Fathers have the constitutional right to be treated equally in child custody and parenting cases. Historically, however, this wasn’t always the case. Courts in the past often relied upon what was known as the tender years doctrine, which presumed that the mother was best suited to raise a child during his or her early life. While most states (including Arizona) recognize that both parents generally have the right to custody and visitation, biases still remain. If you’re a father, you need committed legal counsel to ensure that you are treated with fairness and respect in the family court system. Count on Cohen Family Law to advocate for you.
Understanding Your Custody Rights As A Father
Both fathers and mothers have the equal right to parent their children. While courts can limit these rights, they cannot do so simply on the basis of a parent being the father. Under Arizona law, that means you, the father, have the equal right to:
Parenting time. A father can seek as much parenting time as he wants, including sole custody. Parenting time, sometimes called child custody, allows a parent to have meaningful and continuing contact with the child without having to worry that the other parent will interfere. Even if the other parent has sole decision-making authority (see below), the father has the right to parenting time. If the other parent obstructs the father’s time, the father can ask the court to impose sanctions upon the other parent.
Additionally, a father who is concerned for the well-being of his child can ask the court to limit the custody rights of the other parent. For example, the father can request supervised custody and parenting time if there is concern for the child’s well-being while with the other parent.
Legal decision-making. This is sometimes referred to as legal custody and refers to the parent’s power to make major decisions affecting the child, including those that impact the child’s education, healthcare, and religious upbringing. As with parenting time, a father has the right to seek equal (joint) decision-making authority or can request sole legal custody.
Parenting time and decision-making factors. The old tender years’ doctrine has been replaced with a gender-neutral principle known as the best interests of the child standard. Instead of making decisions based on whether the parent seeking time with or authority over the child is the mother or father, the court must determine what is in the child’s best interests. That requires weighing a number of factors regarding the child and the parents. The father has the right to offer evidence in court about himself and the other parent to demonstrate:
- Both parents’ relationships with the child
- The ability of both parents to help the child with school, home, and social life
- Both parents’ mental and physical health and parental fitness
- The child’s health or special needs and which parent is best suited to care for them
- Whether both parents will allow the child to have a positive relationship with the other parent
- Any evidence of child abuse, child neglect, or domestic violence
- Any evidence of parental alienation
- Whether either parent has intentionally made litigation more expensive or last longer than was necessary
- Whether either parent has refused to share legal decision-making as required
The court may consider other factors as the specific facts of the case dictate, and the father is free to introduce evidence relevant to such factors.
Parenting plan rights. Courts generally expect parents to suggest parenting plans, and the father has the right to propose one. While it is typically recommended that the parents work this out in mediation, if mediation is not successful the father can go to court and make his recommendation. Included in such a plan should be:
- Whether the father wants sole or joint legal decision-making
- Details about what the father wants as far as the child’s education, healthcare, religious upbringing, and more
- The father’s proposed parenting time schedule, including for holidays and vacation time
- How the father proposes to exchange the child with the other parent
- The father’s plan for communication with the other parent
There is other information the father will likely need to put forth, in consultation with his lawyer. The father should make it clear that the parenting plan is in the child’s best interests while acknowledging the rights of the other parent. The judge will ultimately decide any issues on which the parents do not agree.
Challenges Facing Fathers in Custody Disputes
Although fathers should have the equal right to parent and raise their children, in reality, this is not always the case. Not all family courts are as fair and impartial to fathers as they should be. Additionally, mothers sometimes fail to respect the rights of fathers to participate in their children’s lives.
These are a few specific challenges that fathers face in child custody matters:
Establishing paternity. When a child is born to parents who are married to each other, the husband is presumed to be the father. Not so when the parents are not married. The father must prove his paternity either by means of a court-ordered paternity test or the other parent’s voluntary acknowledgment before he has the right to parenting time or legal decision-making. The mother may resist efforts to establish paternity and thereby actively try to deny the father’s rights.
Denying parenting time and legal decision-making. Not all mothers care for the rights of fathers to spend time with their children or play an equal part in their upbringing. Even a court order does not always deter a mother who simply refuses to allow the father in the child’s life. You may need aggressive legal advocacy (which might include contempt proceedings) if you are experiencing such treatment from the child’s mother.
False allegations. Sadly, it is quite common for parents to level false claims of child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, unfitness to parent, and more against each other to gain an advantage in custody matters. Fathers, especially, are on the receiving end of such accusations. A mother may believe that the judge will automatically side with her in presenting these claims, so the father will need an attorney who is prepared to confront them.
Contact Our Phoenix Fathers’ Rights Attorney
Fathers deserve to be treated with dignity in our family courts and to have the mothers of their children respect their rights and follow court orders. If these are not happening for you, then it’s time to retain serious legal counsel. Our firm is here to represent you in your custody and other family law matters. Contact Cohen Family Law today.