Fathers have parenting rights under the U.S. Constitution and under Arizona law. Effectively asserting those rights in court, however, often requires the help of a father’s rights attorney.
Mothers and fathers have an equal legal opportunity for custody. Although statistically speaking more women will be the parent with whom the children live most of the time, there is good news for Dads who want more than a casual relationship with their kids. This trend is changing and in Arizona the law gives you equal footing!
Fathers are less likely to be discriminated against than in the past, at least with regard to their presumed lack of child-rearing abilities. Increasingly, the somewhat antiquated perception – that because of their sex all women are superior caregivers – is slowly giving way. That perception continues to unravel as more fathers go into family court with meaningful childcare experience. On equal footing, most fathers can handle the job, too.
There was a time when most Dads worked outside the home so stay-at-home Moms could care for the children. Family economics have changed. Today, there is nothing extraordinary about parents sharing childcare responsibilities equally because both work full-time or because he is a stay-at-home Dad. In the last decade or so, the norm has become one of sharing parental responsibilities. Whether a consequence of moral decisions, economic necessity, or lifestyle choice, times have changed for fathers and their children.
Many Arizona fathers are knowledgeable about childcare because they are very actively involved in their children’s daily lives. Parenting skills are important in custody cases. A father who desires sole or joint legal decision-making with substantial parenting time needs to show that he is, or can become, a parent the court can entrust with the children’s care. Why? Because it is in the children’s best interests.
Keep a parenting journal. Call and request our Arizona Parenting Journal now and begin documenting each day of Dad’s parenting time.
Family court proceedings involving child custody evaluators, mediators, and parenting coordinators, for instance, offer pathways intended to assist both the court and parents in determining what each child’s best interests are.
Court proceedings that impact children are commenced for a number of reasons:
• To dissolve a marriage by divorce, obtain a decree of legal separation with spouses remaining married, or annul the marriage;
• To establish paternity (before custody proceedings commence between unmarried couples, paternity must be acknowledged or proven);
• To establish parenting time and legal decision-making between spouses or unmarried parents;
• To obtain child support orders after calculations are made using the Arizona Child Support Guidelines;
• To consider dividing community property, assets and debts, in a way that is most beneficial to the children; and
• To determine spousal maintenance for the spouse who needs financial support, whether or not the children will reside with that parent most of the time.
Men who are adoptive or biological parents should navigate family court proceedings intelligently, while consistently asserting their fathers’ rights. Every custody proceeding offers opportunity to press a father’s positive agenda. Be prepared to match the mother’s case for custody factor-by-factor. Doing so is essential for a truly favorable result. Ready, set, match!
With an attorney’s assistance, father’s rights can be a powerful force in divorce negotiations and at trial should litigation become necessary. Take a closer look at the two alternatives: negotiation and litigation. When voluntary agreement is reached through negotiation, the parties’ attorneys write-up the agreed terms. The parenting plan agreement covers the children and the separation agreement covers everything else. The spouses sign and submit these agreements to the court. So long as there is no objection, these agreements will be included in the court’s final decree.
Trial only becomes necessary when parties are not in complete agreement. Always be mindful that litigation is expensive and costly, especially when a custody contest and ‘battle of the experts’ ensues. Trials are hard on parents and children alike. Ultimately, the judge must decide all outstanding issues which includes every detail of a permanent parenting plan and parenting time schedule.
How does a father persuade the judge that his proposed parenting plan is better for the child? Established caregiver patterns in the family (the status quo) and lingering bias against men having meaningful custody can combine to make the father’s case more challenging. But obtaining a preferred custody arrangement is achievable with four assets:
1. Careful planning;
2. A deliberate legal strategy;
3. Supporting evidence on every applicable child custody factor; and
4. Representation from an experienced divorce attorney.
Don’t leave the future you have with your children to chance. Get moving in the right direction by signing up for our free e-Custody Course. Self-paced, no pressure, lots of useful tips and information. (Like why fathers should log-off social networking websites during divorce and custody proceedings.)
Over prepare. Have a plan for every contingency. Before launching your A-Plan, obtain a copy of Getting Started – 7 Must-Do Items for Divorce Planning, our free eBook on first steps in Arizona divorce.
Most divorced parents today have joint legal decision-making and parenting time. More Dads are granted sole legal decision-making and 182 days or more of parenting time than their predecessors in previous decades. As the biological or adoptive parent, a father may exercise his constitutionally protected, fundamental right to rear his own child. In every Arizona custody case, the court must balance the best interests of the child against the father’s and mother’s liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Responsible fathers today aspire to develop and maintain strong bonds with their children. Some people still cling to old-fashioned views of fatherhood where Dads are tangentially involved with their kids, relegated to paying child support, weekend visitation, and gifting on birthdays, holidays, and special occasions.
Almost uniformly, the fathers we represent tell us they want to be fully engaged in their children’s lives. Our clients want to be with their children as much as possible. Fathers want to witness each child’s first step, first day of school, and high school graduation. They want to be there for the tiny day-to-day wonders, joys, sorrows, and mysteries of a child growing up.
Be forewarned. The father who does not vigorously enforce his parental rights may find himself emotionally and physically distanced from his child, perhaps even permanently. There could be negative consequences for the child, too. Obstructing Dad from having an active role in parenting can have a detrimental impact on the child’s behavior, education, and society. Children who have an involved father do better.
In applying Arizona’s statutory child custody factors set forth in A.R.S. § 25-403, the court must equally recognize and respect the father’s role. Attorneys with the Stewart Law Group pursue fair settlements on behalf of fathers in matters of custody, parenting time, and child support. We protect fathers’ parenting rights. And we believe strong family bonds between a father and his son or daughter are invaluable and irreplaceable.
Custody trends show improvement for fathers desiring substantial parenting time with their children on balance with the mother’s. And that’s great! In Phoenix today, we see nothing extraordinary about fathers who, through custody proceedings and parenting agreements, solidify their roles in caring for and raising their children. Things are getting better.
Courts continue to acknowledge fathers’ rights by awarding joint custody, equal parenting time, and sole custody to Dads. This does not mean obtaining a desirable custody arrangement is an easy row to hoe for men, because it isn’t. Child custody proceedings are uniquely challenging. Talk to an attorney.
On the flip side of custody is child support. Fathers still carry the bulk of child support responsibilities. Using formulas in the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, the amount to be paid is tied to both parents’ gross income, parenting time, and child care expenses, among other things.
In any Arizona divorce, legal separation, or break-up involving children, or to petition for modification of custody or child support orders, it is crucial that you meet with an experienced fathers’ rights attorney. As your kid’s Dad, you need to discuss a legal strategy with solutions that work for you and meet your child’s needs.
There are many reasons fathers request modified court orders affecting their children. With child support, any job loss, pay cut, or disability could materially impact the obligor’s ability to pay. Daycare expenses increase, health insurance premiums go up, a parent remarries and has another child. Circumstances change.
Either parent can petition to modify child custody orders. The parent who wants to relocate the child to another state, for instance, can file a relocation petition to modify the parenting plan.
Fathers frequently seek modified child support or custody orders. Again, over-preparation is key. Be ready to explain and substantiate why modification is needed and to bolster those reasons with facts, testimony, documentation, and other relevant evidence.
Are dark clouds looming ahead of your ability to keep up with child support? Are you already behind on payments? Be proactive. Petition for modified support orders before accumulating even greater arrears. You will have to pay child support arrears, but as of the filing of the petition, the amount could be favorably adjusted. The court may grant a temporary or permanent reduction (or increase). By not filing, you could be held in contempt for violating the court’s support order.
Importantly, do not rely on some informal agreement with the child’s mother to reduce or stop child support payments. That is a matter for the judge to decide, not the parents. Protect yourself. Any attempt to work out a deal with the mother outside the judicial system will leave you exposed to contempt and, possibly, jail time. Always use proper procedures to modify child support orders!
How will you manage expenses during and after the divorce? Your community property share is half the marital assets along with half the marital debt. What costs will be assessed to you? Will you be ordered to pay all or a portion of your spouse’s attorney fees? Will you be ordered to pay child support? What happens if your separate property is shown to have been transmuted, commingled, or gifted to the community and divided? Do you have a strategy for custody of your kids?
For the best possible outcome, fathers need to develop an aggressive legal strategy that is all encompassing. Of course, nothing can replace specific legal advice, but there is much you can do in the way of self-help. To put that best foot forward, obtain the book of Arizona Child Custody Essentials: What Every Parent Needs to Know, by attorneys Scott David Stewart and Amy E. Dohrendorf.
The first property question is often about the couples’ marital residence in Phoenix, Chandler, Scottsdale, Peoria, or elsewhere in the Valley. Who stays in the marital home and who leaves? If the father wants to keep the house and live there, then that is precisely what he should do. By vacating the premises, he could unwittingly make things more difficult for himself from a negotiating standpoint.
For Dads who want their children to reside primarily with them, which parent stays in the marital home could be a very important issue, depending upon the circumstances. Seldom are judges keen on moving children out of their home when the kids are doing fine right where they are. When the status quo is working, the court is less inclined to change the children’s primary residence unless it is shown to be necessary. (As when there is domestic violence, for example.)
That is but one issue to strategize among many discussed in the Men’s Arizona Divorce Playbook: Winning Divorce Strategies and Co-Parenting Survival Guide, by the firm’s founder, attorney Scott David Stewart.
For most Dads, co-parenting under Arizona custody law is uncharted territory. Are you ready for family court proceedings? Are your prepared to negotiate where the children will live, how marital property will be split, and who shall pay which debts? Do you have a parenting time plan? Where are you going to live? How will you manage finances without your spouse’s income? Many fathers need help coping with the stress of divorce. You are not alone.
We have represented a lot of fathers over the years. In that time, we have repeatedly observed how beneficial counseling can be for clients. (And for their spouses, too!)
Here’s what we mean by counseling for men:
• Marriage counseling is an opportunity for spouses to try and iron out problems together, maybe even suspend divorce proceedings to give them additional time to reconcile.
• Divorce counseling helps the individual learn coping skills designed to help him through the family court proceedings. And with adjusting to life after divorce. Divorce counseling is a bit like sending for reinforcements from within. Some men prefer group therapy, others prefer private counseling sessions. Choose the route that is most beneficial for you personally, but do so before the stress of divorce gets to be too much.
There is one universal truth about divorce. It is a tremendous drain on mind, body, spirit, and wallet. Armed with copings skills learned from professional counselors, Dads are better equipped to keep their emotions in check, to stay well mentally and physically, and to remain focused on what is most important to them – their children’s best interests.
Divorce and co-parenting cases, particularly, can be extremely emotional and a very turbulent time for the parties and their children. Reactions to breaking up differ from one person to the next, which is to be expected. Great fortitude is needed to push on daily with a normal routine while the case is pending.
Mental health problems, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, child abuse and neglect, and domestic violence are not restricted to one sex or the other. Be watchful for any warning signs that the other parent poses a risk to you or the children. Restraining orders prohibit the defendant from getting close to or contacting the victim because of alleged domestic violence, stalking, cyberstalking, or harassment. If the opposing party is violent, or threatens violence, contact police and seek an order of protection (OOP) from the court.
What does the order of protection prohibit the defendant from doing? The OOP orders the defendant to stay away from the victim, prohibiting contact and communication. Adults and children may be named victims in the OOP, which is valid for a year unless the court quashes or modifies it. The defendant can be arrested for violating the OOP, even when the victim initiated the contact! The court could prohibit the defendant from possessing, receiving, or purchasing firearms or ammunition while the OOP is in effect. When served with the OOP, defendant will have to surrender all firearms to law enforcement immediately or within 24 hours.
The ex parte OOP addresses a threat of imminent harm where immediate protection is needed. The ex parte order is temporary until a timely hearing can be held. At the hearing, the court could make the OOP permanent. In family court, one parent’s OOP against the other will have an impact on child custody proceedings.
In determining custody, domestic violence, child abuse or neglect are factors for the court to consider in determining what is in the child’s best interests. Another factor the judge must consider is whether a parent was convicted of making false reports of child abuse or child neglect. A.R.S. § 13-2907.02.
Unfortunately, a father is sometimes falsely accused of domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect by the other parent. If deliberately made and intentionally false, then trumped-up charges are an ugly attempt at obtaining unfair advantage in custody proceedings. We have represented many fathers in this situation.
When a father is falsely accused by the mother and there is no factual basis for any alleged abuse, strong swift legal advocacy is needed to prevent long-lasting harm to the father-child relationship. Do not make matters worse by violating the OOP. Instead, immediately contact a father’s rights lawyer in Phoenix.
Child custody strategy 101 – “Every father must have a parenting plan.” Always give best efforts negotiating terms for co-parenting. When spouses do not have a parenting plan agreement, both must submit a proposed parenting plan to the court. The judge will compare the two plans, consider the evidence on each custody factor along with expert testimony, and make a final determination.
Custody cases frequently involve third party professionals and experts. Mental health professionals, educational specialists, and forensic child custody evaluators, among others, may assist the court and the parents with determining what is in the child’s best interests. Our father’s rights attorneys are strong litigators and well-versed in dealing with courtroom antics from opposing counsel. We’ll be ready.
Father’s may voluntarily acknowledge paternity, but doing so without proof the man is indeed the child’s biological father could be problematic and costly. Paternity can be established with great certainty through scientific, court-approved DNA testing. We can help the putative father establish paternity or, as is sometimes necessary, contest paternity. Establishing paternity, that you are the child’s biological father, is necessary before asserting any legal rights as a parent.
How difficult is it for a father to move away and relocate with his children over the other parent’s objection? Can virtual visitation really work? What can be done to optimize long-distance parenting time? Who pays the added travel costs when the mother relocates with the children over 100 miles away or out-of-state?
We have seen firsthand the painful impact the mother’s decision to relocate the child often has on non-custodial fathers. Is the mother planning to move far away or planning to leave Arizona with your child? Talk to an attorney about father’s legal rights under Arizona child relocation law. A.R.S. § 25-408.
Mediation is a non-adversarial form of alternative dispute resolution. When mediation is successful in helping participants agree on a parenting plan, they avoid a courtroom battle over custody. In Arizona, attorneys do not attend mediation. However, attorneys with the Stewart Law Group go the extra mile in preparing clients with mediation packets that help clarify the specific issues being mediated. By doing so, we believe each father gets a little closer to achieving his main goal. That is, optimal involvement in his child’s life.
In most divorces, a father’s custody strategy will play out differently than the mother’s. You need to stay on your toes. Don’t get blindsided. Know what to expect from the other parent’s lawyer and trust in yours.
Attorneys with the Stewart Law Group diligently protect father’s rights in divorce, paternity establishment, child relocation, modification of custody and support, and related court proceedings. We are passionate about helping Dads build and maintain strong bonds with their sons and daughters.
Contact us today at (602) 548-3400 for our expertise in father’s rights matters. Our law offices are located throughout Arizona, in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Chandler, Glendale, Mesa, Peoria, Tempe & Gilbert.
For more information on Family Law and Child Custody in Arizona click to review the following Articles and Resources: