A Child’s Best Interest When Planning For Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time
When parents separate or divorce, decisions have to be made based on the child’s best interests. In the past, parents used the term child custody when talking about where children will live and whom makes legal decisions about the child. In 2013, Arizona renamed legal custody with “legal decision-making” and physical custody to “parenting time.” Click to schedule an appointment.
Joint Legal Decision-Making is when both parents make decisions together about the children that include but are not limited to, non-emergency medical, dental, psychiatric care; education decisions such as change of school; personal appearance changes that are significant (i.e. tattoo, hair cut, piercing, hair coloring); decisions such as when to obtain a drivers license for the child; decisions for religious indoctrination (member, baptism, etc.)
Arizona law states that joint legal decision-making does not necessarily mean equal parenting time. Parents may decide to split parenting time according to what is best for the child, which doesn’t always mean a 50/50 split.
In situations where one parent has been convicted of domestic/family violence or there is evidence of its occurrence, joint legal decision-making would most likely not be awarded.
Sole Legal Decision-Making is when only one parent makes the above decisions about the children.
The courts encourage parents to come to an agreement about legal decision-making and parenting time. However, when parents are not able to come to an agreement the court may require you to attend mediation where you meet with a neutral third party to work out a parenting plan. The Conciliation Court offers Mediation as a free service.
The court will adopt a parenting plan that is consistent with the child’s best interest, provides both parents the ability to share in the legal decision-making process, and that maximizes parenting time for each parent. Arizona law prohibits favoritism when it comes to making decisions about legal decision-making and parenting time based on the other parent’s or the child’s gender.
When it comes to the child’s best interests the court will consider the following:
- Relationship between parent and child in the past, present and future
- Family interactions and bonding
- Child’s adjustment to a new living environment, school, and community
- If the child is old enough, their wishes
- Mental and physical health of parents/children
- The likelihood of parent allowing contact with the other parent
- If a parent has purposely misled the court
- The occurrence of domestic violence or child abuse
- The use of pressure from one parent in getting an agreement
- If a parent has a conviction of false reporting of child abuse or neglect
- If a parent has complied with attendance of the Domestic Relations Education Course on Children’s Issues (Parent Information Program)
Parenting Time refers to a schedule of time during which parents are physically present with their child/children. During this time, each parent is responsible for providing the child with food, clothing, and shelter and makes routine decisions about the child’s care. In the past, this was known as visitation and can be given to the parent who does not have legal decision-making rights for the children. Visitation now means a schedule of time that occurs with a child by someone other than a legal parent like a grandparent.
A Parenting Time Plan is a legal decision-making proposal for the judge that includes how both parents plan to act in the best interests of their children.
A Parenting Time Plan should include the following:
- General information about child’s name and birth date
- Designation of Legal decision-making as joint or sole
- Each parents rights and responsibilities when it comes to making healthcare decisions for emergency care, general care, insurance, healthcare providers/practitioners
- Each parents rights and responsibilities when it comes to obtaining child’s records pertaining to education, physical, mental and moral emotional health, medical, school, police, court and other records pertaining to the child
- Each parents rights and responsibilities when it comes to religious education arrangements
- Additional provisions that include change of address/phone number, emergency/important event that includes the children, extra curricular activities that affect parenting time, care-providers for children, relocation, communication and general cooperation for making decisions in line with the child’s best interests.
- Parental communication: frequency, method, in case of an emergency, and with sufficient advancement.
- How to handle disagreements/violations/breaches of agreement of the parenting plan
- Parenting time plan that specifies a beginning and ending times of parenting time schedules. Sample schedules can be found here.
- Regular residential arrangements
- Transportation/information about exchanges (including holidays and vacations)
- Designating parenting time during holidays, summer months, vacation, birthdays, etc.
- Telephone access/frequency for parent-child contact with non-residential parent.
- A signed statement that each party has read understands and will abide by the notification requirements of Arizona law.
Other things to consider when working out a plan that works for your family:
- Age and maturity of the child
- A child’s personality
- The strength of the child’s attachment to each parent
- Do the child or parents have special needs
- The child’s relationships with siblings/friends
- Distance of parents’ homes to maintain regular and frequent contact
- Flexibility of parents’ and child’s schedules
- Child care arrangements
- Parents’ communication and cooperation
- The child and parents’ cultural and religious practices
- Concerns about parental fitness when it comes to domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental health problems
- Each parent’s ability and availability to care for the child’s needs
- Parent’s commitment to exercising the parenting time consistently
There exist no mandate that dictates minimum and maximum amount of parenting time for either parent. A parenting plan even when it has the agreement of both parents will need to be approved by a judge. Parenting plans allow for children and parents to have predictability and consistency and minimizes the potential for future conflict. When parents work together to write down agreements, it is more likely that they will continue to work together as their child grows. Both parents working together are always in a child’s best interest. Parenting Plans will also need periodic review.
Arizona Statewide Paralegal has handled cases like this since 1992. As a result we have experience to prepare all of the legal documents you will need. We also will take care of filing your documents at the court so you don’t have to spend your day trying to find the right place to file your paperwork. Because determining legal decision-making and parenting time can be stressful, we serve the other parent and make sure the court receives “proof of service.”
In addition we keep track of all the deadlines and notify you of the “legal decision-making” hearing and prepare all of the documents required for your court hearing. If you have questions or concerns that are not answered here then please call (520) 327-4000 Tucson or (602) 253-1515 Phoenix and we will do our best to answer them. Click to schedule an appointment