Child Custody Decisions in Arizona

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 What is Custody?

Custody may be defined as a legal term referring to the right of a person to make decisions about the care and welfare of a child. For instance, decisions about education, health care, and religious training.

The parent with custody is often referred to as the “custodial parent.” In many cases, the child resides with the custodial parent majority of the time. Keep in mind that the law does not favor one form of custody over another, nor do they base their decisions on the sex of the parent.

What is Parenting Time?

Parenting time is a legal term referring to the opportunity for the child to spend time with the parent who does not have sole legal custody per Arizona laws. This parent is known as the “non-custodial parent.” Custody and parenting time problems often arise when parents request the court to dissolve the marriage or legal separation.

However, custody problems can also arise between parents who have never been married or no longer reside together. Custody and parenting time problems do not disappear after the divorce is finalized. In these circumstances, parents can disagree about who makes decisions impacting the child’s health, welfare, and education, where the child resides, and how much parenting time a non-custodial parent has.

Parents can agree about custody or parenting time. However, if the parents cannot agree and the Arizona legal system becomes involved, only the Superior Court may decide these issues.

What are the Different Types of Custody?

In sole custody, only one person has custody of the child. In this situation, the court orders that one parent be responsible for making the major decisions regarding the child’s care or welfare. Although both parents may discuss these matters, the parent designated by the court can decide if the parents do not agree.

Joint legal custody or joint physical custody means both parents share parental responsibilities. In most cases, both parents must agree to and submit a written parenting plan to the court to obtain an order for joint custody. In addition to sole custody, the law permits the court to grant joint legal and physical custody or both.

Legal custody refers to the status where one or both parents are responsible for making the major decisions relating to the child’s care or welfare. When legal custody is granted to one parent, it is referred to as “sole legal custody.” Remember that the law does not favor one form of custody over another.

When the court grants joint legal custody, each of the parents has equal rights to make decisions about the child’s care and welfare, and neither parent’s rights are superior to those of the other parent. In the child’s best interest, the court may direct that certain decisions be strictly made by only one parent, even when joint legal custody is awarded. The court may order joint legal custody without ordering joint physical custody.

How Does the Court Make its Custody Decision?

The Arizona Legal Aid states that if there is a custody dispute, the court sometimes refers the parents to internal court mediation services. This process allows the parents to reach an agreement regarding custody and related issues. However, if the parents cannot agree on custody, the court will decide for them.

Sometimes the court seeks professional advice from outside experts who evaluate the family situation or offer an opinion regarding custody. In some cases, the court also may order an investigation by a social service or other agency. In every case, the court’s priority is to examine custody decisions based on the child’s best interests.

What Does the Court Consider When Deciding What is in the Child’s Best Interests in Custody Disputes?

Arizona state law guides the courts by listing factors that the court should examine. These include things such as the wishes of the parents, the child’s wishes, how the child interacts with each parent and any other children in the family, and the health of each person involved. Furthermore, it consists of the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community, which parent primarily has provided care for the child in the past, and which parent is more likely to permit the child to have frequent and meaningful contact with the other parent.

Additionally, Arizona courts must consider whether there has been domestic violence in the family, drug or alcohol use by a parent, or other circumstances that may endanger the child’s physical, mental, emotional, or moral health. The court will assume that an award of custody to a parent who committed an act of domestic violence is contrary to the child’s best interests.

No matter which form of custody is ordered, both parents are entitled to the same access to all records related to their child unless such information’s release could endanger the child.

Are Parenting Time and Custody Related?

Arizona law provides that in most circumstances, a parent not awarded custody of the child is entitled to reasonable parenting time rights to ensure that the child has frequent and continuing contact with that parent. As a part of its custody order, the court can decide the amount of parenting time necessary for the child.

Even if parents share joint legal custody, the child may live primarily with one parent or share residential time with both parents, making it crucial to decide what parenting schedule should be ordered.

How Does the Court Make its Decision About Parenting Time?

If there is an issue with parenting time, the court sometimes refers the parents to court mediation services. This process provides the parents an opportunity to reach an agreement regarding parenting time and related disputes. However, the court must decide if the parties cannot agree on parenting time.

Sometimes the court seeks professional advice to examine the family’s situation or offer an opinion about parenting time. When making these decisions, the court will consider several factors, for instance, the age and health of the child, the time each parent has available from work or other obligations, the distance between the parent’s homes, the child’s school schedule and the suitability of living conditions in each parent’s home.

What is Mediation?

Mediation may be defined as the process by which parents attempt to agree on legal decision-making and parenting time for their child. Mediation generally consists of a trained professional (a “mediator”) who guides the discussion process between the parents and tries to reach a compromise with which both parents can agree. Mediation is not mandated for legal decision-making and parenting time cases in Arizona.

Mediation in domestic violence often does not work since one parent is fearful of the other and may not feel comfortable or safe disagreeing with the abusive parent. If you are or have been the victim of domestic violence, make it known to the judge. It is significant to note that Arizona law does not allow the judge to order joint counseling in a domestic violence situation. If the judge does so, you may be able to file a petition to prevent it. However, if you are a victim and choose to attend mediation, you can go to the mediation proceeding at a different time and location from the abuser.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you reside in Arizona and have child custody issues, do not hesitate to contact your local Arizona child custody attorney to assist you with your case.

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