Child custody is a difficult process for the separating parents as well as for the children involved. Child custody laws are even more complicated and has a different process when the couple is not married. "As compared to the rights of divorcing spouses or former spouses, there are important similarities as well as differences concerning the rights of unmarried parents to child custody under Arizona law," says Scott Davis Stewart, a family court attorney in AZ who specializes in child custody cases. This distinction of similarities as well as the differences plays an important step in determining custodial arrangements, visitation, and child support.
The first distinction the AZ law makes for non married parents is that paternity must be formally established before there can be any enforceable physical custody or visitation with the child. In Arizona, paternity can be legally established through the Superior Court, the Department of Health Services or the Department of Economic Security. "It is critical that unmarried fathers understand this important distinction, " says Stewart, "The domestic circumstances of either or both parents can further complicate custody and visitation arrangements between unmarried parents."
After the paternity is established with the AZ family court, the non married parents arrange a parenting time schedule to benefit the children. "If the parents cannot agree on a plan for raising the children, the court will order a plan or decide matters concerning their health and welfare, " according to Arizona Law Help Org., "Often this includes making decisions about how much time the child will spend with each parent and which parent will be the primary caregiver." AZ law does not favor the one custody over the other and does not favor the sex of the parent. If the non married parents can not agree to the custody arrangement, and the Arizona legal system becomes involved; "only the Superior Court may decide these issues."
Although both parents might get legal joint custody where they share in the decisions to the welfare of the children; actual physical custody and parenting times can differ. According to AZ Statute 25-403, the family court uses "best interest of the child" approach and grants physical custody to the parent that best uses such practices as: which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and meaningful continuing contact with the other parent, whether one parent, both parents or neither parent has provided primary care of the child, and the mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
AZ family court recognizes that a child needs to have a considerable amount of time with each parent. "State law entitles a parent to reasonable rights of parenting time to ensure that a child has frequent and continuing contact with the parent," according to Arizona Law Help Org. However, the difference non-married parents encounter is that one of the non-married parents must file a request with the superior court to have custody and parenting time legally decided.
In Arizona, a court order is the only way to establish a child support amount. "In cases where the parents were not married, paternity must also be established before the court can order child support," according to Arizona Family Court. Custody arrangements must already be in place before child support can be ordered. "The amount of parenting time a party has can greatly affect the amount of child support that is awarded," says Stewart.