Navigating Custody in Arizona
Custody in Arizona can be complex. It’s not as simple as which parent gets the kids. Child custody in Arizona is made up of two parts: legal decision-making authority and parenting time. In this blog post, I want to talk about what legal decision-making authority means and how parenting times works in our State.
The first part of custody is legal decision-making authority. Legal decision-making authority is a parent’s power to make important decisions about their kid’s life. The typical examples of legal decision-making authority include medical, educational, or religious decisions. The importance of legal decision-making authority changes with a kid’s age. Parents aren’t making the same decisions for an infant that they are making for a teenager.
There are three standard legal decision-making arrangements in Arizona:
1. Joint Legal Decision-Making Authority
Joint legal decision-making authority is when the parents share the power to make important decisions about the children’s lives. This is the standard in Arizona. Courts want the Parties to have an equal say in their kids lives. In order for joint legal decision-making authority to work, the parents must actively communicate with one another. One parent cannot unilaterally make important decisions without the other parent’s input.
2. Sole Legal Decision-Making Authority
Sole legal decision-making authority is when only one parent has the power to make decisions about the children’s lives. They do not have to consult with or receive input from the other parent when making decisions for the kids. Sole legal decision-making authority is not the norm. In fact, if there isn’t a substantial history of domestic violence or substance abuse, sole legal decision-making authority is very unlikely. As such, you must be very careful when you ask for sole authority. If you try to get sole legal decision-making authority from a judge, and do not have a valid basis to do so, it will reflect poorly on you and could impact the judge’s decision(s).
3. Joint Legal Decision-Making with Final Decision-Making Authority
In some high conflict divorces, or where one party has previously been an absentee parent, the Court can order joint legal decision-making, but give one parent final decision-making authority. This is effectively giving one parent tie breaking power. If the parents cannot agree on a school for their child, for example, then the parent with final decision-making authority would ultimately get to decide. It is important not to abuse final authority. The final decision parent must consult with and consider the other parent’s opinion. If a judge feels that a parent with final decision-making authority is overruling the other parent without a good faith basis for doing so, then the judge can and will amend the order.
Parenting time is the time each child spends with each parent. Like legal decision-making authority, parenting time changes as children grow and develop. Infants that breast feed, for example, are likely to spend more time with the mother than the father. Courts base parenting time on several factors: the parents’ schedules, the children’s schedules, the age of the children, history of abuse, etc. Under Arizona law, absent abuse, Courts want minor children to have substantial, frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact with each parent (See A.R.S. 25-403).
The key is creating a parenting time schedule that works for both parties. There are many considerations such as work, school, childcare, and holidays. If the mother and father want to share equal parenting, then they need to work together to develop a parenting time schedule. A parenting time schedule should be clear, concise, and account for each day of the year. The most common equal parenting time schedule is the “5-2-2-5” plan: 5 days with parent A, 2 days with parent B, 2 days with parent A, and then 5 days with parent B. This plan is 50/50 parenting time while also ensuring that both parents get to enjoy weekends with their kids.
If equal parenting time is not possible due to a work schedule or other commitment, parent A can be the primary residential parent (the parent who the kids spend most of the time with), and parent B can take the kids every other weekend and then a few nights each week. Keep in mind that one parent having the kids every weekend is not preferred in Arizona. Weekends are a time that each parent should be able to enjoy with the kids. If one parent monopolizes the weekends, it isn’t fair to the other parent who will only have parenting time during the busy school week.
Parenting time schedules should also divide up the holidays. For example, one parent can have Christmas Eve during even years, and Christmas Day on odd years. The kids should spend Mother’s Day with mom and Father’s Day with dad. Kid’s birthdays can be tricky, but parents should work together so both parents can have meaningful contact with their child on their special day.
In Arizona, judges want parents to share equal decision-making and parenting time. It is important to be reasonable and flexible so that each child can have a meaningful relationship with their parent.
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