Arvizu v. Fernandez

In Arvizu v. Fernandez, 183 Ariz. 224, 902 P.2d 830 (Ariz. App. 1995), the Court of Appeals of Arizona considered whether Armando Arvizu could challenge the paternity of his son twenty years after his divorce from the child's mother. The mother "brought contempt proceedings against appellee Armando C. Arvizu ("father") for failure to pay child support arrearages ordered pursuant to a 1971 divorce decree." Id. at 831. The father argued that one of the children, Armando, Jr., was not his, and that this challenge was not barred "because, at the time of the divorce decree, he was not aware of the possibility" that Armando, Jr. was not his son. Id. at 833. The appellate court held that laches barred him from challenging paternity, explaining, id. at 834: "Although we do not know precisely when father first became "suspicious," he acknowledges that he became "convinced" by 1981 that Armando, Jr. was not his. Yet, despite such knowledge, father later that year stipulated to an increase in his child support obligation and did not bring to the court's attention his claim challenging paternity. Four years later, mother initiated another post-judgment proceeding against father. Although he claims to have discussed the issue of paternity with an attorney at that time, father did not contest mother's petition and thereby allowed both an increase in his child support obligation and a judgment for arrearages to be ordered by the court. It was not until 1993, twelve years after he admittedly became "convinced" that Armando, Jr. was not his son, that father attempted to challenge paternity. Under these circumstances, where father has waited at least twelve years and has neglected several opportunities to bring his claim to the court's attention, we hold that his delay was unreasonable." Furthermore, the court held that the resulting prejudice to the mother was "obvious." Id. The court reasoned: "Had father timely asserted his claim, and had blood tests revealed that Armando, Jr. was not his son, mother could have sought support payments from the biological father. But because Armando, Jr. has now been emancipated for more than seven years, mother cannot seek support from someone other than father." Id.