The Arizona Republic
A bill to give equal custody rights to unwed fathers may be built on good intentions, but the potential for negative unintended consequences is unacceptably high. There are better ways to pursue the goal.
Prime sponsor Sen. Rick Murphy describes the bill, SB1202, as an effort to address inequity.
“Absentee mothers can come back into the picture after years of absence, disrupt their children from a stable home with their father, and still have all the legal rights and be presumed by law to be the best custodian of the child,” Republican Murphy said by e-mail.
Ironically, that is a mirror image of the scenario envisioned by opponents of this bill. They say it will enable fathers to disrupt the lives of children, including those for whom they previously expressed no interest.
What’s more, advocates for victims of domestic violence say giving a man custody rights based solely on paternity could provide an abusive man with powerful legal leverage after a woman has fled a violent situation.
This bill would leave domestic violence victims “extremely vulnerable,” says Jessye Johnson of the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Statement by Kaine Fisher, head of RLG Family Law Dept.: “I would be supportive of a measure that extended that even further. At some point I think the law should evolve to mandate that judges start off with a presumption that equal parenting time should be awarded to both parents, and then a party could overcome this presumption using the best interest factors in ARS 25-403 to deviate to something different than that. Certainly there are some circumstances that require a primary parent and this should be an option, but the adage that mothers are best suited to raise children has slowly, over time, become outdated and archaic. Not sure if this will ever happen but the movement has grown strong across the country and appears to be rapidly gaining support.”