Factors That Influence Child Custody in Arizona
While many parents going through a divorce in Arizona can decide on a mutually agreeable child custody arrangement, there are other parents who cannot reach an agreement for one reason or another. The courts obviously encourage parents to work out an agreement between each other, but in the event they can not come to a mutual decision, the court will step up and issue an order that they must then follow. When the family court has to issue a ruling on child custody, the judge looks at a number of different factors and the personal situations of the parents before issuing an order in the case.
Some of the key factors that the courts look at include:
- What is the current relationship between the child/children and each parent? In addition, they will look at the past relationship history and what the potential future relationship will look like.
- How does your child interact with all family members, like siblings and extended family? In other words, how the child interacts with everyone now may impact a judge’s decision on how a parenting agreement would affect those relationships.
- What is the mental health of all parties — both the parents and the child/children. What about the physical health of everyone? If one parent is struggling with a serious health condition, it may affect the judge’s ruling.
- What does the child/children want? If the child is old enough, the judge may ask him or her what a preferred split would be and how the parenting time should be shared.
- Are there any current or past allegations of child abuse or domestic violence? Judges are very interested to know what the potential risks are if they are making a serious decision like awarding child custody. They are also interested in any false allegations of abuse or violence.
- How well will the child adjust to a change in home, school, and/or a new community as they are spending time with each parent?
- Have either of the parents tried to mislead the court, waste court resources, act inappropriately in court, or use coercion in past custody negotiations with the spouse?
These are just some of the questions and factors a family law judge may ask or assess when determining what the appropriate custody split should be. Because the judge looks closely at all aspects of each parent’s life, it is important that each person present his or her best case and show how dedicated he or she is to the children. Be honest about any negative factors that may influence a judge’s decision. If you have something in your past that resulted in something on your public record, a judge or your spouse’s attorney will uncover it, so hiding it will only make the situation worse.
Historically, the courts in Arizona have discretion to order several different types of custody:
- Sole Custody: As its name suggests, only one parent has legal custody of a child. The parent with sole custody is the one who is given authority to make decisions on behalf of the child or children.
- Joint Custody: Joint custody can either be legal or physical, or even both. In most cases, a judge will require the parents to submit a parenting plan in cases of joint custody. Joint legal custody means both parents have the right to make decisions about their son or daughter’s care. Essentially, both parents are on an equal playing field. With joint physical custody, both parents are granted rights to share where the child lives.
2013 Child Custody Law Changes
In 2013, Arizona overhauled the child custody laws to alter how much time divorced parents get with their children. The law emphasized joint parenting and required courts to start ordering a plan that maximized the amount of time each parent would get with his or her child. It also forbade the court from bias by favoring one parent over the other based on either the parent’s or child’s gender.
The law also changed terms most people are familiar with — physical custody and legal custody. The 2013 law removed the terms from the law and replaced them with these:
- Physical Custody — Now called Parenting Time
- Legal Custody — Legal Decision-Making Authority
What Parenting Plans Typically Include
The idea behind a parenting plan is a document that sets forth not only the time spent with each parent, but other issues as they relate to the welfare of the child/children. These are essentially contracts that hold each parent accountable for certain tasks or duties. Some of the information you might find in a detailed parenting plan includes:
- A schedule that outlines physical custody
- How parents will resolve any disputes that arise —i.e., use of a mediator
- The procedure for major decisions that need to be made — school, medical care, financial support, and whatever else the parents decide to include
- A written statement that shows they understand that joint custody is not equivalent to a 50/50 split of parenting time
- A clause that indicates specific time periods to reassess the currently in place parenting plan, as there is a desire to review these agreements at set intervals
The benefit of a parenting plan is the rigidity it provides — kids need stability and predictability. A parenting plan keeps both the kids and parents on track to provide a personalized plan that works for the family’s situation and the welfare of their child or children.
Arizona is one of the states that provides some legal protections for grandparents’ rights. While you do not want to think about a grandparent being denied access to their grandchildren, it does happen. Arizona Revised Statutes Section 25-409 provides grandparents some legal grounds to bring an action for visitation rights. A court may grant a grandparent or great-grandparent visitation rights if the parents have been divorced for at least three months, a parent has been missing or deceased for at least three months, or the child was born to parents who were not married.
When courts make a determination on whether or not to award a grandparent visitation rights, the judge looks at a number of factors in addition to whether it’s in the best interest of the child. These include:
- What is the nature of the relationship between the person seeking visitation and the child
- What is the motivating factor for the request for visitation
- Why the parent is denying visitation to the grandparent
- How much time is the grandparent asking for
- Will the visitation affect the child’s daily routine in an adverse way
- What is the benefit in maintaining an extended family relationship
There are instances in which a grandparent may seek custody of a grandchild. Arizona law recognizes this unique set of circumstances wherein the grandparent(s) may have “stood in the shoes” of the parent. This is referred to as “in loco parentis” custody.
Arizona Revised Statutes Section 25-415 deals with custody by non-parents and defines “in loco parentis” as “a person who has been treated as a parent by the child and who has formed a meaningful parental relationship with the child for a substantial period of time.”
Impact of Custody on Child Support
Arizona relies on the shared income model when determining child support payments. This means that sharing joint legal decision making does not absolve you from child support. The income of both parents is initially reviewed to make a determination on what amount is needed to cover the child’s basic needs. The court does take into account that both parents have legal decision-making rights and then looks at important financial details like who is paying health insurance, education expenses, or other important expenditures.
Since child support and custody are two separate matters and if a parent defaults on child support, he or she may believe that they may lose parenting-time rights. Some parents may be concerned about ex-spouses who remarry and/or divorce again and how that impacts current child support orders on file. According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, orders may be modified in instances where one parent has a new family to support or has another child support order pending due to a secondary divorce. Although they may see a modification in the amount of support, Arizona does not allow a parent to skip out on financial responsibility for the first child.
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When you are doing research online, you will come across many different legal services in Arizona that will fill your legal forms. However, that is where their services end. These agencies offer no additional benefits whatsoever. Once your document prep is done, you are expected to figure out how to handle everything else that has to take place. This includes filing the documents with the appropriate court and finding someone to serve the necessary parties. They will not assist with any other pending legal issues, either. This means that any questions you have regarding a specific process or how to file the legal documents properly will incur additional fees from a completely different legal service.
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