Child Custody is made up of two components in Arizona: Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time.
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Legal Decision-Making refers to a parent's authority to make major decisions pertaining to the minor child, including, but not limited to, medical treatments, choice of health practitioners, choice of schools, choice of extracurricular activities or choice of religious practice. The following are common legal decision-making orders entered by the court:
- Joint Legal Decision-Making authority for both parents (parties are required to confer with one another and reach agreements together)
- Joint Legal Decision-Making authority for both parents, while one parent has final decision making authority on all or some matters (if the parties are unable to reach agreements)
- Sole Legal Decision-Making authority for one parent (decision-making parent is still required to communicate with the other parent)
A parent who does not have legal decision-making authority is still entitled to substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the minor children, unless the court determines (after a hearing) that the parenting time would endanger the child's physical, mental, moral or emotional health. A.R.S. §25-403.01
A history of domestic violence and/or a history of DUI or drug convictions within 12 months prior to the custody case may be a factor in awarding sole legal custody to the other party. However, factors to overcome the presumption may also apply.
Parenting Time refers to the physical custody arrangement between the parents and the minor children. A parenting plan is drafted at the conclusion of the divorce or custody matter. The parenting plan includes the parent's schedule with the children, including holidays and school breaks, as well as a procedure for decision making, exchanges, travel and communication among other important matters.
It is widely believed that significant parenting time with both parents is beneficial to the child's psychological development and is deemed in the "child's best interest." The best interest considerations are further described in A.R.S. §25-403, Arizona's legal standard for determining custody matters. Equal parenting time may be preferred, but certain circumstances can suggest that other parenting arrangements benefit a child. Alternative parenting plan may include a primary residential parent while the other parent has parenting time according to a rotation. Some parents, due to distance or other factors, forego parenting time during regular weekdays for additional parenting time during school breaks.
Talking with each other or consulting with other parties that assist with raising your children will help you coordinate a parenting schedule that optimizes each parent’s time with the child and reduces certain financial factors. During the mediation process, our goal is to formulate a parenting schedule which includes and optimizes these factors and considers the best possible environment for the child.
When serious concerns are present affecting your safety or the safety of the minor child, such as domestic violence, abuse, neglect, substance abuse or behavior health concerns, the intervention of professionals may be necessary. More restrictive parenting time plans are available under justifiable circumstances, such as supervised parenting time or therapeutic reunification. In some cases, parties may be subject to drug testing, mental health evaluations or professional oversight. Courts may also order professional custody evaluations and interview the children. If you fear your safety or the safety of your children, it is highly recommended that you consult with an attorney about your situation.