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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 Arizona – A Free GuideBy 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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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
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.
Do You Need a Lawyer for Arizona Child Custody Cases?
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
- Calculating Parental Time and Custody in Arizona
- Grandparents’/3rd Party Rights