5 Steps New Fathers Should Take to Protect Themselves Legally
Arizona is a father’s rights state—in that Arizona courts view fathers as “equally” important as mothers. But that does not mean Arizona always does right by fathers. In fact, there is a pretty large exception to the idea that mothers and fathers are equally important to a child in the eyes of the law.
The exception is this—that prior to an unmarried father going to Court and establishing his paternity and custodial rights, the mother alone is the custodial parent. This puts the onus on fathers to act and act quickly. With that in mind, here are five things new fathers can do to protect their relationship with the child.
1. Sign up for the Putative Father Registry.
Arizona established a Putative Father Registry to prevent children from being adopted without the father getting notice of the adoption proceedings. If you are worried your baby’s mother may put your child up for adoption and not inform you, signing up for the Putative Father Registry is your best move to protect yourself. You should do this, even if you think there is only a remote chance that the child may be placed up for adoption.
Before a child is to be adopted, mothers are supposed to notify fathers. But this does not always happen, and sometimes, mothers may list another man as the father to have the adoption go through. To protect Fathers, the state created the registry and required notice be given to fathers who have filed a Notice of Claim of Paternity regarding that particular child.
Be aware, though, that being on the registry is not, in and of itself, enough to stop the adoption. Neither is receiving notice. Rather, upon receiving notice, you must file to start paternity proceedings within the next thirty (30) days. If you do not do so, the child may be adopted without your consent.
The Notice of Claim of Paternity is available here: https://www.azdhs.gov/documents/licensing/vital-records/correction-paternity-claim.pdf
2. If possible, you and the baby’s mother should sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity and file it with the state.
The quickest and best way to establish paternity is to have both you and the Mother sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity in front of a notary. This document is typically signed in the hospital. This document will have the effect of a court order determining paternity if it is filed with any of the filing: The Clerk of the Superior Court, the Department of Health Services, or the Department of Economic Security. Because it has the effect of a court order, the Acknowledgment of Paternity is stronger than even the birth certificate (which carries only a presumption of paternity).
Be aware there are strict deadlines and procedures both for rescinding and for challenging an Acknowledgment of Paternity. Anyone challenging paternity beyond those deadlines is going to have an exceedingly difficult fight on their hands.
3. If you believe you need a DNA test, request one quickly. If you do not need a DNA test to know the child is yours, do not request one.
Every father has a right to know if the child is his. You should be sure the child is yours. We have certainly seen cases where a father raises a child for years and years, only to find out it is not his. It is better to find that out now.
But that does not necessarily mean that every father should get a DNA test. You need to be the judge of your situation and decide if a DNA test is necessary or not. If you have doubts, you should get one.
Unfortunately, what we have seen some fathers do is to request a DNA test solely to embarrass the mother—even when they know the child is theirs. They mistakenly think that this will help their case if they can allege Mother slept around. It does not. Custody courts generally do not get involved in such matters.
4. File a Petition to Establish Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time ASAP.
The different presumptions of paternity, including merely being on the birth certificate, give you some legal protection. But your rights are not equal to those of the mother’s until you go file with the Court to establish your custodial rights.
Custody is comprised of two parts: legal decision-making and parenting time. Legal decision-making is the right to make decisions on behalf of the child, i.e.,, what school the child attends, what doctor the child sees, etc.) and parenting time is the schedule between the parents.
If you and the child’s mother are still together, there may not be a need to establish those items. But if you are not, then it is critical to get these rights established as soon as possible. For one, she gets to call the shots until the Court enters an order. For another, it protects your right to be involved in your child’s education and healthcare. Most of all, establishing your custodial rights makes it difficult for her to shut you out of your child’s life.
5. Before a child support order is issued, pay child support each month, via check or an app like Venmo, and make sure you clearly note on the payment that it is for “child support.”
Every parent has a duty to support their child financially regardless of whether a child support order is in place or not. When parents are not living together during a child’s infancy, the child is often in the care of the mother primarily.
Many fathers typically buy some of the necessities, such as diapers or food, for their child and believe they have met their child support duties. Others give cash to the mother.
These men are providing for their children, but they are not protecting themselves. And they may be in for an expensive surprise when the mother claims in court that the father has not been providing anything, and the father is without any receipts to prove he has.