When unmarried parents have a child together, the father has no legal parenting rights until he goes to court to secure them.
Over the years, I have represented a lot of fathers living apart from mother and child who have not asserted their parenting rights. Without realizing, the father often finds himself lacking the relationship with his child that he really wants. But he does not take action because he does not know what to do.
The father may not realize that he has no legal parenting rights until something happens with the mother. She may becomes unavailable due to illness or incarceration. Or DCS may become involved because of a call made to them.
When the father finds himself at that crossroads, he should contact an attorney. He may need an attorney experienced in dependency law (DCS cases), family law or criminal law. Sometimes only only one or two areas of law apply, sometimes all three do.
The father’s attorney will guide him through the best course of action to assert his rights. Maybe filing a Special Paternity (SP) Petition is sufficient to get the ball rolling, particularly where DCS is not involved. Judges in Arizona generally favor finding for equal rights and parenting time between the mother and father.
If DCS takes custody of the child, the father will benefit from finding an attorney immediately. That attorney can attend a Team Decision Meeting (TDM), where strengths, concerns and resources are discussed before DCS decides whether or not to file a Dependency Petition. If DCS does file a Dependency Petition, the father’s attorney can prepare for the Preliminary Protective Hearing (PPH) to request placement and best protect the father’s interests.
In any event, an experienced attorney can be very helpful to get a father moving in the right direction. Calling an attorney is the best first step a father can take to insure his relationship with his child.