My ex-girlfriend and I have a daughter together. I have been involved in her life and have been paying child support. Now, my ex has to move to another state. What happens to my rights as a father?
You need a parenting order from the court before you can object
A parenting order lays out the parents’ legal decision-making authority and parenting plan. In Arizona, unmarried fathers need a court order of paternity before they can get a parenting order.
Establishing legal paternity through the courts is a relatively quick and easy process. Generally, the presumed father takes a DNA test. If the test comes back with a match of 95% or more, this is generally sufficient evidence and the court will issue an order of paternity.
Once you have an order of paternity, you can seek a parenting order. A parenting order has two aspects: legal decision-making authority and parenting time.
Legal decision-making authority means the right to make significant decisions for the child in areas such as school, medical care and religious training. This authority can be joint, meaning both parents share it, or sole, meaning that only one parent has the right to make these decisions.
Parenting time is the time you actually spend parenting your child. In general, Arizona courts work to maximize each parent’s time with the kids.
If you have a parenting order, you can object you your child’s relocation
Under Arizona law, when both parents are subject to a parenting order, neither is allowed to move the child out of state (or more than 100 miles away within the state) without giving the other parent 45 days’ notice. During that notice period, you can object to the relocation if you believe it is not in your child’s best interest.
If you object, the court will hold a hearing about whether the move is in your daughter’s best interest. Your ex has the burden of proving that it is. Before this hearing, you and your ex must continue to comply with your existing parenting order.
If the court decides the move is not in your child’s best interest, your ex will not be allowed to move. However, the court may decide the move is in your child’s best interest and allow it. In such a case, the court will issue a modified parenting order meant to preserve as much of your parenting time as possible. This could mean changing from weekly time with your daughter to several weeks in a row during summer and the holidays, for example.
What will the court consider when asking whether the move is in my child’s best interest?
When making its decision, the court will consider whatever factors it considers relevant. However, there are some factors the court must by law consider. Some of these factors include:
- The past, present and potential future relationship between each parent and the child
- The child’s adjustment to home, school and community
- The physical and mental health of all those involved
- The presence of domestic violence or child abuse, or any false reports of child abuse or neglect
- Whether the move is being made or opposed in bad faith
- Whether the move will improve the general quality of life of the moving parent and the child
- The likelihood that the moving parent will comply with the parenting order
- How the move is likely to affect the emotional, physical or developmental needs of the child
- Whether the move will allow a realistic opportunity for parenting time with each parent
Your lawyer will make an argument for why the move is not in your daughter’s best interest by considering these factors. Your ex’s lawyer will make the argument that the move is in your daughter’s best interest. Ultimately, the court will weigh those arguments and issue a ruling.
I don’t have a parenting order. Is it too late?
Not necessarily. If your ex is still in the state, you can begin the process of seeking a parenting order now. In some circumstances, this may be possible even if your ex has already left the state. Talk to an experienced family law attorney about your individual circumstances.