Co-parenting can be tough for many families after a separation or divorce. Due to unique circumstances, a custodial parent who shares a home with the child may choose to deny visitation rights to the non-custodial parent. When visitation is withheld, it can cause conflict between parents and in some cases, can result in serious legal repercussions. In Arizona, visitation agreements are legally binding and if either parent should breach the terms of the legally binding contract, he or she may be in violation of the court order.
Arizona Child Custody Laws
When two parents separate or file for divorce, they do not always agree on child custody arrangements. Many parents have different opinions on what is in the best interest of the child which can cause tension between parents and strain on the children involved. In Arizona, judges typically consider a number of factors when determining visitation, such as the child’s preference (if age appropriate), the relationship between each parent and child, the child and parents’ physical and mental health, and the child’s adjustment to home, school, and the community.
In Arizona, child custody arrangements generally fall into two main categories: parenting time (physical custody) and legal decision-making (legal custody). If the child lives with one parent more than 50 percent of the time, they usually retain physical custody and act as the custodial parent. This means that the other parent is the non-custodial parent and is awarded with reasonable parenting time. The court may also allow for joint decision-making instead of awarding physical custody to one or both parents. In this situation, the court will assist in developing a parenting time schedule for each parent.
Legally Binding Agreements
As of January 1, 2013, Arizona no longer uses the term ‘custody’ in regard to child custody agreements post-separation or divorce. Instead, the term is now referred to as ‘legal decision-making authority’. The court can decide to allow both parties to have legal decision-making authority or can award one parent with legal decision making authority. To make this decision, the court will consider what is in the best interest of the child. Joint legal-decision-making permits both parents to work together to make decisions about a child and sole decision-making is when one parent makes decisions.
When issues with a visitation schedule or parenting plan arise, one parent may decide to deny visitation rights to the other parent. There are many reasons why a custodial parent may withhold visitation from the other parent, such as retaliation for the non-custodial parent’s actions, belief that the non-custodial parent is not providing proper care for the child, feeling angry or slighted after the divorce, when the non-custodial parent does not pay child support, or when the non-custodial parent does not uphold his or her end of the visitation schedule.
Regardless of the reason why a custodial parent may want to deny visitation rights to the other parent, it is considered unlawful in Arizona to withhold visitation from the non-custodial parent. If issues arise, it is important for the custodial parent not to take matters into his or her own hands, but rather to address the problem through the family court system or in certain circumstances, the local police. If the custodial parent feels as if the visitation schedule is being frequently disrupted, he or she should petition the court to have the visitation schedule enforced or to make necessary changes.
Father’s Legal Rights in Arizona
Child custody laws in Arizona now recognize the equal rights of fathers during a separation and divorce, meaning mothers no longer receive favorable treatment in custody cases, whether married or not. However, unmarried fathers do not automatically have rights in Arizona. First, an unmarried father must establish paternity of the child. Under A.R.S. § 25-814, a male is presumed to be the father of a child if:
- He and the child’s mother were married for at least ten months immediately preceding the child’s birth or if the child is born within ten months of the marriage being terminated by annulment, invalidity, declaration, dissolution, or death.
- The mother and father sign a birth certificate of a child born out of wedlock.
- Genetic testing affirms that there is at least a 95 percent chance of paternity.
- The mother and father sign a witnessed or notarized statement acknowledging paternity.
Without establishing paternity, the court will not issue parenting time or legal decision-making authority to the father. In addition, an unwed mother who has an oral agreement pertaining to visitation can deny visitation rights at any time if the father has not established paternity and there is no evidence of the agreement. Keeping the child without established paternity could result in a criminal charge of custodial interference.
Speak with a Family Law Attorney
Arizona court does not generally allow a custodial parent to legally deny visitation rights to a non-custodial parent. However, there are unique circumstances in which this may be the appropriate action, such as if the non-custodial parent has seriously abused or harmed the child, or otherwise put the child’s physical or emotional health in serious danger.
Before taking any legal steps regarding child custody or visitation rights, it is always best to consult with an Arizona family law attorney about your rights. To discuss your case or to schedule a consultation with a qualified family law attorney, contact the experienced legal team at JacksonWhite Law today.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.