Child Custody

In Arizona “child custody” is divided into two concepts:  Parenting Time and Legal Decision-Making.  Parenting time refers to how much time a child resides with each parent.  Legal Decision-Making refers to which parent has the legal authority to make significant decisions for the child (such as decisions about medical care, education, religion, and lasting changes to the personal appearance of the child). Whether it happens as a result of a divorce, due to changed circumstances in the years after a divorce, or as a special paternity action (the case filed to determine legal decision-making and parenting time for parents who were never married), you will end up with a parenting time and legal decision-making plan  at the conclusion of your case.  That plan will have a regular parenting time schedule (specifying which parent has the time on which days of the week), a holiday schedule dividing up who gets the child for which holidays each year, a vacation time procedure (how much vacation time each parent gets and how that vacation time must be scheduled) and orders regarding legal decision-making.

When parents cannot agree and the judge has to decide the parenting time and legal decision-making for a child, the judge is required by law to consider what is in the child’s best interests. In Arizona, the laws that govern how family law judges decide issues regarding parenting time and legal decision-making are gender neutral. means that, between mothers and fathers, a case involving child custody is a level playing field. Neither parent is presumed to be entitled to more time with a child, and neither parent is presumed to be entitled to make important decisions for the child.  Arizona judges must create a parenting time plan that maximizes the child’s time with each parent, consistent with the child’s best interests.   See A.R.S. 25-402.02(B)  That presumption is great for a parent who finds the other parent wanting to limit or control their time with a child.  Even when a parent has been absent from a child’s life for an extended period of time (whether by choice or otherwise), it is possible to get an Arizona family law judge to order significant parenting time for the formerly absent parent.

Just as some parents are gratified to learn that Arizona law leans towards substantially equal parenting time for both parents, some are terrified by that prospect.  When there are good reasons for a parent to want to limit or control the other parent’s time with the child, this presumption makes it even more important to have an experienced attorney representing time in court.  Being represented by a lawyer who knows what types of facts and circumstances will help convince a judge to order that one parent gets significantly more parenting time than the other is very important for a parent wanting the majority of parenting time.

For Legal Decision-Making, Arizona law also starts with the presumption that parents should be on equal footing in making important decisions about matters such as medical care, education, and religion for the child.  A parent’s right to participate in legal decision making is not dependent on how much parenting he or she has.  Even parents with limited parenting time have the right to participate in making important decisions for their children.  The most common order for legal decision-making is joint legal decision-making where each parent has an equal say in important decisions.  If the parents are not able to agree, neither parent has the right to overrule the other.  In some situations that is not a workable solution.  Arizona judges can order joint legal decision-making with final say for one parent or the other. Those parents are still required to confer and negotiate with each other, but if they ultimately cannot agree, one of them has the right to make the final decision.  In limited circumstances, a judge may also order sole legal decision-making for one parent.  With sole legal decision-making one parent can make all the decisions for the child without asking for any input from the other parent.  For a parent wanting to have the final say, or even sole legal decision-making, it is important to have an attorney representing them to help convince the judge to make the appropriate orders.

Emergency Orders – Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time

Sometimes a situation requires immediate action by the court. In those situations, it is possible to request that the court enter orders on an expedited basis.  In sufficiently urgent situations, it is even possible for the court to enter orders without even having a hearing where the other parent is present to respond to the allegations about why emergency orders are necessary.  This is done under Arizona Family Law Rule of Procedure Rule 48.  If you have an emergency situation requiring immediate intervention by the court, it is very important to have an experienced family law lawyer working for you.