In a divorce or separation, legal issues surrounding children are among the most complicated and emotionally contentious. Parenting time (often known as physical custody) and legal decision-making rights (often known as legal custody) in Arizona are issues that may be settled by parents through negotiation or may need to be argued in court. In many custody cases, both parents want what is best for their children. However, parents may disagree on what that is, or there may be serious issues at play.
When possible, Arizona courts prefer that children spend equal time with both parents. Equal parenting time is not automatic, however, nor is it a presumption made by Arizona courts. If a parent proves to the court that the other parent is engaging in certain actions and behaviors that are not in the child’s best interests, the court may limit or remove their right to custody and visitation.
It’s important that parents understand the laws regarding equal parenting time. In some situations, equal time is a beneficial outcome for you and your children. If you and your spouse are able to create a parenting plan outside of court, it can save you time and energy. Whether you’re advocating for a custody plan through mediation or litigation, a child custody attorney is an invaluable asset.
Equal Parenting Time in ArizonaEqual parenting time is a custody arrangement where parents share legal and physical custody (decision-making rights and parenting time). It’s the goal of Arizona that both parents have equal time with their children if possible and if it’s in the child’s best interests. Equal parenting time and decision-making may not be perfectly 50-50, but the child spends roughly half of their time with each parent.
Legal custody is the ability of a parent to make legal decisions for a child, including healthcare decisions, educational determinations, and religious upbringing. In an equal parenting arrangement, both parents have a say in these important decisions. Arizona refers to legal custody as legal decision-making.
Physical custody, which is called parenting time in Arizona, refers to where a child lives or whose parents’ home is their primary residence. Shared parenting time is when both parents provide a home for their child, and the child spends equal time in both residences. The court approves a schedule for shared parenting time, and parents are expected to care for their children during their parenting time.
When parents have joint parenting time and decision-making, they both have equal time in their child’s life and co-parent for important decisions. Depending on the exact schedule and arrangement, both parents will have parental rights and responsibilities to their child at all times.
How Do You Enforce Parenting Time in Arizona?
In order to enforce parenting time, it must be a court order. If you and your co-parent determined custody through the court, then parenting time is already enforceable. If you and your spouse negotiated a parenting time and legal decision-making plan through mediation, then the agreement must be submitted to the court to be enforceable. The judge will review the agreement and ensure it is in the child’s interests and not unfair to either party and then enter it into the court as an order. Then, the order can be enforced if either parent fails to comply with the terms.
A court order can be enforced through law enforcement or by filing a motion with the court. Enforcing an agreement through law enforcement is likely to upset children. Filing a Motion to Enforce Parenting Time with the court may allow a parent to be held in contempt of court.
Do Unmarried Parents Have Equal Rights in Arizona?
If unmarried parents have established paternity for their child, then they have the same parental and custody rights to their child as a married couple. The court will still consider the child’s best interests to be the primary indicator of a desired parenting agreement. Paternity can be acknowledged with a signature by both parents or through a court hearing if one parent is unwilling to sign.
If paternity is not established, then the parent who gave birth to the child has sole parental rights and responsibilities.
The other biological parent has no legal rights or responsibilities until paternity is proven. This means that they have no right to visitation, custody, or adoption. They also have no responsibility for child support.
Once paternity is proven, then the court assumes both parents have equal parental rights and the responsibility to care for the child unless proven otherwise.
Is There a Presumption of Equal Parenting Time in Arizona?
There is not a presumption of equal parenting time in Arizona, but instead, an informal assumption by the court that equal parenting time is a beneficial solution if it’s in the child’s best interests. It is worth noting that Arizona’s Appellate Court ruled in a child custody case, Gonzales-Gunter v. Gunter, that there is no presumption of equal parenting time. Thus, the only official court policy is to maximize time with both parents, and this policy is not a legal presumption.
Under the policy to maximize parenting time if possible, parenting time should be:
Parenting time, according to this policy, should be maximized with both parents. This policy doesn’t refer to equal parenting time as an expectation.
However, even though there is no presumption of equal parenting time, a judge can order equal parenting time. It may be an informal assumption by the court that equal parenting time is beneficial to children. If both parents are able to care for their child, it is in the child’s interests, and equal parenting time is a feasible option, the court may order it.
If a parent wants to limit their co-parent’s parenting time, they must prove to the court that it’s not in the child’s best interests. Because the court policy is to maximize a child’s time with both parents, the burden of proof rests on the parent who wants to limit their co-parent’s time with the child.
What Is Rule 69 in Arizona?
A Rule 69 Agreement is a family law agreement that allows parties to negotiate their disputes through mediation. This is a significantly more private way of handling disputes like custody and parenting time and can be less stressful for both parents and children. Mediating a Rule 69 Agreement also prevents unnecessary expenses in litigation.
Negotiating an agreement between co-parents through the help of a third-party mediator shows that both parties can work together in their child’s interests. It also proves that they may be able to effectively manage and communicate during an equal parenting plan. These agreements may cover visitation, child support, parenting time, and legal decision-making. They may also cover other aspects of separation or divorce, such as spousal support and division of property.
Once a Rule 69 Agreement is drafted, it is read before the court. If the agreement is reasonable and in the child’s interest, the judge will approve the agreement. Then, only disputes that can’t be resolved through mediation will go through litigation.
Arizona Family Court and Parenting Time
The court primarily considers the best interests and welfare of the child when crafting a parenting plan.
The court determines the interests of the child based on several factors, including:
- The relationship between the child and both parents
- The mental and physical health of both parents
- The age, health, and developmental stage of the child
- The child’s connection with other family members, their home, school, and community
- Whether either parent has a continued substance misuse disorder
- The distance between each parent’s home
- How both parents are able to communicate with each other and their child
- The schedules, availability, and flexibility of both parents
- The child’s wishes, if appropriate
- Any history of child abuse or domestic violence
Whether the court requests the child’s input depends on whether the court considers their opinion to be an intelligent preference. Ultimately, the court will make the final decision. The court works to maximize the time that a child spends with each parent unless it goes against the child’s safety, welfare, and interests in one of the above categories.
The Arizona court generally prefers it when parents can work together to create a parenting plan, but that is not always possible. If you and your co-parent are able to show that you’re working in your child’s interests, even if you can’t work together, the court will likely prefer an equal parenting time plan. However, if you feel that your co-parent is unsafe or unable to care for your child, you must prove this to the court. The most effective way to advocate for your interests and your child’s interests is with a qualified child custody attorney.
At What Age Can a Child Refuse to See a Parent in Arizona?
A child can only refuse a court-ordered visitation or custody schedule when they turn 18. Before that time, the court may take into account a child’s preference, but it is not required to. If the court believes the child to be of suitable age and maturity in their preference, the child’s wishes are more likely to impact the court’s decision. The closer a child is to 18, the more likely their wishes will be considered in a parenting time and custody arrangement.
When Will the Court Negate Equal Parenting Time?
The court will consider it not in a child’s interest to award equal parenting time if certain serious behaviors on the part of one parent can be proven. Though the interests of a child are based on numerous factors, these actions or behaviors will severely limit the parenting time a co-parent is able to receive.
These behaviors include:
- Parental alienation
- Child neglect
- Significant substance use
- Child abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual)
- Criminal acts
- Domestic violence
Benefits of Equal Parenting Time in AZ
Most often, it is in the best interests of a child to spend quality and continued time with both of their parents. Equal parenting provides several psychological and developmental benefits for children than a sole custody arrangement.
There are several benefits to equal parenting time when it is in the child’s interest.
- Provides more stability and consistency in a child’s life
- Allows both parents to remain active in their child’s life
- Allows both parents to form strong relationships with their child
- Reduces conflict between parents
- Reduces the stress on parents
- Enables parents to enjoy breaks
- Enables children to become more adaptable
- Provides an increased standard of living and household resources
Challenges of Equal Parenting Time in AZ
There are also complications to an equal parenting plan, and not every family’s situation will allow for a parenting plan. It’s important to consider how your family’s ability to communicate and adapt will impact custody arrangements.
An equal parenting time plan requires the following:
- Effective communication between parents
- Thought-out plans in case of an emergency
- Clear expectations for pick-up and drop-off
- The ability to stick to schedules and act responsibly
- The ability to properly co-parent and set similar boundaries for children
Protect Your Child’s Interests with Top Arizona Custody Lawyers
Separation or divorce is never an easy process. When children are involved, emotions are likely higher, and it may be tempting to try to hurt your ex-spouse, but it’s important to focus on your children during a child custody case. The separation of their parents is likely very upsetting, and it’s essential that you help them through it when you can. Above anything else, the court will prioritize your child’s best interests.
To properly advocate for the parenting plan you believe is in your child’s interests, you need the legal experience and knowledge of top Arizona custody lawyers.
Jonathan Roeder, Founder/Director of Marketing of The Valley Law Group, is an Arizona native who has dedicated his life and career to the service of others. After graduating salutatorian of his high school class, Jonathan attended beautiful and prestigious Pepperdine University, where he majored in Political Science. During his tenure at Pepperdine University, his passion for helping others grew after securing a clinical position with a residential treatment center for juveniles with substance addictions. Post-graduation, Jonathan returned to Arizona and served as a residential manager for mentally and physically disabled homes.