Roughly 50% of all births in Arizona occur in unmarried couples. This creates unique challenges when the couple goes their separate ways. However, in the eyes of the law, both parents retain the same custody rights as married couples.
When a couple is unmarried, and there is not a court order that establishes parental rights between the couple, Arizona statutes grant the mother sole legal decision making. Sole legal decision making authority means that the mother has the right to make all decisions she believes to be in the best interest of the child.
The statutes require fathers to establish paternity in order to acquire parental rights, including child visitation. Fathers should act quickly to do this because, without it, the mother can deny the father visitation, make medical decisions, relocate, or even put the child up for adoption against the father’s wishes.
In Arizona, there are three ways to establish a presumption of paternity for children of unmarried couples. The father can confirm paternity through genetic testing that returns a result of 95% or greater probability, both parents sign the birth certificate, or if both sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity.
It Takes Two Parents to Raise a Child
Unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as a parent in jail, significant mental disability, domestic or drug abuse, or other factors that would negatively impact the child’s safety and welfare, Arizona courts favor having both parents involved in the child’s life.
The courts want both parents sharing the costs of raising the child, making decisions related to the child’s educational and medical needs, and child visitation so that both parents can spend time bonding with the child. The statutes explicitly state that it is in the child’s best interests that both parents have “frequent, continual, and meaningful time with the children.”
The Value of Parenting Agreements
Unmarried couples should never arrange parental visitation via a handshake or verbal agreement. Even when the relationship is amicable, it is imperative to submit the arrangement in writing to the court. Formalizing the parenting agreement can prevent child visitation disputes before they start to emerge.
The agreement must identify where the child will live, the visitation schedule, and with which parent the child will spend holidays, birthdays, vacations, and other special events. It should also include contact information for the child’s grandparents, friends, school, daycare facility, etc. where the child will spend significant time.
It is also crucial for the parenting agreement to spell out how disputes over child visitation or adjustments to visitation schedules will be handled. Finally, depending on the specific circumstances surrounding the couple or the child, an attorney may recommend the inclusion of other elements within the parenting agreement.
Parenting Agreements are Binding
When a disagreement arises, the other parent can’t withhold child visitation until a new agreement is reached. Parenting agreements in Arizona are binding. When one parent violates the agreement or attempts to withhold access to the child, the courts can, and will, intervene to enforce the agreement. Strict enforcement helps ensure that both parents retain equal access to the child as they are growing up.
Further, unless there is a dramatic change in circumstances, such as the discovery of sexual abuse, domestic abuse, incarceration, etc., then neither parent can haphazardly request modifications to the child visitation agreement. Statutes require that at least 365 days must pass before either parent can request a modification of an existing order.