How to establish paternity rights for unmarried fathers

In Arizona, when a child is born to a married couple, it is presumed that the husband is the biological and legal father of the child. So, when a couple divorces, child support, custody and a parenting plan are established to provide for the child’s needs and to protect the parents’ rights for making decisions for the child and also to have parenting time with the child and a host of other related rights. When an unmarried couple has a child, often times the couple does not realize they need to establish their rights from a court order and many times months or years can go by before getting your actual legal rights established. It can be more difficult to establish paternity, determine legal decision-making authority and parenting time as well as child support.

Establishing Paternity

The first legal step for unmarried fathers to take is establishing paternity by filing a Petition in family court to have those rights granted by the Court. Paternity is the legal or biological relationship between a child and his or her biological Father and Maternity is that between a child and his or her biological Mother.

Establishing paternity gives an unmarried father certain rights and responsibilities related to his child. It also gives children important rights, such as:

  • The right to know both parents
  • The right to get financial support from both parents
  • Access to medical and educational records
  • The right to inherit from both parents

Father's rights - Paternity rights in Arizona - McMurdie Law

Establishing paternity is a required first step before any child support or custody orders can be enforced or established.

To establish paternity, unmarried mothers and fathers can go through a voluntary acknowledgement process or seek judicial establishment via the court system. Unmarried fathers who wish to establish paternity in Arizona and their legal rights to their children must go through one of these processes.

  1. An Acknowledgment of Paternity form can voluntarily be signed by both parents.  It is available:
    • at all hospitals and birthing centers
    • at any Arizona Department of Economic Security office
    • at all Vital Records offices
  2. Petition to Establish Paternity may be filed by either parent to establish paternity, determine custody and visitation rights, and determine support obligations.

By signing the Acknowledgement of Paternity form, a man is stating that he is in fact the child’s father. The father then has parental rights as well as parental responsibilities. Once signed, it becomes legally binding and cannot be withdrawn without prior court approval.

If there is any dispute as to whether the father is actually the biological father of the child, either parent can petition the court for genetic testing of both parents and the child.

Father’s Rights: Paternity Rights for Unmarried Fathers

The need for a paternity action often arises in the context of child support. If an unmarried mother applies for child support, the court will require a paternity test to verify that she is not requesting support from the wrong man. The father can also initiate a paternity action if he wants to establish his rights as a father.

Fathers’ rights are not always as clear cut as mothers’ rights – especially when it comes to establishing paternity. However, there are ways for unmarried fathers to establish a legal relationship with their child and obtain certain rights.

These include a right to spend designated time with his children (known as “parenting time in Arizona”), major decisions including schooling, medical care and religious education, and the right to be consulted before adoption, and the right to time off from work to raise his child.

The Parenting Agreement

A parenting plan, or parenting agreement, sets out the timesharing schedule between parents, as well as other important matters such as how decisions will be made with regard to education, health care, religion and extracurricular activities. A parenting plan is required if there is a dispute over custody or visitation. In this context, “custody” refers to the right to make major life decisions on behalf of the child, and “visitation” refers to the right to spend time with the child.

It’s important for unmarried fathers to have a written parenting plan approved by the court in order to protect their parental rights. Without such a plan in place, there may arise disagreements that cause poor co-parenting or one parent to control more of the time and alienate the other parent. If you have obtained a court-approved parenting plan, any future changes must be made by both parties agreeing or through further court order.

Due to the social evolution that has raised the rights and expectations of the involvement of fathers with their children, parents have more frequently shared parenting rights more equally, (called “co-parents”) and it is fairly common in Arizona now to start with an assumption of an equal time plan, even if the parties never married.

At McMurdie Law & Mediation, a Tempe divorce lawyer and family law practice, we provide experienced legal representation to ensure that both parents have an opportunity to create positive relationships with their children and establish their parental rights. We have worked with young fathers and young mothers to help them navigate their new roles as a parent and to protect their rights as a co-parent of their children.

McMurdie Law & Mediation can help establish paternity rights for unmarried fathers

We like to help young families learn how to co-parent and share the responsibility of raising children in the best way they can for the sake of the children. Call McMurdie Law & Mediation at 480-777-5500 today to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific needs.