Managing the ongoing care of children after a divorce or separation can be difficult. Parents have to make decisions about parenting time, healthcare, religious training, and the child’s education. In Arizona, these issues fall under what is called legal decision-making and parenting time. You may have heard it referred to as Arizona child custody laws or access, contact, or visitation rights. (Because that’s how some people still refer to these issues, you may see these terms throughout this post.)
Navigating these responsibilities can seem even more challenging if you and your partner weren’t married. Overall, matters of legal decision-making and parenting time are the same for married parents going through a divorce as unmarried parents who are separating. However, one significant factor may arise when it comes to establishing the paternity of the child, as we’ll discuss later in this article.
Note: This article is not intended to be legal advice. You should always talk to a family law attorney about your situation.
What are the basics of Arizona child custody laws, or legal decision-making?
If paternity is already established, legal decision-making and parenting time laws are the same for unmarried parents as they are for married parents going through a divorce.
Both parents may share “joint” legal decision-making authority. This means that both parents participate in child-rearing decisions, related to all major decisions, including:
– Religious upbringing
While parents may exercise joint legal decision-making authority, the parents must also determine the amount of time each will spend with the child. This is known as parenting time. It includes the child’s schedule with the parents on a regular access basis and on:
– School breaks
– Any other days the parents wish to incorporate into their parenting time agreement
Seeking help from the court
In general, while parents are encouraged to resolve issues related to legal decision-making and parenting time between themselves, either parent may seek recourse from the court if they cannot reach an agreement or if they believe the child’s safety is at risk.
In such a case, the parents must submit a proposed parenting plan to the court. This discusses how the parents would prefer to handle decisions and living arrangements related to the child. The Arizona Supreme Court has a detailed guide on developing a parenting plan, with specific guidance on holidays, relocation, and other special issues. If you are working with a family law attorney, he or she will work with you to draft your parenting plan.
If the parents cannot reach an agreement, the court will determine legal decision-making authority and parenting time based on the child’s best interests. As a brief overview, when determining what’s in the best interests of the child, the court considers a number of factors, including the child’s:
– Relationship with each parent
– Wishes (for older children)
– Health and safety
– Current adjustment to their home and community
You can read full details about this in Arizona statute Title 25-403.
As some of the most common legal cases, Arizona child custody laws have helped thousands of families come to the safest and most effective arrangements for their children. A highly-skilled family law attorney can help you navigate this process and answer any questions you have about your own situation. We answer some of most common questions about Arizona child custody laws for unmarried parents below.
How can you prove paternity for unmarried fathers?
According to Arizona statute Title 13-1302, “If a child is born out of wedlock, the mother is the legal custodian of the child for the purposes of this section until paternity is established and custody or access is determined by a court.”
Generally, paternity can be established in two ways: presumed or court-ordered.
As paraphrased from Arizona statute Title 25-814, an unmarried father’s paternity is presumed if:
– A DNA test affirms there is a 95% likelihood he is the father
– Both unmarried parents sign the child’s birth certificate
– Both unmarried parents name the father in a legally witnessed or notarized document
– The parents agree to paternity and are before the court on a related matter (this usually arises in child support proceedings; the court will always make a finding as to paternity before ordering child support or parenting time)
Note, however, that a court may rule against these presumptions if they receive clear and convincing evidence that proves otherwise.
Court-ordered paternity testing
Arizona law allows for court-ordered paternity testing. Either parent can request paternity testing. Other individuals or entities who can request testing include:
– The child’s guardian or conservator
– A public welfare official or agency
– The State
The court may order and use these DNA results to determine legal decision-making and calculate child support as well. If the person alleged to be the father is unwilling to appear in court or fails to take the DNA test, the court may presume paternity.
How is child support for unwed parents calculated?
Arizona child support laws are robust when it comes to child support payments. This is true regardless of whether the parents were married or unmarried. Both of the parents will have to provide child support, based on the Arizona Child Support Guidelines or an agreement by the parties. A Child Support Worksheet helps determine the amount of support each parent provides. The resulting support amount will identify which parent is to pay the other and the specific amount (or in some cases, no amount at all).
You can access Arizona’s interactive child support calculator here. Learn more about recent child custody calculator changes in a recent ARTEMiS post. This calculator can help you estimate child support amounts based on:
– The gross income of both parents
– Court-ordered child support for children of other relationships
– Medical, dental, and vision insurance costs for the child
– Extra education expenses paid
– Parenting time days per year
– Any additional factors, such as court-ordered arrears paid by the noncustodial parent or other extraordinary expenses
In Arizona, if paternity has already been established, you can request child support by filing a Petition to Establish Child Support. Otherwise, you will need to file a Petition to Establish Paternity, Legal Decision-Making, and Child Support. Most superior courts throughout Arizona provide forms for parties who choose to represent themselves in such proceedings.
For the Superior Court of Maricopa County, you can access the Petition to Establish Paternity, Legal Decision-Making, and Child Support and other family law matter forms at The Judicial Branch of Arizona website here.
Find help you can trust
Every family has different needs. At ARTEMiS Law Firm, we have advanced experience with Arizona child custody cases and are here to guide you through the process. We know this can be a difficult time for any family, so we approach every case with dedication and compassion to ensure that we reach the best decision for your child’s continuing care.
If you need more help figuring out Arizona child custody laws and legal decision-making authority for unmarried parents, contact ARTEMiS Law Firm today to discuss your options. We’re here to help.Contact Us