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Throughout the State of Arizona and across the country, many men feel left out of their children’s lives. Whether they’re unmarried, divorced, or separated, fathers can commonly be pushed away from their kids because they don’t know their parental rights. This hurts both fathers and their children, not only in the quality of their relationship to one another, but also if parents disagree about important decisions such as healthcare and education.

Even fathers with amicable relationships with their child’s mother should have a working understanding of how the law protects their rights, the options available if they need to take action, and where they stand in the eyes of Arizona courts.

First, it’s important to understand that every person’s situation is unique. Your rights as a father establish the guidelines for what you can request and how a court may rule (if your disputes go that far), but the exact details of custody, child support, visitations, and so on will be specific to you and your child. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and many factors about your personal life, your relationship with the child, and the child’s overall best interest will be at play.


The central component of Arizona parental rights for men is legal paternity. This can be established in a few ways, and is the basis of all legal claims a father has to decision making, custody, and all laws surrounding his relationship with a child.

Many situations fall under presumed paternity – meaning that the legal system presumes the paternity in the following situations:

  • The father and mother were married any time in the ten months immediately preceding the birth, or the child was born within ten months of the termination of marriage
  • Genetic testing affirms at least 95% probability of paternity
  • If the parents are unmarried, but both parties signed the birth certificate

If paternity is not presumed under one of the criteria and the parents of the child are unmarried, men can establish paternity by submitting to genetic testing, by signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity form, or by both parents signing and filing the Voluntary Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity form. If the one parent is uncooperative in this process, a case can be opened with the Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) and may go to a court hearing.

Regardless of circumstances, establishing legal paternity is the path to legal rights as a father.

Paternal Rights and Responsibilities

Under Arizona law, parents are seen as equals in matters of decision making, care, and responsibility for a child. Establishing legal paternity, then, also means accepting responsibility for any child support payments, custody disputes, and every other aspect of the child’s life within the confines of the law.

Arizona policy also supports involvement of fathers, noting the importance of frequent and continuing contact for the wellbeing of both parents and their children. These laws aim to protect the rights of fathers by seeking reasonable parenting time, but such determinations (if not agreed upon by the parents themselves) can vary. Some Arizona counties have their own custody and visitation guidelines in place, and the Arizona Supreme Court has also developed Model Parenting Time Plans. While these guidelines exist to help the court make custody and/or visitation plans, they are not exact, prescriptive directives – meaning that each case varies based on individual circumstances.

After paternity has been established, a father is granted rights to the child’s medical and school records, regardless of custody status, and that the mother can’t relocate without the father’s permission – though the mother determines the father’s access to the child. Paternity with some form of custody comes with rights of legal decision making, though the specifics will be determined by the court.

Unmarried parents will go through this process in juvenile court, and separated or divorced couples will go through family court. These laws and determinations apply to all minor children (under 18) regardless of age.

While the specifics of each father’s court rulings, custody, visitation, child support, and decision making powers will vary from case to case, the driving principles of Arizona juvenile and family courts revolve around best interests of the child.

If you have questions about establishing legal paternity, or how to move forward with pursuing custody and/or visitation after paternity has been established, our team has the experience to help you form your case and achieve the results you seek. Contact the Law Offices of Steven N. Cole today to get started with a free consultation.