Arizona Child Custody Laws
Arizona Custody and Parenting Time
Arizona Laws Regarding Child Custody and Parenting Time
The judge assigned to your case will decide each parent's role in making major decisions affecting your child(ren) and each parent's respective rights to parental access with the child(ren). The judge's decision is based entirely upon what orders he or she believes is in the children's best interests.
The court is required to take several factors into consideration before issuing orders regarding legal custody (now referred to as "legal decision making") and the division of parenting time each parent will share with the child(ren). Specifically, the court will consider the following factors:
- The wishes of the parents;
- The child's wishes;
- How the child interacts with each parent and any other children or other adults in their respective households;
- The health of each person involved in the child's care;
- The child's adjustment to home, school and community;
- Which parent has been primarily responsible for providing care for the child in the past, as well as each parents current and future potential relationship with the child;
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child to maintain frequent and meaningful contact with the other parent;
- Whether either party has attempted to use duress or coercion to force the other parent into reaching an agreement regarding legal decision making or parenting time of the child;
- Whether either party has raised a false allegation of child abuse against the other parent;
- Whether either parent has been convicted a domestic violence offense or has a substance abuse problem;
- Whether either parent has unnecessarily protracted litigation concerning the issues of legal decision making or parenting time;
If the parents are unable to reach an agreement regarding legal decision making or parenting time of their children, the court may order the parents to participate in mediation to assist them in reaching an agreement regarding these issues. If the parents are unable to resolve their differences through mediation, the court may appoint a third person, such as a psychologist experienced in working with divided families, to evaluate the case and provide an expert opinion regarding the most appropriate custody and parental access orders.
What Forms of Child Custody Are There in Arizona
The term "custody:, now referred to as "legal decision making" has been grossly misunderstood and misused. The term really pertains to two distinct and very different issues; specifically, (1) how major decisions affecting the children, such as decisions regarding the children's education, health care, and religious upbringing, are made and (2) how parenting time is apportioned between the two parents.
The first issue regarding how major life decision are made for the children is referred to as the form of legal decision making and may be either sole legal decision making or joint legal decision making. The second issue regarding parenting time pertains to the parenting time schedule the parents share with their child. A parenting time schedule may vary considerably from case to case based upon a a myriad of factors.
What is Sole Legal Custody or Sole Decision Making in Arizona?
A parent granted sole custody (now referred to as "sole legal decision making") has the authority to make the final decision regarding the major life decisions affecting the parents' children, such as where the children attend school, the health care the children receive, and the extracurricular activities the children will participate in regardless of the opinion of the other parent. The other parent is still entitled to obtain information regarding his or her children's performance in school, performance in extracurricular activities, and health care from the other parent or directly from the provider of those services.
What is Joint Legal Custody or Joint Decision Making in Arizona?
Parents sharing joint legal custody (now referred to as joint legal decision making) must reach agreements regarding major life decisions affecting their children. Each parent's rights and responsibilities in communicating about and reaching agreements regarding these decisions are outlined in a court ordered Parenting Plan.
Disagreements between the parents regarding these decisions are often resolved through mediation or through use of a third person, referred to as a Parenting Coordinator, who will investigate the dispute and issue a recommendation to the court to resolve the disagreement between the parents.
What Visitation/Parenting Time Schedules do Judges Order in Arizona?
Parenting time refers to the scheduling of access between the parents and their child(ren). The parenting time schedule is not affected in any way by the designation of legal decision making as either sole legal decision making or joint legal decision making. Simply stated, the form of legal decision making, typically, has no bearing upon the amount of time either parent spends with their child(ren); unless there are concerns about a parent's fitness or ability to properly care for his or her children.
Can a Parent With Sole Custody Limit Access to a Child's Medical or Other Records?
Both parents are entitled by statute to obtain copies of their child's medical and educational records directly from the custodian of those records without the permission or authorization of the other parent regardless whether the parents share joint legal decision making or one parent has sole legal decision making over the child. There are, however, some exceptions to this general rule, such as when release of the child's records to a parent may place that child in danger of harm by the parent requesting the records.
What Happens if A Parent Wants to Move Out of State With A Child?
Generally, a parent seeking to move the children more than on hundred (100) miles from the other parent must give the non-moving parent notice of the intention to relocate at least sixty (60) days prior to the proposed move. During that sixty (60) day time period, the non-moving spouse may petition the court for an injunction to prohibit the other parent from moving the children. There are certain statutory exceptions which, if applicable to your particular case, may allow a spouse to move with the parties' children prior to the expiration of the sixty (60) day notice requirement.
How Do You Modify Visitation or Parenting Time in Arizona?
You may ask that the court modify parenting time orders anytime you believe you have sufficient evidence to establish another parenting time schedule is in the best interests of your children. You may do so by filing a Petition for Modification of Parenting Time up until the child turns 18 years of age.
However, Arizona law does impose some time limits for the modification of a prior legal decision making order. For example, a legal decision making order cannot be modified for one year after the court last entered the order unless there is a threat of harm to the child.
Changes in the parental access schedule with the children, however, can be changed at any time. Generally, almost all judges dislike seeing parents repeatedly going back to court requesting changes in custody or visitation orders, unless a real and significant change in circumstances has occurred.
The Court also has the ability to grant an Emergency Petition to Modify Child Custody or Parenting time if a parent alleges allegations indicating the children are in imminent risk of serious harm. If so, the court can change or even eliminate all parenting time to a parent until such time an evidentiary hearing may be scheduled for the court to receive evidence from both parents to decide whether to keep the emergency orders in place, modify them, or cancel those emergency orders.
CLICK HERE to read an informative article on Arizona Emergency Petitions to Modify Child Custody and/or Parenting Time.
What Can I Do to Enforce My Parenting Time in Arizona?
Arizona Law (A.R.S. '25-408) states: "A parent not granted custody of the child is entitled to reasonable parenting time rights to ensure that the minor child has frequent and continuing contact with the non-custodial parent, unless the court finds, after a hearing, that parenting time would endanger seriously the child's physical, mental, moral or emotional health."
The court will order the parenting time the judge feels is in the child's best interests. The parent who does not follow the parenting time order may be found in contempt of court, may be required to pay a financial sanction, may be forced to pay a bond through the clerk of the court, which could be forfeited if future violations occur, and, in extreme cases, can be sent to jail for contempt.
That parent may also be assessed attorney's fees and court costs. The court may also order make up parenting time to the parent who was denied access to the child. Denial of parenting time is likely to be a major factor supporting a change of custody to the other parent. A parent may even be arrested and charged with a crime by a law enforcement officer for refusing to obey the court's parenting time orders.
Contact Our Scottsdale Arizona Child Custody Attorneys
Contact us today or call us at (480) 305-8300 to schedule your consultation with one of our Scottsdale Arizona Child Custody Attorneys regarding the divorce process or any other Arizona family law matter.