Arizona Divorce Child Custody
Divorce in Arizona: Child Custody
An Arizona court must consider the best interests of the children when evaluating child custody cases before rendering a decision regarding how parents will share parenting time with their children. Neither parent has superior child custody rights to their children until such time the judge issued orders setting forth both their respective rights to make decisions for their children, as well as the amount of time each parent may spend with their children. The court is strictly prohibited from considering the sex of either parent as a factor in the court’s child custody decision.
When determining what is in a child’s best interests, the court will consider several factors including, but not limited to, the health and safety of the children and the parenting schedule that will allow the children to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents.
Health and Safety of the Children
Arizona child custody statutes and decisions from the Arizona Court of Appeals require a judge to give primary importance to issues that affect a child’s health and safety. The law in Arizona prohibits judges from granting custody or unsupervised parenting time to a parent who has murdered the other parent or who was convicted in a criminal case of physically or sexually abusing the child unless that parent overcomes the legal presumption that unsupervised parenting time is in the child’s best interests. A judge in an Arizona divorce case may also restrict a parent’s access to his or her child if that parent, even without a criminal conviction, has been found by the court to have abused the child or the child’s other parent.
A parent who abuses illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol may also have their parenting time restricted. The court may, in such cases, order a parent to undergo random drug or alcohol testing through TASC.
Wishes of the Children
The Arizona child custody statutes require a court to consider the wishes of the children as to who makes the major decisions affecting their lives, as well as the amount of time the children want to spend with each parent. An Arizona judge, however, is not obliged to honor the wishes of the children, particularly if they are not old enough to intelligently decide with whom they wish to spend their time or if the children’s stated wishes are the result of a nefarious reason, such as the other parent has intentionally damaged the children’s relationship with the other parent or the children’s wishes are motivated by something that is not in their best interests, such as when a child wishes to spend time with one parent over the other because that parent does not hold them to any responsibilities.
Joint Legal Decision Making
Another factor an Arizona court must consider is whether one parent is more likely to encourage frequent and continuing contact with the other parent. Almost all judges believe it is damaging to a child if he or she does not maintain regular and continuing contact with the other parent and will favor granting primary physical custody to a parent who does not try to interfere with the child’s relationship with the other parent. A court will look very unfavorably on a parent who, for example, makes a false allegation of child abuse against the other parent to restrict the other parent’s parenting time with the child.
Stability is Important
A divorce is a very destabilizing event for the parents and children. Most experts agree to maintain as much stability for the children as possible. Although there will necessarily be a change in the child’s schedule, almost all judges want to see the parents cooperating to minimize those changes, including where the child attends school.
What Are Your Options
The term “child custody” actually relates to two separate and distinct issues. One such issue is whether one or both parents are entitled to enforceable input regarding the major decisions affecting the child, such as where the children attend school, the medical care they receive, and the extracurricular activities they are allowed to enjoy. The other issue is how much parenting time the children will spend with each parent.
We have found it a best divorce practice first to seek to resolve the child custody issues in an Arizona divorce case too, literally, get the children out of the middle of the dispute and establish their stability in the event the parents become embroiled in bitter litigation over the financial issues in the case. This strategy is designed to prevent either parent from using the children as pawns against the other parent in an attempt to get the other parent to agree with his or her position on those disputes financial issues.
If you have a question about divorce and child custody in Arizona, please call to speak to one of our experienced Scottsdale and Phoenix Arizona family law attorneys at (480)305-8300.