Top Arizona Child Custody Lawyers

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Legal decision-making for a child (commonly known as child custody) is often the most heated part of a divorce. Litigation surrounding child custody can happen at any time and can flare up when one parent decides to move, get remarried, or even when a child goes to a new school. To protect the child’s best interests and safeguard parental rights, we staunchly advocate for our clients, utilizing years of experience to determine the best approach for you and your child.

A child custody hearing can be stressful for parents and children alike. Understanding the basics of these decisions is important in anticipation of any hearing and alleviating your stress. We’ve outlined the factors that go into these decisions to give you a better perspective on these hearings.

When it’s time to address issues of legal decision-making and parenting time in Arizona Family Court, the experienced attorneys at The Valley Law Group will be on your side to ensure the best possible outcome.

Practice Areas of Child Custody Law:

Planning for Child Custody in ArizonaA Free Guide

By studying the Arizona family law materials, you will learn to prepare for court proceedings that may substantially affect how your child(ren) will be raised and the time you will spend with them. Gaining knowledge in this area puts you in the best position to achieve your goals so you can continue to offer your child(ren) a promising future and provide a happy family life.
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Child Custody Guide

The Difference Between Legal and Physical Child Custody in Arizona

Child custody in Arizona is slightly different than in other states, particularly regarding legal terminology. When referencing custody arrangements, Arizona law refers to physical custody as “parenting time” and legal custody as “decision-making” rights.

When one parent is said to have physical custody, Arizona regulations simply state that they have parenting time, which means that the parent in question is responsible for providing the child with things like housing, food, supervision, and other necessities. Legal custody, what Arizona terms “decision-making” rights, allows parents to choose their child’s medical care, schooling, religious affiliations, and more.

Child Custody Law in Arizona

When determining matters of child custody – both legal decision-making and parenting time – Arizona Family Court justices will consider first the child’s best interests. This is the primary factor that determines the court’s eventual decision. Other factors include the current situation, the child’s relationship with both parents, the parents’ earning capacities, the child’s wishes, the parents’ wishes, physical location, their ability to parent a shared child, and more.

Some of the most common forms of custody arrangements are as follows:

  • Joint legal custody occurs when both parents share equal responsibility for their child’s life and well-being. In Arizona, this is termed joint decision-making rights. This includes decisions on which school the child will attend, any religious affiliation, medical decisions, and more.
  • Sole legal custody is when one parent is designated the primary decision maker and has sole decision-making abilities regarding the child’s welfare and the way they are raised. Instead of making these decisions in agreement with a non-custodial spouse, the sole legal decision maker is within their right to take any directive that they see as necessary for the child.
  • Joint physical custody, known in Arizona as shared parenting time, is highly encouraged and favored by the court. This occurs when both parents share the parenting time of the shared child. They both are expected to house and care for their child on a court-approved schedule.
  • Sole physical custody, or sole parenting time, occurs when the child lives primarily with one parent. They can control the primary location where the child lives, and they are responsible for taking care of that child’s basic needs like food and clothing. The other parent may be required to pay child support and may also receive limited visitation as ordered by the court.

These systems can be used interchangeably with each other to create a unique parenting plan that fits the needs of a particular dynamic. For example, if two parents share joint parenting time, they may also share decision-making abilities. To determine which parenting time and decision-making arrangement will work best for your family, consult with the Arizona child custody attorneys at The Valley Law Group.

What Does ‘Child Custody’ Mean in Arizona

Child custody is an important legal concept in the state of Arizona and refers to both parenting time and legal-decision making for minor children. Parenting time determines when each parent has physical access to their children, while legal decision-making dictates who has the authority to make decisions about various aspects of the lives of their minor children such as religion, schooling, medical care, and more.

It is important to note that courts in Arizona do not favor one parent over another based solely on gender when making decisions about child custody. Instead, they take into consideration a number of factors including the mental and physical wellbeing of both parents and what arrangement would ultimately be best for the minor child(ren). In cases involving complex disputes over joint or sole custody rights, courts may appoint an evaluator or guardian ad litem (GAL) who will investigate all relevant facts pertaining to each case before making a ruling.

What Are the Best Interests of a Child? Arizona

All custody arrangements are contingent on what is best for the welfare of the child, and the court uses this child’s best interests as the standard upon which they build a suitable parenting agreement. To determine the child’s best interests, the court will consider the following:

  • Both parent/child relationships in the past, present, and future
  • The child’s relationships with other family members, particularly siblings
  • The child’s current status in their home, local school, and the neighborhood
  • The mental health of both parents and the child, including substance use disorder
  • Physical health of both parents and the child
  • The ability of both parents to encourage a healthy relationship between the other parent and the child
  • Any history of child abuse or domestic abuse
  • The child’s wishes

It is important to note that in Arizona, there is no specified age after which a child can decide to live with one parent or another. However, if the child shows what the court calls “an intelligent preference,” it may consider the child’s wishes. Overall, the court will determine what is truly best for the child involved.

How Does the Court Define the “Best Interest of the Child?”

When defining the “best interest of the child,” the Arizona court is tasked with upholding any standards that support a child’s emotional and physical security, otherwise known as protecting their best interests. When determining which parent will have legal custody of their child, the court will consider what factors to include in their decision to uphold the best interests of that child.

Both parents can have an equal opportunity for custody, although more women than men have been awarded primary custody. When presenting custody agreements in court, both parents can provide information that can help the court make an informed decision on custody arrangements, but ultimately, the court has the final say in custody arrangements.

How Custody Decisions are Made in Arizona

Child Custody Arizona

Depending on whether the divorce was amicable, child custody can either be court-ordered or decided between both parents. However, all parenting plans must be approved by the court before they are finalized. Often, amicable parents choose to meet with their respective attorneys present and create a mutually agreeable parenting plan to present to the judge. Others who are having difficulty arriving at a decision may choose to utilize mediation, where a third-party mediator helps guide the discussion so parents can come to an agreement.

Once an agreement is in place, an Arizona Family Court judge will assess whether it is in the child’s best interests and either approve or amend it. If these avenues are not successful, the custody determination will be made during litigation in court. All presented factors that could impact the child’s life listed above are considered by the court to make custody arrangements.

These custody decisions, although seemingly set in stone when created, are subject to change if the circumstances that created them are no longer applicable. For example, if one parent is given sole custody over a child, but then that parent either develops an illness or injury that makes them unable to care for their child, the custody arrangement they have concerning that child can be modified to fit the situation. The skilled attorneys at The Valley Law Group can help you arrive at a suitable custody determination via negotiation, mediation, or litigation.

What Is the Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody in Arizona?

Legal custody and physical custody are the two main types of parental responsibilities that are considered for custody decisions. Legal custody refers to the decision-making aspects of a child’s life, such as religious affiliation, school choice, healthcare, and more. In Arizona, legal custody is referred to as “legal decision-making.”

Physical custody refers to living arrangements, meaning that the parent given physical custody will be responsible for providing housing for a shared child. Both parents can share physical and legal custody of their child and, depending on their specific arrangement, will have the rights and responsibilities necessary to care for their child on a daily basis. In Arizona, physical custody is termed “parenting time.”

Do Children Have a Say in Custody Decisions in Arizona?

Do Children Have a Say in Custody Decisions in Arizona?

Children cannot participate directly in custody proceedings; however, a judge may consider a child’s wishes when making a custody decision. It is up to the judge to decide if a child’s input on their custody arrangement should be taken into consideration, and there is no predetermined age at which that input is valid. In general, Arizona dictates that a child should be old enough to communicate what it calls an “intelligent preference.” In these cases, a mental health professional can be asked to help determine what decision will best support the child.

What Is a Child Custody Evaluation?

According to Arizona law, a custody evaluation may be necessary in some cases, meaning that your case’s assigned judge can create a custody plan. This is only done if you and your co-parent or ex-spouse are unable to reach a custody agreement during mediation. If you need a custody evaluation, the court will assign a professional child custody evaluator to ensure that your child’s best interests are upheld during these proceedings.

How Long Does a Custody Case Typically Last?

The timeframe for child custody cases in Arizona can vary depending on whether or not parents are able to reach an agreement. Generally speaking, if an agreement is reached between the two parents, the process may only take a few weeks. However, if a case must go to trial it can take notably longer; typically around nine months and in high-conflict cases it is not uncommon for them to last several years.

Ultimately, courts strive to make decisions that are in the best interests of the minor children and will do their best to ensure that any arrangement made is conducive to their healthy development.

Can a Father Get Full Custody?

Either parent can get custody of a child in Arizona, and both mothers and fathers are eligible for full or joint custody. In many modern family dynamics, one or both parents will work outside of the home. In situations where both parents work away from home, their working circumstances will be used to make custody decisions about full or joint custody arrangements. It is common for spouses to share child-rearing responsibilities and collaborate to adjust work schedules, school schedules, and more.

In situations where a mother is neglectful, abusive, or otherwise exposes her children to an unsafe environment in the home, this evidence can be presented to the court as justification for full custody. The court may then name the father the primary legal guardian of that child. This is especially important for younger children or children that require more care due to their health, and naming a stable guardian is part of ensuring that child’s best interests.

Is Full Custody Possible in Arizona?

Yes, if the court deems sole legal custody appropriate. In Arizona, both parents can be given sole custody, but the Court starts by assuming that both parents should have joint custody. With joint custody, both parents share legal and physical custody of their child.

If joint custody is not the best option for your situation, you can request sole custody. In situations where a parent is concerned about addiction or mental health issues with the other parent, the concerned parent can request sole custody. The Court will then consider what arrangement is applicable in these situations and make a custody decision based on the child’s safety and security.

What Is the Most Common Outcome in a Custody Case?

The most common outcome in a custody case is for the parents to share legal decision-making (each parent having an equal say) and to have equal parenting time. This is in line with Arizona’s declared public policy which states that each parent should have as much time with the child as possible. This allows for both parents to maintain an active role in their child’s life, while also providing stability and consistency for the child.

What Are the Typical Plans for Parents Who Have Equal Parenting Time?

In Arizona, the most common plans for parents who have equal parenting time are week-on, week-off or a 5-2-2-5 schedule. In a 5-2-2-5 schedule, one parent has every Monday and Tuesday while the other parent has every Wednesday and Thursday and the two parents take turns having their child(ren) on alternating weekends (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). This can often provide stability for the child(ren), while giving both parents an equal amount of time with them.

When Will a Judge Order Something Other Than Equal Parenting Time and Joint Legal Decision-Making?

A judge may order something other than equal parenting time and joint legal decision-making if they find that such orders are in the best interests of the child. Reasons for not opting for this plan can include when a parent is deemed to pose a risk to the safety of a child, if they have a history of abusing drugs or alcohol, domestic violence, or child abuse; or if it is not logistically possible due to living distance between the parents’ households or work schedule. In all instances, the judge will strive to make sure each parent has as much access to the child as possible.

Can I Move to Another State While in a Child Custody Battle?

Before moving out of state, you must seek permission from the court and notify the other parent if you plan on moving more than 100 miles from your current residence. For custodial parents, you must follow your custody order, meaning that you cannot relocate with your child without court permission. A non-custodial parent must be given 60 days advance notice of the move, where they will be allowed to object to the move and inform the court of their reasons behind their objection.

I’m Worried About How Long the Case Might Take and I’m Not Allowed to See My Child Right Now. What Can I Do?

If you are worried about how long your case might take, you can consider filing for temporary orders. These orders will set a temporary parenting plan in place while the case is being processed. This will ensure that both parents have access to the child during this period of time and that their well-being is taken into account during the case proceedings. Usually, these orders can be put in place within six weeks of the party requesting them.

How Soon Can I Modify a Legal Decision-Making or Parenting Time Order?

If you wish to modify a legal decision-making or parenting time order, you must wait at least one year from the Court’s ruling. You will also need to demonstrate a material change of circumstance affecting the child’s best interest that has taken place since the last court hearing in order to qualify for modification. This means showing the Court that there has been an important change after your last court appearance.

What Can I Do if I am Concerned That the Other Parent Is Abusing Drugs or Alcohol?

If you are concerned that the other parent is abusing drugs or alcohol, you can request the Court to order them to take a drug test. However, in order for this to be approved, you will need to persuade the judge of the necessity of such testing. There are a number of testing options available, which we can discuss with you if necessary.

What Happens When Step Parents Get Involved While Getting Divorced?

When step parents become involved in a child’s life, it can often lead to conflict over their role. However, by establishing clear co-parenting guidelines and practicing good communication between the parents, this can reduce the level of disagreement. In some cases, it may be necessary to take action to keep a child away from an inappropriate or dangerous situation. Generally speaking, stepparents can be a positive influence in the life of a child. If you have any concerns regarding how a stepparent is interacting with your child, we are here to answer any questions you may have about possible solution.

Do You Need a Lawyer for Arizona Child Custody Cases?

Top Child Custody Attorneys in Arizona

Obtaining a favorable outcome in an Arizona child custody case requires knowledge of the law, as well as experience and understanding of the court system. Therefore, it is highly recommended that anyone involved in such a case seek the legal counsel of an experienced family law attorney. A lawyer can ensure your rights and best interests are protected throughout the process.

Consulting with a top child custody lawyer in Arizona is the best way to fully understand your parental rights and assert them during negotiations or mediation with your child’s other parent. The talented child custody attorneys at The Valley Law Group can help you determine a suitable parenting plan, provide mediation services, or advocate for your child’s best interests in Arizona Family Court.

If you need to determine parenting time or legal decision-making responsibilities in Arizona, contact The Valley Law Group to schedule a free consultation.

Learn More About Child Custody

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Carmen Segura
Carmen Segura
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Wonderful experience knowledge and responsive. Elda and Jonathan were helpful and responsive to all my questions and concerns . I was going to so much stress Elda was great responding to my emails it never took more than 24 hours to get a respond from her. I highly recommend Elda and Jonathan to all my friends and family.
Catherine Dolan
Catherine Dolan
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Thank you Jon for helping me with my case and making me feel comfortable during the proceedings. I appreciate the guidance you provided and legal recommendations so that I could result in the best possible outcome for my situation. I would have been very lost without your help!
Hannah Ridinger
Hannah Ridinger
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I could not be happier with The Valley Law Group. My case was handled effectively and efficiently. I am very grateful for Cory Keith and the rest of the group. Thank you!
Dan Palmer
Dan Palmer
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Simply put, Ryan is outstanding! ! I’ve used his services exclusively for the last 6+ years on multiple custody and visitation cases. After having gone through three less than transparent attorneys before Ryan, it was incredibly refreshing when I found him. He’s courteous, responsive and the utmost professional. Best of all, I feel that I can trust his advice explicitly. A true rarity in this industry! Bottom line: I wouldn’t consider even having a conversation with another attorney!
John Law
John Law
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Ryan did a good job especially considering I didn't have an attorney most of my divorce. I would recommend him, but get him onboard at the beginning not the end.
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The experience and information that was given to me was of great value. Very professional and with a personal touch. I greatly appreciate all their help. Thank you
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