Top 5 Things to Know About Father’s Rights in Arizona
1. Being on the birth certificate doesn’t mean you’re legally recognized as the father. When a child is born to an unmarried mother, only the mother’s rights are automatically established. The father will have to establish his rights separately. It is good to be on the birth certificate. But that alone doesn’t establish your rights as a legal parent. Being listed on the birth certificate only gives you a presumption that you’re a legal parent. You still need to go to Court to establish your rights as a parent.
2. Contrary to what you may have heard, Arizona is not a Mother’s state. While Mothers have full custody prior to Fathers establishing their rights through the Court, everything changes once a Court is deciding what should happen. In determining the issues of legal decision-making and parenting time (the two issues that comprise custody), judges are prohibited from applying a gender preference. Arizona has a public policy, written into the custody laws, that Courts are supposed to maximize each parent’s time with the child and that joint legal decision-making serves a child’s best interests. Courts have interpreted this public policy as creating a presumption for equal parenting time and joint legal decision-making.
3. To start a case and establish your custodial rights, you must file a Petition to Establish with the Court. You can’t get your rights without going to Court. Before starting a case, you should speak with an attorney to determine whether Arizona has jurisdiction and to have an open discussion about any concerns Mother might raise about you in a custody proceeding. To start a Court case, you need to file a Petition Establish Paternity, Legal Decision-making, Parenting Time, and Child Support with the Court. Then she will need to be served in one of three ways: (1) by a licensed process server, (2) by sending her the Court documents via certified mail with delivery restricted to her, and (3) presenting her the documents and having her sign an Acceptance of Service in front of a notary. Proof of service needs to be filed with the Court.
4. If your child is being withheld from you, you have the right to request temporary orders. Certainly, when a mother is withholding the child, going to Court is one of your best options. But Court takes time, anywhere from eight months to a year or more. For that reason, temporary orders (orders the Court puts in place on an interim basis) may be the way to go. This still takes time, as much as sixty days. That is lightning quick for the Court system, but still a long time if you’re not seeing your child. Temporary orders do require a trial, which is the most time-consuming and expensive part of litigation, and the outcome could greatly impact your case. We recommend consulting with an attorney before deciding whether to file for temporary orders.
5. The Court cannot order parenting time without also ordering child support. Many fathers we talk to are worried about paying child support, and some would like to avoid it altogether. As to the first concern, don’t let child support dissuade you from seeking your custodial rights. If equal parenting time gets ordered, child support tends to not be very much, and there many mothers who are ordered to pay child support to fathers. You can certainly consult with an attorney and see what your child support obligation might look like before deciding to file. As to the second concern, child support is not optional. Under Arizona law, you have a duty to support your child, and Arizona law as places child support as your primary financial obligation above all other financial obligations. The final part of child support to consider is back child support. If she has had the child, and the two of you are not living together, she can seek back child support for up to three years, but the Court can choose whether to grant her back child support or not. If this is a concern, we recommend speaking with an attorney.