If you want to spend more time with your children, it is critical that you understand that as a father you have legal rights in the state of Arizona. Fathers’ rights in Arizona protect both the rights of previously married as well as unmarried fathers. As a parent, you have the legal right to establish and build a strong relationship with your children. Understanding your legal rights as a father in Arizona can help you make the best decisions with respect to visitation with your children.
Impact of an Engaged and Connected Father in a Child’s Life
Historically, women were seen as the main caretaker and provider for a child’s emotional development and growth. Society as a whole has changed their position regarding how a father impacts their child’s life, and so have the courts. Fathers provide essential care, guidance, and love to their child, and should receive every opportunity to have the ability to remain engaged and connected to their child, even if they are no longer connected to the child’s mother. Studies and research confirm that children who have an engaged, affectionate, involved, connected, and supportive father have stronger confidence, academic achievements, social behaviors, and cognitive development. Consequently, fathers’ rights in Arizona are encouraged and supported within the court system.
Both biological parents have the legal right to seek child custody and/or visitation with their child in the state of Arizona. This legal right to develop a strong bond with a child is the inherent right of both parents and is recognized by the state of Arizona whether or not the parents of the child were married or not when the child was born. However, there are specific legal considerations that will need to be considered regarding fathers’ rights in Arizona under both of these circumstances. Ultimately, under all circumstances, a court will want is in the best interest of the child, which is involvement by both parents in a child’s life.
If you were previously married to the mother of your child, you will have different rights than that of a father who was never married to the mother of his child. Under Arizona law, fathers that were married to the mother during the birth of a child have a presumption of paternity. This means that without evidence to the contrary, a husband will always be considered the father of a child born to his wife. Therefore, with the presumption of paternity already established, the legal hurdle to document yourself as the father of the child is eliminated. As such, a court of law will assume that you have all the legal father’s rights in Arizona established under the law, as well as the responsibilities.
Unmarried fathers of children will not have any legal rights to a child until paternity is officially and legally established. If you were not married to the mother of your child when the child was born, you will need to establish paternity in the state of Arizona. Paternity is defined as “fatherhood” and is a legal way for a court judge or government agency to legally identify an individual as the father of a child. There are several ways in the state of Arizona to establish paternity of a child, including the following:
- Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity Form – This form is signed and agreed to by both mother and father of the child agreeing to the paternity of the child.
- Petition for Establishment of Paternity – Arizona state law will allow any of the following individuals to start a petition to establish paternity of a child:
- The mother of the child
- The “putative father” of the child (the person attempting to obtain paternity rights regarding the child)
- The “custodian” of the child (either the guardian of the child or the person which whom the child currently resides)
- Government agency providing health insurance or welfare benefits to the child
If the paternity of the child is not voluntarily acknowledged by both parents, then the court may order blood tests or genetic testing in order to confirm paternity. In order to establish a valid test in the eyes of the court, one of these tests must prove that the male is the father by at least 95%.
Best Interest of the Child Standard
In all cases regarding family law, a court will look to determine what is in the best interest of the child. All fathers’ rights in Arizona, as well as all child custody matters, will center around this “best interest of the child” standard. While this standard may seem subjective, there are several factors that a court will use in order to determine what they feel are the best interest of the child regarding custody matters including the following:
- The current environment and established routine of the child
- The relationship between the child and each parent
- The preferences of the parents of the child
- The current academic, personal, social, mental, and physical needs of the child
- The current routine established to meet the child’s current needs, and whether the current routine successfully meets those needs
- How a different schedule or routine would impact the child
- Relationships the child has already established with family and friends, and how a new routine or environment would change those relationships
- The mental and physical health of both parents
- The mental and physical health of the child
- Whether one parent has attempted to prevent the other parent from creating a meaningful relationship with the child
- Whether any evidence exists of emotional or physical abuse towards the child, other children, or any other person
- Whether one parent has used manipulative tactics in order to turn a child away from the other parent
- The preferences of the child
It is important to understand that a court will look at the totality of the circumstances along with the answers to these questions in order to make a determination regarding what is in the “best interest of the child.”
Protection of Fathers’ Rights in Arizona
If you have legally established paternity with respect to a child as well as a child custody or visitation schedule ordered by the court, then the mother of the child can not legally keep the child away from a father. Most parenting plans in the state of Arizona will require a parenting plan that maximizes both parent’s parenting time, under A.R.S. §25-103(B) and A.R.S. §25-403.02(B). If you have the legal right to visitation with your child through a court order, and the mother of the child fails to follow the child visitation schedule, you have the legal right to take the matter to court and enforce your fathers’ rights in Arizona.
In some cases, there are no official court orders in place due to the fact that both parents never established paternity or created an official parenting plan. While this is still not legally allowed, the instance of one parent keeping another parent away from a child occurs with great frequency. Therefore, if you can legally establish paternity to the child, you will have the legal right to establish a court order allowing you visitation and/or custody with your child.
Additionally, it is important to note, that even if the situation between you and the mother of your child is currently amicable, this can change at any time. It is important to have a court order for visitation and custody established in order to protect your father’s rights in Arizona.
Types of Custody in Arizona
Officially, the state of Arizona no longer uses the term “custody” but rather splits the term into two areas that address both legal decision-making authority and parenting time. In many states, this is considered the difference between legal custody and physical custody. As a father in the state of Arizona, you have the legal right to both with respect to your child. In most cases, the courts in Arizona will issue joint legal decision making and joint parenting time orders, which allow a child to have influence and quality time with both parents. Courts are reticent to issue sole joint legal decision-making or sole custody orders without the establishment of just cause.
Fathers’ Rights in Arizona Regarding Child Support
In many cases, even though both parents will be awarded joint legal decision-making authority and parenting time, one parent will be the child’s primary custodian and have more physical time with the child. In these cases, the non-custodial parent will be awarded visitation as well as the legal obligation to pay child support. Depending on the facts and circumstances, a father that is named as the child’s primary custodian will then receive child support from the mother in an amount determined through calculations approved by the court.
Pursuing Your Fathers’ Rights in Arizona
If you have already developed a strong relationship with your child, or want to develop that kind of a relationship with your child, you have the legal right to pursue your fathers’ rights in Arizona. We welcome the opportunity to help you learn how you may have the right to file for fathers’ rights in Arizona and continue your relationship with the child. Contact one of our experienced family law attorneys at My Modern Law in Scottsdale, Mesa, Peoria, or Phoenix, Arizona who can provide you with answers and ensure your legal rights as a father remain protected. Contact us at (480) 470-7731 or online today.