Child Custody Laws In Arizona
Thank you for visiting our Arizona child custody laws page. Our Scottsdale child custody attorneys want to provide you with answers to all of your questions regarding child custody and family law.
We strive to provide answers to all of your questions regarding child custody and family law. We encourage you to view our Arizona Child Custody | Frequently Asked Questions page, as well as our Family Law Blog, to obtain more information about all aspects of family law.
Child Custody in Arizona – What You Need To Know
Arizona child custody disagreements present frustrating issues for parents with different opinions regarding how much time each parent should spend with their child(ren) and how important decisions, such as educational or medical decisions, are decided between the parents.
A myriad of child custody issues can arise between parents which, if not addressed, create future custody disagreements. These future custody disagreements may lead to additional conflict between the parents long after the initial child custody determination is made.
A well drafted Parenting Plan from an experienced lawyer can eliminate those future disagreements; thereby saving the parents significant additional stress, time, and money.
Once the Court issues its child custody and parenting time orders, either parent may petition the court to modify those orders on a temporary or permanent basis. The Court may also issue an Emergency Order temporarily changing or eliminating a parent’s parenting time with their child if allegations are made in an Emergency Petition that, if true, place the child in imminent risk of harm.
Arizona Child Custody | Child Custody in Arizona Defined
Child custody issues are often the most important issue to our clients and it is the most important issue to us, as well. Spending time with your children is critical and it is crucial for parents to be provided appropriate time in order to provide appropriate guidance to those children. We want to share with you what it really means when people refer to “custody” of a child in Arizona.
There are two aspects to child custody in Arizona. The court must decide whether the parties are going to share joint custody, now referred to as joint legal decision making, or whether the court will grant one parent sole legal custody, now referred to as sole legal decision making over the major decisions affecting the children.
The court must then decide how much parenting time the children will spend with each parent. The court could award one parent primary physical custody, which means the children will reside primarily with one parent and spend parenting time with the other parent, which could be that the non-custodial parent may spend parenting time with his or her children every other weekend with an evening or overnight visit during the week.
Alternatively, the court could order an equal parenting time arrangement. We have written an article entitled “Is a Presumption of Equal Parenting Time in Arizona Good for Children” based upon a speech by renowned psychologist, Dr. Phil Stahl, regarding the propriety of implementing an equal parenting time arrangement.
The court has broad discretion to enter any parenting time schedule the judge believes is in the child(ren)’s bests interests, which could be a variant of the two parenting time schedules discussed above. Both of these decisions, whether it be legal decision making or parenting time, will be based upon what the court determines is in the best interests of the child(ren).
Child Custody in Arizona | What Are the Factors a Court Must Consider
The Arizona Court of Appeals in the Wood v. Wood case held that both parents are presumed to be fit parents. The factors the court will consider are, among others, the relationship the child has had with each parent, the relationship the children have with their siblings and other people in each person’s home with whom the children will have contact, such as friends, family, and others, as well as the children’s adjustment in each of their parents’ homes, schools, and the surrounding communities.
The court is going to consider the wishes of the children as long as they are of suitable age to to voice an intelligent preference. Although the court will consider the children’s wishes, the court is not bound to follow their wishes; particularly if the court concludes that one parent has made intentional attempts to alienate the children from the other parent or the reasons the children express a preference to reside with a particular parent because they have less supervision or demands placed upon them in one of the parent’s homes.
The court will consider evidence of the mental and physical health of the children, as well as the physical and mental health of the parents and anyone else in either parent’s home with whom the children will have contact.
The Arizona Court of Appeals in the Gove v. Gove case and the Hahman case held that a party involved in a child custody or parenting time case waives the physician/patient privilege permitting both parents to obtain all of the other parent’s medical and counseling records for use in a child custody or parenting time case.
The Arizona Court of Appeals has not issued a decision as to whether the logic in those cases would apply to third parties with whom the children have contact. Many people have seen counselors and may be taking medication for depression and/or anxiety. Unless those conditions materially affect the parent’s ability to function as a fit parent, the court is very unlikely to worry about such a diagnosis.
The court will consider evidence to determine whether either or both parents are likely to cooperate in allowing frequent and continuing contact with the children. This factor can carry a lot of weight with a judge, so it is important to ensure you comply with the court’s orders for parenting time.
The court will consider evidence of whether a parent has attempted to mislead the court or unnecessarily prolonged the child custody proceedings. In many contentious custody cases, the court may find that both parents were unreasonable.
However, this particular factor can be persuasive if one parent has protracted the litigation and the other parent has remained reasonable throughout the case.
The court will consider whether the children have been abused by either parent and whether there has been domestic violence in the family. This is a particularly important factor. The Arizona Court of Appeals in the Christopher k. v. Markaa S case held that protecting children from child abuse should be of “paramount importance” in the court’s child custody and decision making orders.
That case suggests the court must give special weight to this particular factor if evidence establishes a child has been abused by a parent. We have also successfully argued that child abuse occurs when the children witness a parent abusing the other parent.
The court will consider whether either parent has attempt to exert coercion or duress on the other parent to the legal decision making or parenting time orders they prefer and whether the parents have completed the required Parent Information Program class. The court will also consider if either party has been convicted of the crime of making a false police report of abuse or neglect against the other parent.
It is important to know that Arizona judges are prohibited from considering the sex of either parent when making legal decision making or parenting time orders. Please read our article entitled “Do Courts Favor Mothers Over Fathers in Child Custody Cases” for more information on the prohibition of a bias towards mothers or fathers.
Child Custody Evaluations in an Arizona Child Custody Case
If you are involved in a child custody case and you are unable to reach an agreement on legal decision making or parenting time arrangements for your children, you may consider asking the court to appoint a Child Custody Evaluator. These experts will investigate all aspects of a child’s life, including the parents relationship with the child.
These evaluators are permitted to speak to doctors, teachers, family members and anyone who has information relevant to determining what decision making and parenting time arrangements the expert believes is in the best interests of your children.
The opinions of the evaluator may carry a significant amount of weight when you go to trial in an Arizona child custody case, so it is imperative you do everything possible to present the best case possible during the child custody evaluation. The good news is there are numerous things you may do to reach the best possible outcome on your case.
Our attorneys prepare a thorough position statement outlining every statutory factor the child custody evaluator is required to consider before issuing recommendations to the court. We also thoroughly outline all of the evidence supporting our client’s position on each of those factors and attach exhibits and sworn witness statements in support of our position.
We thoroughly cover everything the evaluator should know to ensure nothing is missed to ensure the evaluator is held accountable for the recommendations he or she issues to the Court. It prevents an evaluator from denying being informed of any particular issue and often helps shape the recommendations made by the evaluator.
It also assists our clients in preparing for the evaluation because they have a complete written outline of all of our positions and the evidence we have of those positions before they first meet with the evaluator.
Using a Parenting Coordinator in an Arizona Child Custody Case
If children are involved in your case and you have joint legal decision making and are experiencing significant or recurring disagreements regarding decisions affecting your children, you may consider appointing a Parenting Coordinator.
A Parenting Coordinator is typically a mental health professional, although there are Arizona family law attorneys and others listed on the approved Parenting Coordinator roster. Parenting Coordinators who are appointed by the court are available to assist parents in resolving day to day disputes that may arise between parents regarding the care and upbringing of their children.
The Parenting Coordinator will either speak with you on the phone or bring both parties into their office when one of the parents notifies him or her of a dispute regarding the children. The Parenting Coordinator will listen to what both parents have to say and review the evidence the parties present. The Parenting Coordinator will then issue a report and recommendation to the Court regarding his or her opinion as to what should be done to resolve the dispute.
The court will often adopt a Parenting Coordinator’s recommendation as the order of the court unless either party objects. If neither party objects to the Parenting Coordinator’s recommendations, those recommendations become a final Order of the court.
If either party objects to the recommendations of the Parenting Coordinator, the court will set an evidentiary hearing, listen to the evidence presented by both parties, and issue a Ruling based upon what the court believes to be in the best interests of the children.
It is important to know what a Parenting Coordinator may do and what they may not do in your case. Parenting Coordinators may only deal with decisions affecting the child. For example, such decisions would include which doctor the child goes to, which school the child attends, disagreements regarding the child’s participation in extra-curricular activities, enforcement of the existing parenting time schedule ordered by the court, and minor changes in that parenting time, such as when a parent may pick up the child for his or her parenting time.
The Parenting Coordinator is not permitted to make major changes to the parenting time schedule the court has ordered. They may, however, from time to time make minor changes to the parenting time schedule. They cannot, however, make substantial changes to the parenting time schedule or decisions or recommendations regarding any financial issues such as child support.
Having a Parenting Coordinator assigned in your case will very likely save you time and money when you have continual disagreements regarding issues affecting your child(ren). If you don’t have a Parenting Coordinator in place, you are left with two options. One option is to file a motion with the court, wait several months for a hearing, wait for the judge to, thereafter, issue a ruling on the issue, and most likely incur attorney fees.
If you have a Parenting Coordinator appointed on your case, you can simply pick up the phone, speak to your Parenting Coordinator, and can typically expect to receive a recommendation within a few days. We frequently observe disagreements regarding where the children will attend school.
The parents can present that issue to the assigned Parenting Coordinator who will make a written recommendation and that recommendation will normally be adopted by the Court as the order of the Court soon thereafter. If either party files an objection to the report, the Court is required to hold an evidentiary hearing on, for example, which school the child will attend to enable the Court to then issue a ruling on the issue.
We often recommend the appointment of a Parenting Coordinator if it is evident there will be on-going conflict between the parents to protect our clients form having to come back and pay our law firm to continuously litigate ongoing issues. You should review our article entitled “A Judge Cannot Delegate Child Custody Decisions to a Third Party” to understand the limitations on referring issues to a Parenting Coordinator to better understand their role in an Arizona child custody case.
Even if the court provides an evidentiary hearing, the court is still limited on what it can order based upon report issued by the Parenting Coordinator as demonstrated in the unpublished decision of the Arizona Court of Appeals ruling in Contreras v. Bourke.
Contact Our Scottsdale Arizona Child Custody Attorneys
Contact us today at (480) 305-8300 to schedule your consultation with our Scottsdale Arizona child custody attorneys regarding AZ child custody issues or any other Arizona family law matter.