Arizona State Laws: Title 13 Custody for Unwed Mothers

By Jennifer F. Bender

Mother and newborn

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Arizona state law clearly outlines the requirements for parental custody. The legislature grants unwed mothers custody of a child without any legal action. These rights allow the unwed mother to make decisions regarding the child's living arrangements and welfare without consulting the child's biological father. This custody arrangement can later be challenged by a paternity action or court action for custody.

Presumed Custody

Arizona state law, Title 13 Section 1302 (B), states, "If a child is born out of wedlock, the mother is the legal custodian of the child for the purposes of this section until paternity is established and custody or access is determined by a court." This legislation gives the unwed mother sole custody of her child without pursuing any legal action. This gives her the ability to make all decisions regarding the child's well being. An unwed mother can also seek child support from the child's biological father without obtaining a custody order for the child.

Custody Orders

Custody orders give a parent the right to make decisions concerning a child and ensure the child can legally live with him. In Arizona, custody orders are not required. The legal parents can raise a child without them. If no custody orders exist, the courts presume the legal parents share equally in both making decisions for their child and the child's living arrangements. An unwed mother may pursue formal custody orders if the biological father is pursuing custody rights of the child. This will further ensure the unwed mother's formal rights.

Presumed Paternity

An unwed mother's custody of her child may be challenged if a father's paternity is presumed in a case. Arizona law presumes paternity when a DNA test states there is at least a 95-percent likelihood he is the father. It also occurs when both parents sign the birth certificate of a child born to an unmarried woman. The final presumption occurs when the parents voluntarily acknowledge paternity in a signed statement that is notarized or witnessed. Even with the presumption, a judge can rule against paternity if he finds clear and convincing evidence the man is not the father.

Court Ordered Paternity

Custody for unwed mothers can also be challenged if the court orders paternity. Arizona law orders paternity if the father files a response admitting paternity. Court-ordered paternity also occurs when the court orders DNA tests and the tests show either a 95-percent or more likelihood of paternity or the father fails to take the DNA test. Finally, the court can order paternity if the father fails to respond to court papers or appear in court.