When a child's parents are not married, custody issues may arise if the parents do not live together or have recently decided to live apart. Under Arizona law, unmarried parents must establish the child's paternity before they can negotiate an arrangement for parenting time and legal custody. Each parent may benefit from consulting with an Arizona family law attorney about the state's child custody laws.
Unmarried parents can choose to sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form at the hospital immediately after the child's birth; or they may complete an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity form to voluntarily identify paternity at any time. Parents can submit their form to the state's Hospital Paternity Program and Office of Vital Records. Parents can also voluntarily cooperate with the Arizona Division of Child Support Enforcement to complete DCSE procedures to establish paternity and assign child support responsibilities according to state law.
If either parent does not want to cooperate, one parent can ask the DCSE for help with establishing paternity, which may include genetic testing if necessary. Alternatively, Arizona law allows either parent to initiate a paternity lawsuit pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes Section 25-803. In a paternity lawsuit, the court issues a formal order identifying the child's parents. The court can make child custody and parenting time orders as part of the proceedings.
Types of Custody
Once an unmarried parent has established paternity of the child, the parent can ask for rights to child custody and visitation, also known as parenting time. Legal custody involves making decisions related to the child's upbringing in major areas such as schooling, health and religion. Physical custody determines the child's residence.Under Arizona Revised Statutes Section 25-408, the parent without custody has a right to a reasonable amount of parenting time.
When the parents have an open case with the Arizona courts, such as through a paternity lawsuit, they must develop a written parenting plan that states their legal custody rights and presents a schedule for parenting time with each parent. The two parties can cooperatively present a parenting plan to the court or separately propose a parenting plan and ask the court to decide on the terms. The judge can consider any factors affecting the child's best interests.