave the support obligation unchanged. There would be no need for an appeal. Therefore, the order is not appealable.
In addition, in order to be appealable, an order must be signed by the judge and filed with the court clerk. Here, the paternity testing order was not signed by the trial court. For all these reasons, the wife cannot appeal.
However, the court noted that Mrs. Fernandez was acting as her own attorney and was not familiar with legal procedures. Therefore, the court converted the appeal into a petition for special action relief and accepted the petition.
Husband’s Challenge to Paternity
The Court of Appeals considered whether Mr. Arvizu was barred from challenging paternity by laches. Laches is an equitable doctrine. In order to obtain relief from laches, Mrs. Fernandez must show that Mr. Arvizu unreasonably delayed asserting his rights. She must also show that the delay prejudiced her.
Husband said that by 1981, he was “convinced” that Arvizu, Jr. was not his. However, despite this, husband stipulated to an increase in his child support obligation without challenging paternity. Four years later, Mrs. Fernandez again brought a proceeding against Mr. Arvizu for support. Again he did not contest paternity.
Finally, 12 years after he became “convinced” that Arvizu, Jr. was not his son; he challenged paternity. Under these circumstances, Mr. Arvizu’s delay was unreasonable. This delay prejudiced Mrs. Fernandez. The husband should have acted quickly to obtain blood testing.
Had early testing proved he was not the child’s father, Mrs. Fernandez could have sought support from the biological father. But after Arvizu, Jr. became emancipated, Mrs. Fernandez could not seek support from anyone else. That means that husband’s unreasonable delay in his paternity challenge would have prejudiced wife’s ability to collect child support.
Accordingly, the husband was barred by laches from denying paternity.
The Court of Appeals accepted special action jurisdiction. It ruled that Mr. Arvizu’s denial of paternity was barred by laches. Therefore, it vacated the trial court’s paternity testing order.
More Articles About Paternity in Arizona
- Arizona Paternity Statutes
- DNA Testing to Establish Paternity in Arizona
- Easy Way to Establish Paternity in Arizona
- Establish Paternity Through State of Arizona
- Father’s Name on Birth Certificate in Arizona
- How Can I Establish Paternity in Arizona
- Voluntary Establishment of Paternity in Arizona
- What is Paternity in Arizona
- Where do I Establish Paternity in Arizona
- Why Should I Establish Paternity in Arizona
- Establishing Paternity in Arizona and Why it Matters
- How to Establish Paternity in Arizona
- Dismissing a Paternity Action in Arizona
- Good Cause in a Paternity Action in Arizona
- Last Name of Unmarried Couples Child in Arizona
- Time Limit to Establish Paternity in Arizona
- Changing a Child’s Last Name in Arizona
- Time to Challenge an Arizona Acknowledgment of Paternity
- Challenge Paternity Born to a Married Woman in Arizona
- Fraudulent Acknowledgement of Paternity in Arizona
- Paternity Testing and Acknowledgement of Paternity in Arizona
- Paternity Action Filed by a Child in Arizona
- Paternity Testing After an Affidavit of Acknowledgment in Arizona
- Best Interests Test Applies to Paternity Testing in Arizona
- Personal Jurisdiction if Conception Occurred in Arizona
- Overturning Arizona Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity
- Proof to Challenge Paternity of a Child in Arizona
- Administrative Judge May Decide Paternity in Arizona
- Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act and Arizona Paternity
- Father’s Name on Birth Certificate in Arizona
- Contesting Paternity After a Divorce in Arizona
- Adoption and Putative Father Registry in Arizona
- Fraudulent Acknowledgment of Paternity in Arizona
- Contesting Paternity Testing in Arizona
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case. In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.
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