Establishing Child Custody for Unmarried Parents

Establishing Child Custody for Unmarried Parents

When the parents of a child are not married to each other, establishing custody can become problematic. Although unwed parents typically have the same parental rights and responsibilities as married parents, there may be a few additional steps that you will need to take to be granted custody rights.  

Our family law attorneys at Law Offices of Vescio & Seifert, P.C., can explain your options for establishing custody if you are an unmarried parent in Arizona. From our offices in Glendale & Tucson, Arizona, we provide legal counsel to individuals and families throughout the Phoenix Metro Area.  

Custody of Child Born to Unwed Mother  

When an unmarried mother has a child, she is automatically granted legal decision-making and physical custody. This means that the mother can make decisions on behalf of the child, such as medical decisions and educational decisions. She also has the right to make important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. 

In Arizona, legal decision-making refers to the rights of parents to make important decisions about their children. An unmarried mother has sole legal decision-making rights over her children unless a court orders otherwise. Legal decision-making includes making major life decisions for your child, such as medical care, education, religious training, or extracurricular activities. 

Physical custody refers to who has primary care and control over a child on a daily basis. Unmarried mothers are automatically granted physical custody of their children unless a court orders otherwise. This means that they have the right to determine where their children live and how they will be cared for. It is important for unmarried mothers to understand their physical custody rights so that they can make informed decisions about their children’s lives and well-being. 

Establishing Paternity  

In the state of Arizona, paternity is generally established when a marriage or a civil union exists between a mother and father. However, for unmarried parents, establishing paternity is a slightly more complicated process. The three ways to establish paternity in Arizona are: 

  1. Presumption of paternity. Presumption of Paternity occurs when a child is born to married parents or if the parents have entered into a civil union. In this case, the husband or partner of the mother is presumed to be the legal father. This presumption can be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence that another individual is actually the father.  
  2. Voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. The voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form allows both parents to acknowledge that they are biological parents and sign legal documents that serve as an affidavit attesting to their relationship as parent and child. The form must be signed by both parents and witnessed or notarized before it can be filed with the Office of Vital Records. Once filed, the form establishes parental rights, including visitation rights and support obligations for both parents.  
  3. Adjudicating paternity in court. When there is no existing marriage or civil union between mother and father, either parent may choose to initiate legal proceedings to establish parental rights, including custody rights, visitation rights, and child support obligations through adjudication of paternity in court. This can often be a lengthy process, so it’s best to consult with an attorney who specializes in family law prior to beginning proceedings.   

Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, which is why it’s crucial that you understand which one will work best for your situation before proceeding any further. 

Issues Unwed Parents May Face  

If you’re an unmarried parent, there are certain issues you may face when it comes to establishing custody of your child:  

  • Deciding school. One issue you may face is deciding which school your child will attend. If you and the other parent live in different school districts, you’ll need to decide which district your child will attend. You will need to decide who will transport your child to and from school if you live in different cities or states.  
  • Choosing a last name for the child. Another issue is choosing a last name for your child. If you and the other parent can’t agree on a last name, you’ll need to go to court and have a judge make a decision.  
  • Claiming the child as dependent on taxes. Another common issue is claiming your child as a dependent on your taxes. If you’re claiming your child as a dependent, the other parent is not allowed to claim the child as a dependent on their taxes.  
  • Step-parent adoption. An issue you may face if you remarry is whether or not the new spouse will adopt your child. If the new spouse adopts your child, they will have the same legal rights as a biological parent.  
  • Living in different states. One final issue you may face is living in different states. If you and the other parent live in different states, you’ll need to figure out how to share custody of your child if one of you needs to move for work or another reason.  

If you’re facing any of these issues, it’s vital to seek legal advice so that you can understand your rights and options under the law.  

Understand Your Rights as a Parent  

If you are an unwed parent who wants to establish paternity, contact our family law attorneys at Law Offices of Vescio & Seifert, P.C., to discuss your rights and options under Arizona law. We will help you through the process of establishing custody or paternity and ensure that you can resolve any issues that arise in an effective and amicable manner. Request a consultation today to discuss the details of your case.

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