Why Do I Need a Documented Parenting Plan for Joint Legal Custody?
According to Arizona State law, parents must create and sign a parenting plan when filing for joint custody of their children. In this legally mandated custody arrangement, the parents share custody of the children, and each of them can legally make crucial decisions on behalf of their children.
Family courts are tasked with looking out for the children’s best interests, and joint custody is often the ideal situation for children of divorced parents. The parenting plan sets rules and regulations in place and provides a solid framework for the parents to base their future co-parenting routine. Consider the following details of joint custody and parenting time plans and the way having a plan can mitigate the risks of parental disputes and potential negligence in the future.
Joint Legal Custody Defined
The purpose of joint legal custody is to allow each parent to have a say in important decisions regarding their child’s upbringing. Joint legal custody can exist with parents who share joint physical custody as well as in situations in which one parent has sole physical custody.
One parent can have sole legal custody of their child, but joint legal custody is generally preferred. Sole legal custody is typically only awarded in cases where joint legal custody is determined to not be in the best interest of the children. There are several variations in the way parents may share legal custody.
The most common ways that parents and the courts reach agreements on joint custody are as follows:
Certain types of decisions are delegated to each parent to handle for the children. For example, one parent may be given the authority to make decisions about religion, while the other is granted the authority to make decisions on schooling.
Major decisions on the children’s upbringing are handled by the parents as a team. Still, they each tackle smaller individual decisions on their own when the children
in their physical custody. A prime example of this variation is a situation in which the parents work together to decide what school their children will go to but make individual decisions regarding certain activities the children may attend while in their physical custody.
Each parent in this scenario makes decisions for their children when they have physical custody. Everything from whether to attend a social event at school to seeing a doctor for birth control is decided by the parent who has physical custody at the time.
The parents work together to make every decision for their children whenever possible in this variation. No matter how large or small the decision is, the parents always try to make a choice they agree on together.
Do I Need a Legal Document Establishing Physical Custody of My Child?
Whenever parents separate or divorce, and even in circumstances in which an unmarried couple has a child, disputes over child custody may arise. Regardless of any verbal agreements between the parents that one or the other should have primary physical custody, it is best to have either a court order setting up each of their rights to visitation or custody of the children or another written custody agreement.
Remember the difference between legal and physical custody when settling disputes over the care of the children. The parent who has actual physical custody and care of the children may not always have full legal custody, which involves making decisions about the child’s everyday welfare, religion, education, and health. In some custody agreements and court orders, one parent is granted sole legal and physical custody. At the same time, the other simply has visitation rights, or each parent may share in physical and legal custody.
In cases where there is no court order or valid written custody agreement, both parents may have equal responsibilities and rights. This often leads to serious issues that are difficult to resolve and are hard on the children. For this reason, parents must enter into an agreement that establishes custodial and decision-making arrangements on paper.
This will help to set the stage for a smoother custodial relationship between the parents, as it will aid in reducing future conflicts. If the agreement is a court order, it also provides the maximum legal protection to the parents regarding both physical and legal custody, as the court has legal authority to enforce its terms.
Things You Should Know About Custody and Parenting Time
Parents who are working to establish a custody agreement that meets their needs and provides for their children often have many questions that weigh on their minds. Some of the most frequently asked questions regarding parents’ time and custody include the following.
What Is the Importance of Parenting Time?
Child development typically benefits from a strong relationship with each parent. When the parents are not cohabiting, it is important for children to spend adequate time with both of them.
What Are My Parenting Time Rights?
According to state law, parents are entitled to a reasonable amount of continuing contact with their children. This time, however, may be denied or limited if spending time with either parent would be detrimental to the child’s emotional, moral, mental, or physical health.
What Is the Ideal Amount of Parenting Time?
The appropriate amount of time that a parent should spend with their children is dependent upon their stage of development, as well as their age. Certain counties in Arizona have set forth specific guidelines to assist the courts and parents in determining the best amount of parenting time. Parents may employ the Arizona Supreme Court’s Model Parenting Time Plans to work out a schedule, but when the parents cannot come to an agreement, the courts decide on parenting time, according to the specifics of the case.
Is a Court Case Necessary to Determine Parenting Time?
Not all parenting time scenarios go to court. Parents may be able to agree on a plan that works for them and their children. However, if their plan doesn’t work out, or if they are unable to agree, the courts will step in. The Superior Court handles matters of parenting time and can issue orders that will be enforced if one of the parents doesn’t honor the parenting time schedule or if the parents have a disagreement.
Is Custody Related to Parenting Time?
The concepts of custody and parenting time are, in fact, related. According to Arizona law, a non-custodial parent is still entitled to certain parenting time rights in most cases. This helps to ensure that the children get the benefit of continuing contact with that parent. Since every situation is unique, the courts may decide what amount of parenting time is best and make that part of a custody order.
How Does a Parent Obtain a Legal Parenting Time Order?
The courts may grant a parenting time order, just as they do with custody agreements in some cases. Most of the time, parents get a parenting time order when they are divorcing or seeking a legal separation, but such decisions are sometimes amended if a parent requests a change. Another situation that may result in court-ordered parenting time is that in which a parent voluntarily acknowledges paternity and begins a court case to decide on the maternity or paternity of a child.
In scenarios involving legal separation or divorce, the courts will automatically decide on parenting time and child custody if the parents can’t come to an agreement. Once the courts have granted a decree of divorce or legal separation, they may still modify parenting time orders that were established earlier. A request to the courts may be made in writing by either parent regarding parenting time, along with a filing fee.
How Do the Courts Decide on Parenting Time Orders?
In some circumstances, the courts will recommend court mediation services to the parents when there is a dispute over parenting time. When this approach is employed, the parents may be able to reach an agreement over their dispute. If they are unable to agree, however, the courts must make the decision.
This sometimes involves gathering professional opinions on the family situation and considering various other factors. Some of these variables may include whether the living conditions at each parent’s home are suitable for the child, school schedules, the distance the parents live away from each other, the amount of time each parent has free from work and daily obligations, and the health and age of the children.
What Can One Parent Do If the Other Parent Disobeys a Parenting Time Court Order?
In situations such as this, the other parent should turn to the courts for help. Sometimes the other parent will make mistakes like withholding child support or denying parenting time, and such actions may violate the court order and cause harm to the children. To get help from the courts, a parent must pay a filing fee and submit a written request to the Clerk of the Superior Court. The request may result in a hearing if the issue cannot be resolved.
How Do the Courts Respond When a Parent Disobeys a Parenting Time Order?
The courts are required by the state to take quick action if a parent files a request regarding the enforcement of a parenting time order. Some of the actions they may take include finding the parent who violates the order, ordering that parent to attend counseling or education classes, or ordering the parent to make up missed parenting time sessions.
Can Individuals Other Than Parents Have Parenting Time?
In some circumstances, this is possible according to Arizona state law. For instance, grandparents may have these rights if the courts decide it is in the best interests of the children. There are a few stipulations that apply to these cases. For example, the parents of the children must be divorced for a minimum of three months, the children must have been born out of wedlock, or one of the parents must be missing for a minimum of three months or deceased.
Another scenario that may be considered is that of an individual who stands in loco parentis to the children. This means that the individual must have been treated as a parent by the children for a substantial time period and must have formed a significant parental relationship with them.
What Is Supervised Parenting Time?
In some circumstances, the courts must order a mental health professional or social service agency to ensure that certain custody orders and parenting time orders are followed to prevent harm to the child’s emotional development or health. This individual may supervise parenting time or may simply oversee the exchange of the children between parents who may have a volatile relationship.
Either parent may file a request for temporary court orders if they cannot agree on custody and parenting time issues at the beginning of their case. If the judge orders such a short-term decision, they will remain effective until the case is resolved with a final court order.
Planning for Parenting Time in Arizona
If you are working out the details of your co-parenting routine as a result of a recent divorce, we understand how challenging the situation can be. Compassionate, legal professionals have the knowledge and expertise to help you through every step of the process as you seek joint custody in Arizona. Please book a free consultation with one of our lawyers to see if we can help you with your current legal needs. We’re here to make sure you don’t lose the parenting time and custody you deserve.
Jonathan Roeder, Co-Founder 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.