What is Parenting Time?

Parenting Time

When parents separate or divorce, it’s crucial to ensure continued care for their children. When parents can’t agree on a child-rearing plan, the court steps in to order a plan and address matters related to their well-being. This typically involves deciding how much time the child spends with each parent and designating a primary caregiver. In some instances, unmarried parents, family members, or others may also ask the court for custody or parenting time. In all cases, the child’s best interests guide the court’s decision.

This post offers general information about custody and parenting time, but it is not a comprehensive guide, nor does it provide definitive answers. It reflects Arizona’s laws at the time of posting and is not intended to serve as legal advice for obtaining or modifying legal custody and parenting time. Specific situations should be discussed with an attorney.

Parenting time, also known as “visitation,” refers to the opportunities for a child to spend time with the non-custodial parent, the one who doesn’t have sole legal custody.

Custody and parenting time issues often surface during divorce or legal separation proceedings, but they can also be relevant for unmarried parents or those who no longer live together. These matters persist even after a divorce is finalized, and disagreements can revolve around decision-making, the child’s residence, and the visitation rights of the non-custodial parent, all of which affect the child’s well-being, health, and education.

The determination of custody and parenting time may be reached through mutual agreement between the parents. However, when parents can’t reach an agreement and the legal system in Arizona becomes involved, such as when a parent seeks a divorce, only the Superior Court has the authority to decide these matters.

When parents have joint legal custody, is the child going to live with each of them for identical periods of time?

Not exactly. Having joint legal custody doesn’t mean the parents are also going to have joint physical custody or matching parenting time.

A child deserves to have a well-rounded relationship with both of their parents. When parents don’t live together, their child should have the chance to spend time with each parent.

What visitation rights are a parent going to have?

State law entitles a parent with reasonable rights of parenting time to guarantee that a child has regular and continual contact with the parent. Nevertheless, parenting time can be restricted, or even refused, when the child’s physical, mental, ethical, or emotional health would be severely threatened by parenting time with the parent.

How much time spent with the child is suitable?

The child’s age and developmental stage are crucial factors. For a newborn, extended parenting time may not be suitable, but regular shorter visits can work. Several Arizona counties, including Maricopa, Coconino, Pima, Mohave, Pinal, and Yavapai, have regulations to guide parenting time determination. The Arizona Supreme Court provides Model Parenting Time Plans, assisting in age-appropriate schedules. However, these guidelines may not fit all family situations. In cases of parental disagreement, the court decides parenting time on a case-by-case basis.

How much time is spent with the child, okay?

“Reasonable parenting time” denotes average time spent with a child, but its ambiguity makes scheduling challenging. Parenting plans should precisely define time, considering the child’s age and circumstances.

When crafting an agreement, parents are advised to specify when and how long parenting time occurs. This includes managing special occasions. County regulations and Model Parenting Time Plans can aid decision-making. Orders must be precise for court enforcement in case of non-compliance, requiring a parent to file a petition for enforcement.

Are parenting time and custody related?

Absolutely. Arizona law stipulates that in a lot of situations a parent not awarded custody of the child is permitted to reasonable parenting time rights to guarantee the child has regular and continual contact with that parent. As an element of the custody order, the court is also going to determine what amount of time is suitable. Even when parents are sharing joint legal custody, the child may reside primarily with one of their parents or share residential time with each of the parents, making it important to determine what parenting time schedule needs to be ordered.

Do I need to go to court to get time with my child?

Parents are open to agree on the appropriate parenting time plan concerning their child. If parents are unable to agree, or if their agreement is failing, court involvement might be necessary. Don’t forget, only the Superior Court can determine parenting time matters and release an order that is able to be enforced if disagreements come up or when one of the parents does not adhere to the parenting time schedule.

How do I get a legal order for parenting time?

Parenting time orders, akin to custody orders, typically arise during divorce, separation, or when modifying prior parenting decisions. They can also be established in paternity cases or after acknowledging paternity.

In divorce or separation, court intervention is necessary when parents can’t agree on custody or parenting time. Post-divorce, the court can modify parenting time orders. Either parent can request a change by submitting a written request to the Clerk of the Superior Court, often involving a filing fee.

How does the court make its decision about parenting time?

In cases where conflicts arise, the court may suggest parents try court mediation. This process allows parents to reach an agreement on parenting time and related matters. If mediation doesn’t lead to an agreement, the court will make the decision. In many cases, the court may seek professional input to assess the family situation or provide recommendations. When making its decision, the court considers numerous factors, including the child’s age and health, each parent’s availability due to work or other commitments, the distance between parents’ homes, the child’s school schedule, and the suitability of the living environment in each parent’s home.

What if a parent is in violation of a court order for parenting time?

If one parent is in violation of the court order, the other parent is unable to deny parenting time, cease to pay support or take other self-established action to chastise the violating parent (doing so also going to violate the court order). Alternatively, the court needs to be asked for assistance. For this to happen, a parent needs to file a written petition for enforcement with the Clerk of the Superior Court and pay the filing fee. A hearing in front of the court might be necessary when the issue cannot be resolved.

What is the court able to do when a parenting time order is disobeyed?

When a parent seeks help enforcing a visitation order, state law mandates prompt court action. The court can address non-compliance by scheduling extra visitation, mandating educational classes or therapy, and imposing fines for contempt.

Can an individual that is not a parent have parenting time?

In Arizona, grandparents and great-grandparents can seek visitation rights for the child’s benefit. Non-parents may request visitation if the child’s parents have been divorced for 3 months, one parent is missing or deceased for 3 months, or if the child was born out of wedlock. Those who’ve acted as parental figures can seek visitation with the child, meeting specific requirements.

Sometimes, the court may involve social service agencies or mental health professionals to ensure compliance with visitation and custody orders, aiming to safeguard the child’s well-being. In such cases, supervision may be ordered during visits to minimize parental conflicts.

When parents can’t agree, they can file a petition for temporary orders. These rulings, like Preliminary Injunctions in divorce cases, remain until a final court order. Temporary orders cover child-related matters, such as support, custody, and visitation. If no agreement is reached, a hearing is scheduled, where witness statements and evidence are presented before the court.

Custody and/or parenting time when parents aren’t married

Unmarried parents can decide custody and visitation on their own. If there’s no legal order regarding parental rights, the biological father lacks legal custody or visitation rights until paternity is established. Child support is not legally required before a paternity order is in place. Paternity can be determined through the Superior Court, the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS), or the Department of Economic Security (DEC) in Arizona.

Following legal paternity being established, how are custody and parenting time determined?

Custody and visitation, like other legal matters, are exclusively within the authority of the Superior Court. The court makes decisions based on the child’s best interests. When someone starts a paternity case in the Superior Court, the issues of custody and visitation are automatically dealt with. When paternity is voluntarily confirmed through the court, AZDHS, or DEC hospital programs, a parent must submit a specific petition for official custody and visitation determination.

Before officially establishing paternity, the court usually assumes custody should be with the mother. Once paternity is confirmed, custody typically goes to the parent the child lived with most in the previous 6 months. The court always considers the child’s best interests in custody and visitation decisions. If it’s beneficial, the court may order shared custody for both parents.


  1. Family and children > child custody > things you should know about custody and parenting time. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2021, from https://www.azlawhelp.org/articles_info.cfm?mc=1&sc=1&articleid=68.

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