As the legal father you are on equal footing with the child’s mom when it comes to child custody. Arizona is not a “pro-mom state” – there is no special preference given to mothers in family issues such as child custody, child support, and parenting time.
Does the family court favor mothers over fathers?
As a father facing a family legal issue such as divorce or a child custody dispute, you are naturally concerned about your parental rights. Does the court give more rights to mothers than fathers? What if the mother of your child denies you your parenting time? What if you are not legally married to the child’s mother? Questions like these may be on your mind, and here, we provide some basic answers.
In the past, courts followed the “tender years doctrine,” which maintained that a young child should be with their biological mother. This doctrine has long been debunked by science. Child development experts now recommend that a child be raised by both parents for their optimum growth. The courts have also shifted their view, eliminating gender-based preference for either parent. Now, moms are not more likely than dads to get child custody or parenting time.
What factors does the court consider in my child custody case?
The main standard in a child custody dispute is the “best interests of the child” – arrangements that would best provide the child with health, security, and happiness, and foster their development. To ensure this, courts look at many factors such as:
- Each parent’s capacity to provide a secure, stable environment for the child
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- Which parent has been the primary caretaker of the child
- Each parent’s mental and physical capacity
- Each parent’s willingness to allow a continued child-parent relationship with the other parent
- Any history of violence, abuse, or neglect by either parent.
What kind of child custody can a father get in Arizona?
We no longer use “child custody” as a legal term in Arizona. Instead, we refer to its two specific components: “legal decision-making authority” (formerly called “legal custody”), and “parenting time” (formerly called “physical custody”).
Given these components, various child custody arrangements may result:
- Both parents have joint decision-making authority and joint physical custody. This is ideal – the court will grant this type of custody whenever appropriate.
- Both parents are granted joint decision-making authority, but only one gets physical custody. This means that mom and dad can both make parental decisions, but the child officially stays with just one parent. The non-custodial parent will likely be granted parenting time via visitation.
- Both parents have joint physical custody, but only one has decision-making authority. In this case, the child will typically have to be shuttled back and forth between each parent’s house. As an alternative, the parents may agree on a “nesting plan”, which allows the child to remain in one house permanently while the parents take turns staying there with the little one.
- Only one parent has sole decision-making authority and sole physical custody.
What if the mom interferes with the dad’s parenting time?
If your ex-spouse tries to hinder your parenting time or outright refuses to let you spend time with your child according to the approved plan, you may bring the matter to court. You can file a “Motion to Enforce” and the court will then hold a hearing. If the other parent cannot justify their parenting time interference, the court may order certain remedies, such as:
- Additional parenting time in your favor to make up for what you’ve missed
- Mandatory parental education and/or counseling for the violating parent (which they must pay for)
- Fines and court costs to be paid by the violating parent
- Finding the violating parent in contempt of court, which may lead to criminal penalties in extreme cases.
Does the father automatically have to pay child support?
No, this is not always the case. Arizona child support is determined in a way that each parent would contribute proportionately to child-rearing expenses. This involves factors such as the parents’ individual incomes and the amount of time they are granted with the child. In many cases, this means that the non-custodial parent will pay child support to the custodial parent (because the latter already bears more responsibility towards the child).
There are circumstances, however, that may significantly affect the child support computation. For instance, there may be a substantial imbalance between the parents’ incomes. If the non-custodial parent is not able to earn sufficiently, it is possible that the court will minimize (or even eliminate) their child support obligation.
Can an unmarried father have parental rights?
Only legal mothers and fathers have parental rights. Note, however, that to be a legal dad, you don’t have to be married to the biological mother. An unmarried father may still be recognized as a legal father. He just has to legally establish his paternity.
There are various ways to officially claim your paternity. If your name and signature are on the child’s birth certificate and it remains uncontested, it can be your proof that you are the legal dad. Another way to establish this is by signing an affidavit together with the legal mother, showing that both of you acknowledge your paternity.
You may also be recognized as the legal father if the court orders DNA testing and it establishes your paternity.
Once you are recognized as the legal father of your child, it does not matter that you are unmarried. You have the same rights as any legal father, married or not.
Do you have a particular concern regarding your parental rights in Arizona? Since your child’s future is at stake, it is best to get advice from a lawyer. Talk to our experienced and considerate attorneys at Goldman Law by calling (602) 698-5520. We’re ready to listen and provide case-specific guidance in your case.