Child Custody may be the most common argument between couples going through family crisis or a marriage dissolution. But child custody disputes are not only for divorcing couples. This subject is not only complicated to each parent or guardian but is even complicated within the legal process. Custody is actually physical and legal custody. In January 2013, our legislators gave new names to custody: the parenting time given to each person involved and the ability to make legal decisions for the child in question.
It is possible to have sole legal decision-making with a 50/50 parenting time schedule, and it is possible to have joint legal decision-making with a parenting time schedule that seriously restricts one parent’s time.
In Arizona, the court system leans towards awarding each parent 50% parenting time in order to allow the child to be raised by both parents equally. This does not mean that just by showing up to a courthouse that you will be granted a 50/50 schedule. It is a common misconception in Arizona that every parent will automatically be awarded 50/50. The judge can award one parent more or less time on a case by case basis. For mothers and fathers alike, this means your life will be scrutinized to determine parenting time. If you want a relationship with your child, there are important factors each judge has to consider. The judge will consider factors such as your involvement in your child’s life. Another important factor is your mental and physical health. Your living situation and your child’s environment will be considered.
For more statutes concerning parenting time in Arizona, including the best interest factors, click here.
Legal Decision Making
Simply because you are awarded some or all parenting time does not always mean you can make big life decisions. If you have joint legal decision-making you need to consult the other parent on medical, health and religion choices. A judge will decide your right to legal decision-making if you go to court. If you stay out of court, your rights can become the subject of an agreement in mediation or Collaborative Process.
For more information about child custody in Arizona, there are a number of statutes that address the factors a court has to consider. See the “best interest factors” statute here. If you want to read more about the factors a judge can consider in granting sole legal decision-making click here. For information on the statute concerning parenting plans, click here.
Child custody and legal decision-making issues are typically resolved most easily through collaborative process. This means that both parents will “buy in” to the agreements they reach. Parents don’t cooperate as easily when they are told by a judge what to do. For more information about collaborative process, click here.
Child Relocation (Interstate or International)
When parents want to relocate with a child, the judge takes the “best interest factors” into account as well as additional factors as required by the “Arizona Relocation Statute,” A.R.S. §25-408. It is very difficult to make the case for a “move away” in Arizona. When you have an involved parent and that parent is contributing to a child’s well-being and qualify of life in a meaningful and positive way, even if the parent is less than perfect, there is a presumption that remaining in Arizona is in the child’s best interests.
Child Custody and Paternity
If you are an Arizona Father and you have a child living in Arizona, you have rights. Father’s rights are very well established here in Arizona. Arizona legislators have determined that a court shall award parenting time and legal decision-making without regard to the gender of the parent or the child. But – and this is important – there are steps you must take as a father to establish those rights. There is a putative father registry for fathers that you must sign within a specific period of time after birth. There is language in Arizona statutes that in signing certain documents, you establish yourself as the Father. However, in order to prevent Mother from leaving the state of Arizona with your child, the safest bet is to bring a paternity action. Waiting more than six months after the birth of your child is a big risk since the severance of parental rights statute gives a six month window to maintain a normal relationship. Our firm has successfully represented fathers to establish rights and prevent losing parental rights to children, but each case is heavily fact-dependent. We have a brief on every major Arizona case concerning paternity and severance. Let us know if you have questions.
Read more here about calculating child support and how parenting time will affect child support: How do I calculate Child Support?