Separated fathers often worry that after their divorce or separation from their spouse, they would lose their parenting rights over their child. There is also the fear that dads have less chance to win child custody. This is not necessarily so in Arizona. Let’s look at some common concerns of fathers, and how Arizona law applies to them.
What Are My Rights As A Divorced Father In Arizona?
As the legal father of your child, you have exactly the same parental rights as your spouse. Even in divorce or separation cases, family courts recognize that both parents have equal rights.
Arizona is not a “pro-mom state.” It does not give preference to mothers when it comes to family issues such as child custody, child support, and parenting time. In the past, people used to believe that a young child absolutely needed to be with their biological mother. This was called the “tender years doctrine,” and it has long been debunked by psychologists. In fact, experts now recommend that children be raised by both parents for their best development.
Thus, family courts such as those in Arizona have also abandoned the tender years doctrine. Judges no longer consider the gender of the parent when deciding on family law issues.
Instead, the main standard of the court is the “best interests of the child” – that is, the arrangements that would best foster the child’s security, health, happiness, and development. If you are a dad who can satisfy this standard, you have a good chance of success in a custody case.
What Custody Can A Father Get In Arizona?
Arizona family courts no longer use the term “child custody.” Instead, they have refined this issue into two specific matters: “legal decision-making authority,” which is a parent’s right to make decisions for the child; and “parenting time,” referring to a parent’s physical custody of the child.
With these two issues, there are various child custody arrangements that can result:
- Both parents have joint decision-making authority and joint physical custody.
- Both parents have joint decision-making authority, but only one has physical custody. The other parent can still have parenting time through visitation.
- Both parents have joint physical custody, but only one has full decision-making authority.
- Only one parent has full decision-making authority and sole physical custody.
Whenever appropriate, the court grants joint decision-making and joint parenting time to both parents. Again, fathers and mothers have equal footing when fighting for the custody they think they should have.
What Does A Father Have To Do To Get Custody?
It helps to know what factors are considered by the court when determining the child’s best interests. These factors include (but are not limited to):
- The quality of the child’s relationship with each parent
- Each parent’s ability to provide the child a secure, stable environment
- Which parent has been the primary caretaker of the child
- The mental and physical capacity of each parent
- Each parent’s current living conditions and how it can accommodate the child
- Any history of violence, abuse, or neglect by either parent.
With these criteria in mind, you must be prepared to satisfy what the court is looking for in a parent. Here are a few tips:
- Pay child support regularly. You probably already have a child support order, or an informal support arrangement with your ex-spouse. Do your best not to miss a single payment, and keep proofs of payment.
- Prepare well. Have a good plan in the event that you are granted parenting rights. Organize space in your house for your little one to sleep, study, and play in. Familiarize yourself with their daily life, preparing to incorporate this into your own. Plan your finances with emphasis on the child. You can then show your plans to the court as evidence of your sincerity and capacity in raising the child.
- Show up. Being there for your child every day is ideal. But if this is not possible, at least try to be present and helpful during rare events in your child’s life. Attend birthdays, recitals, family trips, graduation, and even times of illness.
- Document as much as possible. Judges heavily rely on available evidence when deciding on family cases. Collect everything that can support your custody bid, such as your proposed parenting plan, your financial documents surrounding your child, your photographs together, and the little one’s medical and school records that you keep. Arrange all written documents by date.
- Have positive relationships with other care providers. Teachers, doctors, child-minders, and other adults in your child’s life may support your bid for custody.
What If I Am An Unmarried Father?
A father can only have parental rights if they are established as a legal parent. A man who is married to the biological mother when the child is born is automatically assumed to be the legal father and therefore entitled to parental rights. But for unmarried dads, there one extra step needed before they can have these rights, and that is to legally establish paternity.
There are various ways to do this. The first is by having your name and signature on the child’s birth certificate. If this document remains uncontested, it can be enough proof that you are the legal father. Another way is by agreeing with the mother and signing an affidavit together stating that you both acknowledge your paternity.
There are also many cases where the mother is the one who seeks to establish the other parent’s paternity. She may petition the court, and the court may order DNA testing.
Will your parental rights be diminished if you are an unmarried legal father? No. As soon as the court recognizes your paternity, you will have the same rights as any legal father, married or not.
To review and make clear, Arizona law affords fair rights to fathers. If you still have concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to ask our considerate attorneys at Goldman Law. We can provide you with case-specific guidance on your parental rights and responsibilities in Arizona.