Joint Custody Versus Sole Custody: What’s the Difference?
When two parents share joint custody of their children, one is usually granted physical custody. This means the children live primarily with that parent, but the two share in legal custody – raising the children and making important decisions. In other situations, the parents share physical and legal custody. Sole custody arrangements, on the other hand, mean that only one parent has both physical and legal custody of the children.
As children grow, obstacles often arise, and decisions on custody arrangements are crucial in building a strong co-parenting relationship. The following questions are some of the most common ones that parents encounter when custody issues arise. Being prepared to choose the best option for the children today is the best way to mitigate any major complications down the road.
What Does Joint Legal Custody Mean in Arizona?
If the courts determine that joint custody is best for a family, that means both parents have an obligation, legally, to work together to raise their children and make the best decisions regarding their upbringing. In these scenarios, the children will typically spend half of their time with each parent.
The state of Arizona requires parents who have joint custody to create a written parenting plan. This signed document outlines the responsibilities each parent will take on and acts as the framework of their parenting agreement.
The first option the courts will consider is joint decision-making. In this scenario, the parents work together to make decisions on what is in their best interests. The vital element in this scenario is that the parents must be able to function as a team. If the two are unable to maintain a courteous relationship and cannot discuss issues and come to agreements, this option is not likely to work. In many cases, the parents have already had such a breakdown of their ability to communicate effectively that they can’t reach common ground, even for their children.
The second scenario, sole decision-making, means only one of the parents makes the decisions regarding raising the children. In such circumstances, the parent does not need to confer with the other to decide on factors that affect the children’s life and well-being. Unfortunately, this is sometimes the only option, especially if there is a history of abuse or any factors that make joint decision-making unsafe for the children.
Can a Parent Ever Modify an Existing Child Custody Agreement?
There are various reasons a parent may want to change their child custody agreement, as family situations change with time. The following are a few scenarios in which a parent may seek modifications.
- When parents are not in a domestic partnership and are not married but share joint custody of their children, there is always the likelihood they will begin dating someone else. Sadly, the new person in their life may not always have a positive influence on the children. Since the parent may choose to marry that person, the courts may re-examine the custody agreement if the new partner is found to be harmful in any way to the children.
- In most cases of joint legal custody, the parents live in the same general area. If the custodial parent wants to move out of that area with the children, they must have permission from the other parent. When the custodial parent is considering a major move or the parents disagree on a similar matter, they may need to rely on the courts to settle the issue.
- In some situations, joint custody doesn’t work out, and the children’s interests are not being met. In such cases, the family court judge may be asked to re-evaluate the situation and amend the custody ruling so that the children are guaranteed the best possible care.
Do You Have to Pay Child Support If You Have Joint Custody in Arizona?
The “Arizona Support Guidelines” are used by the courts when they grant a custody order to determine who must pay support and how much that parent must pay. A parent may need to pay support, even if they share joint custody with the other parent. However, such an arrangement does not mean that one parent is no longer responsible for providing financially for their children.
What Is the Difference Between “Custodial Parent” and “Joint Custody”?
If a parent is granted sole physical custody of their children, that means they are the “custodial parent.” In such cases, the children will live with that parent most of the time. In custody arrangements where the courts give the parents joint legal custody, they must come to agreements on many issues that significantly impact the children’s well-being, even if one parent alone is the custodial parent. The most common decisions that parents must agree upon when they have joint legal custody include issues related to education, religion, and medical decisions.
Is Joint Legal Custody Good?
Joint legal custody is the most common type of co-parenting agreement. The reason for this is that it is an ideal arrangement for the family in many situations. This type of custody agreement means that both parents get to contribute to important medical, financial, and legal decisions that affect the best interests of their children.
In most cases, Arizona courts will look at whether each parent is fit and reliable to parent their children. If they are determined to be fit, the judge will typically begin with this arrangement. Parents who have separated, or are not married, will be able to exert equal influence over their children’s crucial life decisions as they work together as co-parents.
How Do I Get Full Custody of My Children in Arizona?
The courts in Arizona have no legal assumptions that place one parent in higher regard than the other. For this reason, the courts always assume that the parents should share joint custody in the beginning. In such an arrangement, each parent shares in the major decision-making and physical custody responsibilities regarding their children.
However, there are certain scenarios in which a parent believes that joint custody will not work for their family. If this is the case, the parent may file for sole custody, and the courts may consider this option. In Arizona, sole custody may be referred to as full custody, as it means that only one parent is awarded the children’s sole legal custody.
In this circumstance, the courts charge that parent with making all major decisions regarding the children’s religious, medical, and educational matters. Since each family dynamic is unique, both parents may discuss these issues if they choose to do so. However, the parent that the courts have designated as the custodial parent is able to make the final decision.
A parent who is wondering whether sole custody is best in their situation may want to consider the following questions:
- Does the other parent have a criminal history?
- Is there any history of abuse by the other parent?
- Has the other parent committed any type of domestic violence?
- Does the other parent abuse, or have they ever abused alcohol or drugs?
- Do you fear that the other parent is mentally unstable?
When a parent’s behavior could be deemed detrimental to the children’s well-being, the judge may consider a request for sole custody. The court’s job is to make a custody decision that is best for the children.
For Child Custody Cases in Arizona, Trust the Legal Professionals at The Valley Law Group
If you are facing a court hearing regarding custody issues, you don’t want to go it alone. Many parents have questions about making the best decisions for their children’s upbringing. If you need the counsel of a compassionate attorney to help you prepare for a child custody agreement in Arizona, give us a call today. The decisions you make now will affect your family as you move forward in raising your children.
*Editor’s Note: This article was originally published May 5, 2021 and has been updated Jan 12, 2022.
Ryan Reppucci, Co-Founder of The Valley Law Group, is recognized as one of Phoenix’s leading family law attorneys. After graduating from Arizona State with the highest honors and inclusion in America’s most prestigious student honor societies, Ryan attended the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. His career as a law student was decorated with numerous awards, including the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law Book Award, nomination for membership in Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities, as well as Moot Court.