Child Custody in Arizona
What we now use are “decision-making authority” and “parenting time.”
These two terms replace “legal custody” and “physical custody” respectively. You can find the statutes on this here (and the statutes immediately following).
The current situation regarding child custody can best be analyzed as “what is in the child’s best interest.”
It is assumed that the child will benefit by having frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with each parent.
Unless there is something wrong with a parent, always start your analysis with the involvement of both parents. Under A.R.S. §25-403.02,
“Consistent with the child’s best interests . . . the court shall adopt a parenting plan that provides for both parents to share legal decision-making regarding their child and that maximizes their respective parenting time.”
The paramount consideration for the court will always be what is in the child’s best interest. The court is required to put the child first. You should do the same.
There are two sides to “custody.”
The first is “legal decision-making authority.”
That means who decides what school the children attend (or daycare), what doctor or dentist the child sees and what religion the child is raised in.
Usually, the parties can exercise joint legal decision-making authority unless there are substantial personal issues.
The other side to “custody” is “parenting time.”
Parenting Time is the one most people think about. Parenting Time addresses where the children will live.
We previously called this “physical custody.” Don’t mix the two up.
Legal decision-making can be “joint” when the parties share equal time with the children or where one party almost never sees the children.
The two theories are not necessarily exclusive.
Now, in analyzing what is in the child’s best interest, keep in mind that the court will be attempting to “maximize” each parent’s time with the child.
What is “maximize”? If either parent has less time with the child than the other parent, their time has not necessarily been “maximized.”
That won’t always be the case though.
If the parents don’t live close enough to each other to allow them to share equal time then “maximizing” each parent’s time with the children could result in one or the other having more time with the child.
If it is logistically feasible to share equal time with the child and it is in the child’s best interest, then expect that to be the outcome.
There is no support for the idea that Arizona courts favor mothers over fathers or vice versa.
Our courts do the best they can to order what will be in the child’s best interest.
However, our courts can only enter orders based on the information (evidence) presented to them. Litigating child custody can be very complex and protracted.
If you forget to include necessary evidence, you can unfavorably impact the outcome.
Child custody litigation can be very expensive.
In many cases, the parties will agree or the court will order the completion of a “custody evaluation” or similar report.
Since January 1, 2013, this evaluation concerns “legal decision-making” and “parenting time”, but for these purposes the term “custody evaluation” is used.
The evaluation can be very expensive. If the opposing party makes allegations against you, you must respond. Keep in mind, the court will make orders based on what is presented.
If you allow negative information to be presented against you without response, you risk the court entering orders based upon what may be incorrect information.
Knowing this, you should recognize that the other side can increase your costs.
Children are probably the single most important consideration in our lives.
Because of this, it is imperative that the court orders regarding your legal decision-making and parenting time are correct.
Unlike many other areas of law, the orders regarding your children cannot be entirely corrected. The children only have one childhood so you need to insure that the orders are right the first time.
The benefit of having an attorney represent you in child custody litigation cannot be overstated.
Both you and your children will benefit by involving an attorney.