No. Arizona law requires unmarried parents to establish paternity in a legal proceeding before the father has any parenting rights. You can sign an acknowledgement of paternity, which will institute a child support obligation, but an acknowledgement of paternity alone won’t give you the right to parent your child.
Your parental rights can only be established through a Superior Court proceeding. Until your paternity has been legally established, Arizona law assumes that the child should be in the care of the mother. If you want legal decision-making authority or parenting time, you will need to file a paternity action.
A paternity action generally requires a DNA test indicating that you are the father.
Legal decision-making and parenting time are decided in the best interest of the child
In the United States, parents enjoy the presumption that they will be allowed to parent their children. This is important because an unwed father is not automatically excluded from his child’s life as long as he files a successful legal paternity action. This action will generally result in:
- Legal decision-making authority over important issues in the child’s life, such as medical care, schooling and religious education
- A parenting order, which establishes the time you will spend parenting your child
- A child support order, if one has not already been entered
These rights and obligations will always be made in the child’s best interest. The parents can negotiate an agreement in advance, if they like, and have the court issue an order that reflects that agreement. If you cannot come to an agreement, the court will consider any factor it believes is relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being, such as:
- The existing and potential future relationship between each parent and the child
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the parents, the child’s siblings and any other person who would have a significant impact on the child’s well-being
- The child’s adjustment to home, school and community
- When the child is of suitable age and maturity, the child’s wishes
- The physical and mental health of all those involved
- If the parent is likely to allow frequent, meaningful and continuing contact between the child and the other parent (unless there is domestic violence or child abuse)
- Whether the parent intentionally misled the court in order to increase the cost of or delay the litigation in an effort to obtain a more favorable order
- Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse
- Whether either parent has been convicted of false reporting of child abuse or neglect
- Whether either parent used coercion or duress to obtain an agreement over parenting time or legal decision-making
- Whether the parent has taken part in parenting education, which may be required
Will I get 50/50 custody?
You may wonder if you will be given full decision-making authority and about half of the available parenting time. There is a good chance you could get both. Arizona’s parenting plan statute directs the courts to maximize each parent’s respective parenting time, although it does not guarantee equal parenting time. The statute also specifically states that courts shall not prefer one parent to the other on the basis of gender.
That said, it is very important for you to establish a substantial, meaningful relationship with your child as soon as possible. As you can see from above, each parent’s relationship with the child is the first factor to be considered.
If you would like to have parental rights over your child and you were unmarried at the time the child was born, discuss your situation with an experienced family law attorney.