Arizona Paternity Laws (Know Your Rights As A Father)

In the past, fathers have had to contend with prejudice and stereotypes revolving around their role as fathers, making their roles seem less important than the mother’s and often relegating them to part-time or absent parents. 

Modern times have brought about important changes in that policy, with society recognizing how important fathers are in the lives of their children and supporting them in their efforts to play essential roles to help their children as they grow. 

Father’s rights are now acknowledged as being important both for them and for their children, instead of father’s rights just being a fad.

It is the public policy of Arizona that it is in the child’s best interests for both parents to participate in decision-making and that both parents have substantial, frequent, meaningful, and continuing parenting time. 

Mothers are not given special consideration under Arizona law simply because they are the mother. Instead, parents have equal parental rights and opportunities to parent, at least in theory.

Establishing Paternity and Asserting Your Rights

There are three basic ways to establish paternity in Arizona. Until your rights are established, you don’t even have any right to see your child, let alone make any important decisions in your child’s life. 

Until paternity is established, the child usually carries the mother’s instead of the father’s name, although the decisions will be left up to the parents when both parents have rights. 

It is important to remember that establishing paternity protects your child in important legal ways. Your child will have an easier time getting health insurance, life insurance, Social Security benefits, and Veteran’s benefits once you have proved you are the legal father.

The first and most basic way to show paternity is to show that a child was born within a marriage. Marriage brings about a presumption of paternity. When a child is born to two married people, the husband is presumed to be the father, even if the couple has been separated for a long time. 

That is just one reason that it is important when couples move on with their lives, that they take the next steps and dissolve the marriage or establish a legal separation so that the paternity of any children born after is clear. 

If the child was born out of wedlock, the father of the child must establish paternity before he can begin to assert his legal rights. Under Arizona law, there is a presumption that a man is the father of a child if both parents sign the child’s birth certificate. 

Unfortunately, the birth certificate is issued fairly quickly. If the father doesn’t sign right away at the child’s birth, he has to find another way to establish paternity. 

If both parents sign the acknowledgment of paternity, they will have a legal record that they can use to prove the identity of the father. The voluntary acknowledgment of paternity can be rescinded as long as it is done within 60 days, and can be done until the child is 18 years old. 

After 60 days, a party who wants to dispute the acknowledgment of paternity can try to prove the case in court.

The last way to establish paternity is through DNA testing. In order to meet the standard of proof, genetic testing must confirm a 95% probability of paternity. (See A.R.S. §25-814). While DNA testing is commonly used to rule out potential fathers, it can also provide the needed proof that someone is the child’s biological father.  

DNA Testing

When DNA is used in paternity proceedings, the process is done through the courts so that the establishment of paternity is official. Genetic testing can be done if either parent is disputing the paternity of a child.

Rights of Both Parents

A.R.S. §25-103 specifically details the rights of both parents, without differentiating between mother and father, as to be able to stay close to the child. Here are some of the basic rights of both parents:

  • If both parents live within the state, and both are entitled to legal decision-making or parenting time, the other parent must provide written notice before moving outside the state or moving 100 miles within the state. The other parent may object.
  • A parent with sole decision-making responsibilities may move in less than 45 days if required for reasons such as health, eviction, or safety.
  • The court is not allowed to order a deviation from a parenting plan or agreement when both parents agree to relocate the child unless it is not in the child’s best interests.

Relocating the child can be traumatic if it causes one of the parents to lose contact. Before you establish paternity, you have no say in the matter.

Child custody includes both physical custody and legal decision-making responsibilities in Arizona. When parents get along, and they can agree on a plan, it works out best for the child. 

It is easier to make sure the child’s needs are met when there are two responsible adults working to make that happen.

The court considers several factors when determining child custody. These include but are not necessarily limited to:

  • What do the children want? Especially once they get older, their wishes are important too. Do they feel more comfortable around one parent? Does one parent live by a favored school?
  • How do the children get along with each parent, and with the others in the household?
  • Are there health limitations that make it more difficult for one parent to fulfill all the required duties?
  • How is the child doing in school? In the neighborhood?
  • Has there already been meaningful contact between the parent and child? The Court is less likely to order a child to live with a parent who is essentially a stranger.
  • Is there domestic violence in the home? Does one parent have a substance abuse problem?

Decision-Making Authority

In the past, one parent who had physical custody of the child was more likely to get the full authority to make decisions in the child’s life. That meant that one parent could decide on the child’s religion, school, and other important factors. 

Now, if one person makes all the decisions, he or she is said to have sole legal decision-making authority. The courts prefer when parents make decisions together, though, so that both parents can participate more equally in the child’s life. 

When parents share those responsibilities, they are said to have joint legal decision-making authority. Someone who can give input into decisions is more likely to participate in the child’s life.

Parenting Time

Now, instead of referring to physical custody, Maricopa County courts refer to the time children spend with each parent as parenting time. It may be impossible to split the time equally because of school and other responsibilities. 

But now both parents have allotted time they are allowed to spend with their children.

Child Custody Modification

Once an order has been issued, it isn’t written in stone. Circumstances often change enough that a child custody modification is both appropriate and necessary. Sometimes the decision is mutual, because one parent has a new job and has different needs, or when the child wants to change schools.

Sometimes the modification is in dispute, and you will need to bring the issue to the Superior Court so a judge can decide. 

When circumstances have changed a lot, it may be best for everyone to modify child custody responsibilities. Sometimes there are emergencies that cause changes, such as the arrest or poor health of one parent. 

Child Support

With rights come responsibilities, and one important responsibility in the state of Arizona is making sure your child receives enough support to meet his or her needs. Even when both parents get along well, it can be difficult to create a fair child support order. 

There are many details to take into account that the parents may overlook because they are unfamiliar with Arizona family law. A child support order that isn’t fair won’t hold up in court later.

Child support is not a punishment, even though it can be the most contentious part of the parents’ relationship. The order should be worked out as soon as possible and entered by the court so that you can make sure your children have the stability and support they deserve. 

When parents can’t meet their own basic needs, the courts will take that into consideration. The point is to bring about the best situation for the child, not to make life impossible for either one of the parents.

Father and daughter

When the court makes a child support order, it takes into account several factors, the first and most important being the income of the parents. One of the goals of child support is to make sure the child is being taken care of as though both parents are fully involved in the child’s life. 

Basically, the court is evening out any disadvantage the child may experience because the parents don’t live together in the same household. 

The court will need to consider the cost of tuition, daycare, any special health needs, transportation for visitation, where the child spends most of his or her time, and anything else that is relevant to the care of the child.

Sometimes it is only fair to modify the amount of support paid. When parties disagree, there is nothing wrong with taking the issue to trial. Sometimes the issue is simply that the child is spending more time at one parent’s when the initial order was based on the child spending all the time at the others. 

Sometimes child support is changed because one parent has gotten a much better job or lost a job. Whatever the reason, the courts need to be made aware of any change in circumstances so they can make a fair decision on your case.

If you are in the Phoenix, Mesa or Scottsdale area and want to get legal advice on how to proceed with a paternity action, the family law attorneys at Burggraff Tash Levy would be happy to help. Whether you are a putative father or just need someone to help you modify child support or child custody, we can help you with any paternity related actions.

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