Pregnancies that result from a one-night stand often lead to highly emotional child support cases after the child is born. That’s understandable, as we’re talking about an unplanned pregnancy and (statistically) a fairly low chance of there being an ongoing relationship between the mother and the father. The child’s unexpected birth will certainly have a lasting impact on both parties, and unless the parents choose to establish a life together, at least one party can expect to be paying child support for the next 18 years.
While the circumstances of a one-night stand pregnancy are understandably complex and challenging, the law is fairly straightforward. A child has a right to reasonable support, and parents have an obligation to provide this support until the child reaches the age of majority (ARS 25-501). It doesn’t matter if the child is born out of wedlock or if there is no past or future relationship. You may not feel like you have much of a choice, but neither does the child, and it’s the child’s interests that must be prioritized when it comes to child support.
Getting a Paternity Test
Before the court can issue a child support order, the state needs to determine who the child’s biological father is. In most cases, the mother will identify the alleged father (either on the birth certificate or by affidavit), and the state will serve a Paternity Action for a DNA test. Assuming the DNA test confirms the father’s paternity, he will be held responsible for providing child support. If the DNA test comes back negative, the alleged father is relieved of his obligation to provide for the child.
Not all DNA tests need to go through the state’s Department of Child Support Services. If you prefer, you can seek a private DNA test and reach a private child support agreement. However, the court will still need to issue a child support order, so the mother and father will need to retain legal counsel, file a civil suit, and reach an agreement.
Can the Alleged Father Refuse a Paternity Test?
Generally speaking, the court cannot compel the alleged father to take a DNA test against his will. However, the court can (and will) impose severe punishments for refusing to take a DNA test. It’s common practice for the court to hold the alleged father in contempt of court, and there may be accompanying fines and/or criminal charges. As such, an alleged father who doesn’t believe it’s in his best interests to take a paternity test should hire an attorney to fight the court order rather than simply refusing to comply.
The situation takes on additional gravity when the alleged father is listed on the child’s birth certificate. This is actually fairly common, as the alleged father usually isn’t at the hospital at the time of birth to dispute the mother’s claim, and the hospital staff have no reason not to believe the mother. In this case, the court will need to see a negative paternity test to remove the alleged father’s name from the birth certificate. If the alleged father doesn’t take a paternity test in a timely manner after the child’s birth (usually within 4 years), the alleged father loses the right to contest his paternity. At that point, even a negative paternity test can’t eliminate the parental obligation, and the alleged father will be stuck paying child support until the biological father is identified or someone adopts the child.
Child Support Orders
Once the DNA test confirms the father’s paternity, the state will work with the court to get a child support order. Note that even if the mother isn’t seeking child support, the state can seek a child support order to recoup the costs of certain state-sponsored benefits programs that the child is enrolled with. Furthermore, the child support obligation will be calculated from the date that the mother and/or state filed the initial motion for child support. When the court eventually issues a child support order, you’ll be responsible for paying the child support arrears that accrued since the initial motion was filed.
Calculating Child Support
According to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, child support is based on each parent’s income and the time spent with the child. “Income” includes anything considered income by the IRS, such as annuities, bonuses, capital gains, commissions, disability insurance benefits, dividends, interest, pensions, prize, recurring gifts, salaries, severance pay, social security benefits (subject to Section 26), spousal maintenance, trust income, unemployment insurance benefits, wages, and worker’s compensation benefits. You’ll have to declare your income under penalty of perjury, so it’s a good idea to consult a family law attorney beforehand to ensure your stated annual income is accurate.
Generally speaking, in a situation where the mother has full custody and the father has no visitation, the mother’s income will be irrelevant to the amount of child support paid. Considering this, it’s not surprise that most fathers try to maintain some type of visitation schedule to avoid the maximum child support obligation.
The state provides an online calculator tool that can be used to estimate child support payments, but these results are often incorrect. They should provide a good ballpark estimate, but for accurate results that ensure you’re not overpaying, you should work with a family law attorney.
Penalties for Failure to Pay Child Support
Failure to pay child support, whether it’s intentional or not, can lead to serious repercussions. The state has several ways to forcefully collect child support arrears, and punitive measures are always on the table for cases with sizeable arrears. In the state of Arizona, enforcement measures include:
- An administrative withholding order (wage garnishment)
- Asset seizure
- Contempt of court
- Income tax refund offset (state and federal income taxes)
- Negative credit bureau reporting
- Property liens
- State criminal prosecution (with the prospect of jail time and/or fines)
- State lottery winnings offset
- Suspending or revoking licenses (driver’s license, professional licenses)
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.