Albert L. v. DCS

  • Can the court disestablish paternity solely based on negative DNA results, in the absence of a competing claim for paternity?

Facts and Procedural History

Albert L. was dismissed from a dependency proceeding involving his daughter after her DNA results came back negative. Albert had raised his daughter as his own from birth, and he and the mother had signed an acknowledgment of paternity in 2014. The acknowledgment of paternity was filed with the Department of Health Services; however, it didn’t include Albert’s Social Security number.

In 2019, Albert and the child’s mother were arrested and DCS filed a dependency petition. The guardian ad litem in the case requested that Albert submit to a paternity test, which the court eventually ordered.

After a hearing, the trial court ruled that the acknowledgment of paternity did not have the force and effect of a judgment because Albert failed to include his Social Security number on the form. Therefore, it only created a presumption of paternity. The court sided with DCS and found that the negative DNA test results rebutted the presumption created by the acknowledgment of paternity, and dismissed Albert from the dependency proceeding.

Ruling

  • The juvenile court had the authority to decide paternity issues, even though paternity is governed by Title 25.
  • The court doesn’t reach the issue of whether the acknowledgment became a judgment despite the missing Social Security number.
  • DCS never established a competing presumption. A.R.S. § 25-814(A)(2) (providing that a man is presumed to be the father of a child if “genetic testing affirms at least a ninety-five per cent probability of paternity”).
  • The court cannot disestablish paternity solely on the basis of negative DNA test results, in the absence of a competing paternity claim.
  • Footnote: If we adopted DCS’s interpretation, a mother who knows that her husband or ex-husband is not the child’s biological father could use Title 25 and DNA testing to disestablish long-standing paternity, without any showing of parental unfitness or regard for the child’s best interests. We presume the legislature did not intend such a result. See Patches v. Indus. Comm’n, 220 Ariz. 179, 182, ¶ 10 (App. 2009) (encouraging courts to construe statutes to avoid “absurd or unconstitutional results”).

Albert L. v. Dep’t of Child Safety, 1 CA-JV 21-0126, 2022 WL 1146405 (App. Apr. 19, 2022).