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Paternity and child custody: Equal rights for fathers in Arizona?

A somewhat controversial bill is currently making its way through the Arizona legislature. It addresses child custody in circumstances where a child is born out of wedlock and seeks to change current law which gives a mother full legal custody until paternity is legally established.

The problem is that a paternity determination takes time and potentially gives a mother the opportunity to take unfair action to the detriment of the father. The proposed legislation seeks to give fathers equal rights of child custody where the parties have agreed on paternity or the father's name appears on the child's birth certificate. In cases where a child is born to a married couple, each parent is automatically awarded equal custodial rights.

Opponents of the proposal indicate that it conflicts with a current Arizona statute that establishes a child custody preference for the parent with whom the child has lived for the greater part of the previous six months. Further, others complain the statute places undue stress on schools to make judgment calls about parental rights. And still others worry that the proposal may give rights to a father who has been out of the picture for years but whose name appears on the child's birth certificate.

Nevertheless, the child custody bill has already passed the Arizona Senate and is headed for the House. While it remains to be seen if the proposal is enacted into law, its sponsor indicated that any final bill sent to the governor for signature would include changes intended to address unintended consequences behind the bill. Those potentially affected may benefit by becoming familiar with the issues and follow the legislation's progress as it works its way through the halls of government.

Source: azcentral.com, "Senator: Expand fathers' custody," Alia Beard Rau, March 8, 2012

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