Question: I am getting ready to file paper work to gain equal custody of my daughter.. But I am not married. I was curious as too my rights until the paperwork is finished and what I need to do to get the ball rolling
Answer: Your question does not indicate whether you are the presumed father (due to acknowledgment, genetic testing or presence on the birth certificate), and it does not disclose whether court proceedings are already in progress - although you imply that they are not.
Assuming that you have taken no steps toward establishing your paternity and no legal action is pending, you should file a petition under A.R.S. §§ 25-801 to 818. In this petition, you can ask for a judicial determination that you are the legal parent of the child, and you can also seek a custody and parenting time decree. You will also expose yourself to the potential of paying child support if you are determined to be the father.
Under A.R.S. § 13-1302(B), the custodial interference (criminal) statute, the mother is considered to be the legal custodian of a child born out of wedlock until some alternative custody decree is entered by the family law judge. Also, A.R.S. § 25-803(D) provides that once paternity is established, the parent with whom the child has resided for the majority of the preceding six months shall exercise legal custody until further order of the court. You should *not* construe that last provision as a gilded invitation to grab the kid, and hide him for six months. Not only would you risk a felony indictment for custodial interference (see above), but the fact that you withheld the child from his mother could be used as evidence against you during the final custody determination. See A.R.S. § 25-403(A)(6) .
Be smart. Follow the rules, submit your petition, and prepare a good faith, honest argument for why you should participate in major life decisions affecting your child. That attitude will score more points with the judge than "under the table" tactics that many people unfortunately adopt in these types of cases.
June 26, 2007