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Child Custody Laws in Arizona

When children are involved in a divorce, the issue of custody is often a highly emotional and a source of contention. The issue of child custody is often the most contested aspect of a divorce and therefore frequently causes the divorce to drag on longer than normal. McKay Law can help you protect your rights and resolve your child custody dispute as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The legal terms used to define child custody are often confusing. Arizona removed the term “custody” from its family law statutes. Parents are instead awarded “legal decision-making” and “parenting time” in lieu of “custody.”

Judges have a tremendous amount of flexibility when addressing legal “decision-making” and “parenting time.” Increasingly, judges recognize the importance of keeping both parents in a child's life. It's rare to award one parent total control. That usually only occurs in cases of abuse or neglect, where health and safety are in jeopardy.

In determining how the parents will make major decisions with regard to the children, judges can award “joint decision-making” or “sole decision-making,” or judges can give one parent the right to make a certain types of decisions (e.g., religious decisions) and the other parent the right to make other types of decisions (e.g., educational decisions). Parenting time can be equal, or the judge can order that the children will reside primarily with one parent and spend a lesser amount of time with the other. Always, however, the final decision will be based on what the judge feels is in the “best interests” of the children.

In deciding what type of parenting arrangement will be in the children's best interests, judges turn to Arizona Revised Statute § 25-403 for guidance. The statute contains the following factors.

  • The past, present and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.
  • The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child's parent or parents, the child's siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interest.
  • The child's adjustment to home, school and community.
  • The wishes of the child as to legal decision-making and parenting time, if the child is of suitable age and maturity.
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
  • Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact with the other parent.
  • Whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause an unnecessary delay, to increase the cost of litigation or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or a parenting time preference to that parent.
  • Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse pursuant to Arizona Revised Statue § 25-403.03.
  • The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.
  • Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect.

Avoiding Messy Child Custody Battles

Although the divorce or custody process often raises feelings of bitterness and resentment towards the other person, it is in everyone's best interest to reach an amicable agreement regarding custody and visitation. Once your relationship has deteriorated you and the other parent still need to raise your children together, even though you now reside in different houses. Your children should not feel like they need to choose sides. To help alleviate this burden that children often assume, it is important that you and your children's other parent work together to make your divorce as least disruptive on your child's life as possible.

A child's well-being depends directly on the amount of conflict between parents. If you reach a custody settlement, conflicts are more likely to be resolved, resulting in a more peaceful post-court family life. Some of the major advantages of settling include:

  • Settling your custody dispute rather than litigating it allows parents to create a thoughtful and child-focused parenting plan that is tailored to the child's emotional and developmental needs.
  • Settling your custody dispute allows parents to create a parenting plan that takes into account the child's unique schedule.
  • Settling your custody disputes creates opportunities for parents to work together and truly co-parent.
  • Your parenting plan can contain detailed methods to resolve future differences without going to court.

At McKay Law, we can negotiate custody and parenting plans to develop a child-centered plan that is good for the entire family unit. McKay Law can also help you identify and address potential problems before the final judgment is entered by the court. Reaching an agreement, however, is not always possible. In this situation, McKay Law is prepared to vigorously and aggressively litigate the issue of custody.

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