Exploring the Practice Areas of Child Custody Law in Arizona

Areas of Practice in Child Custody Law
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Child custody matters are among the most emotional and consequential areas addressed by the family courts in Arizona. If you are seeking a divorce or modification to your current child custody agreement, it is important to have legal representation from a child custody lawyer who understands child custody laws in Arizona. Child custody could involve a range of topics like parenting time and custody, grandparent’s 3rd party rights, and paternity.

Child Custody Basics

A child custody determination is often made by the courts during divorces when the divorcing spouses have children. The courts may also determine child custody issues when a biological father who was not married to the mother seeks legal and custody rights to his child.

Child custody is divided into matters of legal custody and physical custody – known as legal decision-making rights and parenting time in Arizona. Legal custody refers to the right to make important decisions on behalf of a child. One parent may be given sole custody of legal matters. This means that they do not have to confer with the other parent when deciding on medical treatments, religious training, and other important areas. When parents are given joint custody over legal matters, they must agree before important changes are made.

Physical custody deals with the caretaking of children – better known as parenting time. Like legal custody, physical custody can be joint or sole. Joint custody means that both parents share physical time with their children. Sometimes, that is done on a 50-50 basis. Other times, one parent may have more possession and access to the other parent.

Unless there are proven instances of child neglect, abuse, or abandonment, Arizona’s family courts emphasize the importance of shared parenting time where children can spend meaningful time with both parents.

When parents can come to an agreement on parenting time and custody, the courts generally honor those agreements. When parents cannot agree on child custody, the matter may go to mediation, or a judge may ultimately decide parenting schedules based on Arizona child custody laws. If you have questions about custody issues related to your case, a child custody attorney can explain what your rights are under Arizona law.

Grandparents’ Third-Party Rights

Just like parents, grandparents share special bonds with their grandchildren. Grandparents can play an important and vital role in childrearing, and the courts recognize that third-party rights can be enforced in certain circumstances. Arizona family courts allow grandparents to petition for parenting time, visitation, and decision-making rights.

Grandparents’ Third-Party Rights

However, parents must navigate extra legal hurdles. The court must determine that protecting these third-party rights is in the interest of the grandchildren. One way you may be able to do this with the help of an attorney is to demonstrate that your role as a grandparent fills in for the absent parent. The courts may determine that the current living arrangement of the child is detrimental to the child.

A grandparent may be able to successfully petition the courts for third-party rights if one of the biological parents dies. Any living biological parents will have the opportunity to support or object to the petition. The courts generally consider the motivation of grandparents and the motivation of biological parents during these types of custody cases.

Although filing for third-party rights over grandchildren may seem daunting, it is worth consulting with a child custody Arizona lawyer if you believe having court-enforced rights to visit and participate in the child-rearing of your grandchild is in the interest of your grandchild.

Parenting Time and Custody

If you are currently facing a divorce or contemplating filing for divorce, you and your spouse must submit a parenting plan to the courts during the divorce process. The courts will want to see that you and your soon-to-be ex have a plan in place for co-parenting after the divorce. The parenting plan documents specifics about visitation rights and custody.

The document will contain information about how decisions are to be made. If the parents have legal joint custody, the plan would likely state that each parent should consult the other parent before making important decisions on healthcare, education, and religious studies.

Although agreeing on the specifics of a parenting plan may be difficult at first, the plans ultimately provide clarity and guidance on important matters. A well-constructed parenting plan can prevent the need for relitigation years later.

well-constructed parenting plan


Biological fathers have protected rights to meaningful access to their children. Visitation rights and other privileges often require that fathers establish paternity and fulfill other steps through Arizona’s family courts. Paternity can be established when the mother and father agree on who the father is and either name him on the child’s birth certificate or submit a paternity affidavit. If needed, a paternity test can establish conclusively that a man is the biological father of a child.

Establishing paternity comes with rights and responsibilities. Once the courts acknowledge that a man is the child’s father, he will likely be given rights to meaningful access to and possession of his child. The father may also have financial obligations to pay, such as child support.

It is not uncommon for either parent to resist establishing paternity. If needed, the courts may set a hearing to move the paternity process forward or settle the matter. It is a sad reality that sometimes fathers face barriers when trying to plan an active role in the lives of their children. With the right legal representation, fathers can determine paternity and enjoy meaningful rights to see their children.

If you are seeking paternity rights for your child, a paternity attorney can guide you through the process. We regularly help mothers and fathers who are dealing with paternity issues through the courts.


When one parent moves farther away or out of state, the resulting situation can make a parenting plan untenable. Parenting plans can be modified when there has been a significant change to the living situation of either parent. It is important to note that the terms of most divorce decrees and parenting plans may require either parent to seek approval before moving out of state. In addition, the state of Arizona requires a parent to provide 45 days’ notice before moving out of state or over 100 miles away from the other parent. The other parent then has the right to object and ask the court to determine whether a move is in the child’s best interests.

If one parent moves and does not exercise their rights to visitation for a significant period of time, the courts may view that relocation as an unfavorable sign. The parent who cared for their children during that time period may be given expanded legal or physical rights in those circumstances.

In other situations, both parents may agree on a new parenting plan that is more realistic, given the distance the parents live apart. Whatever the reason, modifying a parenting plan should be done with the help of an experienced family law attorney who understands the long-term implications of changing the terms of a parenting plan.

Child Custody Modifications

Beyond the relocation of one parent, there are many reasons why changing a child custody plan makes sense. The courts will want to see that there has been a significant change in the lives of the parents and children that necessitates a child custody modification.

One common reason that a child support order may need to be updated is if the earning capacity of one parent has significantly changed. In order for the court to approve a change in child support, the person seeking the adjustment would need to bring financial documents proving that there has been a substantial loss of income.

Another reason that a parent may seek a modification of child support is if there have been significant changes to parenting time arrangements. Child support is based, in part, on the presumption that the parent who spends more time raising children incurs higher costs. The cost of clothing, feeding, and providing for children is often proportional to the amount of time the parent has custody of their child or children.

Child Custody Modifications

When one parent takes on significantly more time in child-rearing, they may have a reasonable argument that they are either entitled to child support or should have their child support obligations reduced.

A serious illness could also affect who should pay child support. A parent who was able to earn a gainful income could lose their job and require financial support from others. In those cases, the courts may decide that the ill person cannot reasonably be expected to pay their previous levels of child support.

Child Support

Before child support can be modified, it must be established. Child support is not a given in a divorce court, but it is a common outcome. The courts consider several factors when determining child support. One is the amount of time that the mother and father will spend caring for the child. If one parent spends significantly more time raising a child, they may reasonably require financial assistance from the other parent.

Income is another factor. Child support is intended to add a level of parity to the living conditions of both home environments. When one parent earns significantly more than the other, the courts may have concerns that the home of the lower-earning parent may not have adequate resources to ensure that the child is provided for.

Although there are no hard and fast rules about when child support is ordered and what amount will ultimately be paid, these are the two largest factors that the courts generally consider when ordering child support. The court will use a child support calculator with the given information to determine a starting point.

Child Custody FAQs

Child custody issues can be highly emotional for both parents. Ideally, both parents should work together toward a common parenting plan that puts the interests of the child first. If you have questions about any area of child custody law, we’re here to help.

Does a Judge Have to Decide Child Custody?

No. The courts encourage parents to come to a consensus on many issues of child custody law. As long as those agreements do not violate any law, a judge will likely approve parenting plans and other important areas of child custody that both parties agree to. When both parties cannot agree on important child custody matters, a judge will make a ruling that keeps the child’s interest in mind.

Can I Ask for Modifications After My Divorce Is Settled?

Unless there has been a substantial change to your life situation or that of your ex-spouse, the courts may not approve a modification. Minor issues like small changes in income or frustration with the other parent may not rise to the level where a judge considers a modification to be reasonable. Your attorney can provide legal counsel on whether your request for modification would likely be honored by the court.

What Happens If My Ex Violates the Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree, once signed by both parties and a judge, is enforceable through the courts. You may have to hire an attorney to file a motion for enforcement, but the courts can compel your ex to follow the divorce decree. Non-payment of child support and violations of child exchange orders are serious violations.

When evidence is submitted correctly by a child custody lawyer, a judge may find your ex to be in contempt of court. The penalties could include fines, court-ordered community service, and potential jail time.

What If My Child Doesn’t Want to Live With the Other Parent?

Arizona’s family courts encourage both parents to exercise meaningful time with their children. Children and teenagers may have thoughts and opinions on which parent they prefer to spend time with, but the courts do not take this as a primary consideration. Unless there is provable abuse, neglect, or abandonment, the courts generally award and enforce parenting time to both parents. That does not mean that every case will result in 50-50 custody.

Schedule Your Child Custody Consultation Today

Schedule Your Child Custody Consultation Today

Child support, visitation schedules, and other areas related to child custody can have far-reaching implications for your personal and professional life. Any decisions made in this area should be made in close consultation with a trusted family law firm.

At The Valley Law Group, our attorneys provide top-notch legal services to Arizonans facing divorce and other child custody situations. Our award-winning attorneys understand the challenges parents, grandparents, and others face when dealing with custody issues in Arizona’s family courts. Contact us today to experience the difference of having the right law firm in your corner.




  1. IMPORTANT WARNING ON THE LIMITATIONS OF THIS GUIDE. (n.d.). https://www.azcourts.gov/portals/31/parentingTime/PPWguidelines.pdf 
  2. ‌25-403 – Legal decision-making; best interests of child. (n.d.). Www.azleg.gov. https://www.azleg.gov/ars/25/00403.htm

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