Unmarried Parents Separation Issues and Child Custody in Arizona
The number of people who decide to create a family without getting married is growing all the time. While such partners have rights and obligations, things become more complicated whenever the couple decides to separate. One of the most important questions focuses on child custody and the rights of unmarried mothers and fathers in Arizona. Let’s look at the parents separation issues.
Parental Custody after Separation
Arizona has clear legal provisions pertaining to child custody after a separation, even in the case of parents who have never been married to each other.
According to Arizona Revised Statutes 25-103(B), it is in the best interest of a child to have frequent meetings with both parents.
One exception does exist. Whenever the paternal rights have not been established in an unmarried couple, the mother is the person that has the decision making power concerning the children. It would be up to the mother in this case to determine whether the children will have contact with the father.
Child custody and welfare arrangements can also be made without talking to the biological father under such circumstances.
Once the paternity is established, a father will be entitled to the same rights and protections as a married person. The unmarried father has to file a Petition to Establish with court. The completion of this step makes it possible for the father to seek custody or visitation rights with the children.
Paternity in Arizona
Even if the paternity hasn’t been established before a separation, a biological father who wants contact with their children is still entitled to certain legal protections.
In Arizona, paternity is of two kinds – voluntary and involuntary.
Voluntary paternity refers to unwed parents who have an agreement about who is the biological father of the child and who have signed the necessary paperwork. Once voluntary paternity is established, the rights of the father are guaranteed.
Involuntary paternity refers to a case in which the two unwed parents cannot or do not want to agree on paternity. The man has to file a complaint and the Arizona Superior Court will order DNA testing to confirm. If the said person is the biological father, the court will be responsible for the creation of a parenting plan that gives both individuals a chance to spend enough time with the children.
People who seek involuntary paternity should get in touch with an experienced attorney first. Some don’t realize the fact that apart from giving them rights, legal paternity also results in responsibilities. Once the paternity has been established, there will be no going back.
When is Sole Custody an Option?
As already mentioned, it is in the best interest of a child to have frequent contact with both parents. When unmarried couples separate, however, sole custody could be the best option under certain circumstances.
If one of the parents is not fit to care for a child or children, the other can obtain sole physical and legal custody. Such inability may be the result of severe drug abuse, alcoholism or a history of neglect that will have to be proven in court.
Whenever one of the unwed parents (usually the father but this doesn’t have to be the case) is not significantly involved in the life of the children, the other parent can request sole physical and legal custody.
A situation that involves older children will be a bit more complicated. While Arizona doesn’t base custody decisions on the preferences of children, they will be allowed to express their desires and share information about the parent that they feel more attached to and that they would like to live with in the future, when parents separation issues arise.
A general rule of thumb is that whenever parents separation issues arise, the court will make a decision that enables children to live in a stable environment. Evidence provided in court and social agency inspections may be required to choose the best parenting plan and figure out whether sole custody is optimal.