What Are the Rights of Unmarried Parents in Arizona?

The family unit is changing. Marriages are becoming less common. Sometimes these marriages might simply be delayed, but other people take on a sort of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ approach to maintaining a happy household. But do unmarried couples have the same rights as their married friends?

When a married couple has a child, both parents are automatically afforded equal custody of their children. These equal rights between the two parents change only after divorce or separation. But what of unmarried parents?

Unmarried parents in Arizona can get equal custody rights. However, it’s not quite so automatic.

What Child Custody Rights Does an Unmarried Mother Have?

When new parents are unmarried and there is no court order establishing paternity, the mother becomes the sole individual with legal custody so long as the child is in her care. This means that the mother alone has the authority to make decisions on the child’s behalf, such as where to live, where to go to school, important healthcare decisions, financial decisions, and decisions regarding the child’s social activities.

Until a court order is given, the mother has no obligation to inform the father of her decisions regarding the child’s life. In fact, she has the full legal right to deny the father access to the child, denying him visitation rights altogether. We would likely not advise such a decision, however, as unreasonably restricting the other parent’s access to the child is typically viewed negatively by the Court.

Only after the father has established that he is the lawful father of the child can he get legally recognized by the state and thus be granted some authority in the child’s life and upbringing.

Does an Unmarried Father Have Equal Child Custody Rights in Arizona?

While unmarried mothers are given automatic legal authority over their new child’s life, the unmarried father has a more challenging legal road ahead of him. Unmarried fathers looking to obtain legal custody of their children must legally prove that they are indeed the father of the children in question. The only way to do this is by establishing paternity.

Thankfully, the state of Arizona has several methods by which an unmarried father can establish paternity, including:

  • Stipulating: If both the unmarried mother and father agree on paternity, they may get a written order making it official. The parents must notarize this written document and submit it to Vital Records and/or the Court. Please note that if someone wishes to challenge this written order, they may do so.
  • Petition to Establish Paternity: If there is no agreement between the parents to stipulate paternity, one parent (presumably the father) may petition to establish paternity. The unmarried parent has two methods by which to prove paternity: the birth certificate and an actual paternity test.
  • Birth Certificate: If the signature of both unmarried parents appears on the birth certificate, this may be considered proof of paternity.
  • Paternity Test: The most surefire way to prove paternity is also the method of last resort. Hopefully, both parties may agree on paternity before it becomes necessary to perform a DNA test.

But if that is not the case, then the courts may request that the DNA test be performed in order to finally determine paternity once and for all. The DNA test must show that there is a 95% chance or greater that the man is the biological father for Arizona courts to consider the paternity test’s findings as definite.

If and when paternity is determined, the unmarried parents can begin to determine a custody arrangement that includes parenting time and visitation rights.

What Factors Might Determine Child Custody and Child Support?

Once paternity has been satisfactorily proven, the unmarried father is given the same rights a divorced father gets in Arizona. That means that he can now go to court – or to the mother – and request equal parenting time as well as other rights afforded to a parent in regard to a child’s upbringing.

Note, however, that the unwed mother still has the right to oppose the father’s pursuit of parenting time or custody rights (we now call this Legal Decision-Making in Arizona). And, if she refuses those rights because she believes that the father’s issues may conflict with his ability to care for the child, then the Arizona courts may agree and grant her sole physical and legal custody of their child.

Factors that may determine whether the mother retains sole custody include:

  • The father is dependent upon drugs or alcohol.
  • The father has a history of domestic abuse, including violence towards children.
  • The father has a history of violence.
  • The father is involved in criminal activity.
  • The father is mentally or physically incapable of caring for the child.
  • The father abandoned the child and has not been a part of the child’s life in a very long time.

Contact Arizona Family Law Attorneys to Discuss Your Child Custody Case

If you are an unwed parent looking to establish legal custody (legal decision-making) via paternity, please contact the Arizona Family Law Attorneys for assistance. Similarly, we can also assist if you are an unmarried mother and would like legal representation to help you block the other parent from seeing your child. Our law firm is highly experienced and well-respected in the legal community. To schedule an appointment with our legal team, please call our law offices at (480) 448-0608.