Unmarried Fathers and Married Fathers

Cindy Best

It seems logical that married fathers and married fathers have the same rights regarding their children. But in Arizona, it makes a difference if a Father is married to the mother of his children or not. A married father who is fit is usually awarded equal parenting time with the mother and joint legal decision making if the case goes to trial. Most cases between fit parents do not end up in litigation because the presumption is so strong that they share equally in the parenting time and decision making for their children.

What if you are an unmarried father? You do not have any parenting rights for parenting time or decision making until you have a written agreement from the mother or a court order. You can obtain a court order by filing a Petition to Establish Paternity, Parenting Time, Decision Making and Child Support. If there are any issues of fitness around the issues of drug use, alcohol abuse, criminality or domestic violence, a Father’s parenting time and decision making may be limited or supervised and may not be equal. After the baby is born, however, an unmarried Father has no rights. That does not mean that he shouldn’t see the baby or parent the baby. It just means that whatever he does is at the discretion of the mother. Sometimes that works out just fine. Mothers will be given a “look back” if the Father files for time and decision making so she should consider doing whatever is in the baby’s best interests, even though there is no agreement or court order. A mother does not want to have to explain to a judge why she kept the father away from the baby if there is no reason or good cause. Money can never be used as a reason to withhold a child from a parent.
If you are an unmarried father and want to have a written agreement with the mom, you can draft a parenting plan and later file it with the court. It should be notarized and signed by both parents. Having something filed with the court does not necessarily mean that you are arguing or having a dispute. It is a good idea to cement your rights and responsibilities while everyone is getting along, just in case they do not always stay that way. If you all break up and have a fight you do not want to also have to fight to see your child that you have been caring for.
If you are an unmarried father or an unmarried mother, you should consider meeting with an experienced attorney at Best Law Firm to get legal advice for your specific situation. You will be glad that you know your rights.

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