WORKING DAD’S JOURNAL – First Day of School

LETTER TO MY SON ON HIS FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL:

August 8, 1994

Today was your first day of kindergarten. This morning, at breakfast, you seemed a little tentative, so I volunteered to walk you to school. Your mom laid out your new school clothes on your bed, and now you proudly put on your Power Rangers T-shirt, along with a pair of shorts and your black, high-top Chuck Taylor All-Star Converse basketball shoes. You looked in the mirror and admired the kid staring back. You were decked out and looking good.

I packed your lunch, grabbed your Phoenix Suns backpack, pinned on your name tag, put a red apple badge around your neck (signifying that you go to Mrs. Sullivan’s extended-day enrichment class after your morning class ends) and off to school we went.

We had a nice conversation as we walked. When we reached the campus we saw your sister with her friends Rhianna and Christina, and we waved. I told you that we were still a little early and there was time to play on the playground. You were excited. We passed two boys who seemed to be about your age.

“Hi guys!” I said, wanting to help you make new friends. “What grade are you in?”

“First,” said the little one, without much interest.

“He’s going into Kindergarten,” I said, pointing at you.

You smiled and kicked some dirt.

“Kindergarten is for babies!” bellowed the big one, and off he ran, with his little sidekick right behind. You looked crestfallen.

I glanced around for something to divert your attention and take your mind off of this bitter rejection.

“Hey, pal,” I said. “Look at those kids playing on the baseball field — I’ll race you around the bases!”

The playground had been irrigated over the weekend and was still wet, although the baseball field was on higher ground and seemed to be mostly dry. A few older kids milled around, waiting for class to start. You and I positioned ourselves at home plate.

“On your mark . . . Get set . . . GO!”

And we were off. We reached first base with you a step ahead, racing at full-throttle. We turned and sped toward second base, neck-and-neck. Just before we reached it, I looked down, and there, where the base would normally be, was a large, round patch of what at any other time would have been dirt. Today, however, it was mud. Deep,wet, squishy, slimy mud. My eyes darted to you, hoping that you would take a wide turn and avoid the quagmire. But you leaned into the turn at high speed, rounding second with one long stride. As your left foot hit the ground, it began to drift and, for one brief moment, you were skating. Then, as your right foot came down, your left foot flew out from under you — and you landed, with a splat, in the watery, brown goop.

For a few seconds you lay there, unhurt, but wondering what the heck you were going to do now. I stood over you, wondering the same thing. Slowly, you pulled yourself to a sitting position, and then stood up. Your entire left side; shoes, socks, leg, shorts, shirt, arm and hand, were caked with a thick coat of dripping, wet mud. You examined your new clothes, which your mother had so carefully picked out. Then you looked up and, as your eyes met mine, we both burst out into raucous laughter.  The big kids who were standing around us laughed, too, but they were laughing with us, as compassionate friends.

I took your hand and walked you toward your class. You sloshed along beside me, giggling too hard to be embarrassed. I told you that I’d go home and bring you back a fresh, dry set of clothing. When we reached the sidewalk, the class was lining up. Your classmates looked at you, wide-eyed. Your teacher, Mrs. Filson, bent down and patted you on the head, trying unsuccessfully to hide her amusement. “What a way to start the day,” she chuckled. Mrs. Teagarden, the school principal, walked up and put her hand on your shoulder. Laughing sympathetically, she said:

“You’re all boy.”

 

Business Owner Comp: More Than Just A Wage

 

By Guest Columnist:

Laura S. Leopardi, CPA/ABV/CFF/CGMA, MBA

 

Family law cases involving community businesses inevitably require an analysis of business owner compensation. Privately-held (also referred to as closely-held) business owners tend to compensate themselves in a variety of ways— not just a W-2 wage. Additional sources of compensation may include potential wages paid to a spouse/party not actually working in the business, dividends or distributions, shareholder loans, corporate perquisites, deferred compensation (401k plan contributions), or payment from affiliate entities (such as holding companies).

Wages— are they reasonable?

The issue with W-2 wages paid to community business owners is whether or not they are reasonable. The Internal Revenue Service uses a two-prong test for payroll deductions— the pay must be 1.) reasonable and 2.) it must be for services performed.  I.R.S. Publication 535 (2013), Business Expenses, states “To be deductible, your employees’ pay must be an ordinary and necessary business expense and you must pay or incur it.”  Reasonableness tests consider efforts contributed, the level of wages paid commensurate with duties performed, and industry standards. In addition, wages paid to spouses of business owners not actually working in the business but intended to earn social security and Medicare credit are disallowed by law and can be treated as compensation of the working spouse.

Dividends/Distributions

Distributable— not just distributed, income should be assessed. When valuing a business, dividend paying capacity is assessed. Dividends or distributions authorized can be traced to corporate resolutions approved by the Board of Directors. Undistributed earnings should be analyzed to assess whether such monies are truly necessary working capital needed to fund business operations or potential owners’ compensation— especially in businesses solely owned by the community.

Shareholder Loans

Some business owners tend to borrow money from their company. A key consideration here is the intent to repay. The Internal Revenue Service looks for a fully executed formal promissory note with the principal amount borrowed and terms of repayment, including a stated rate of interest, payment schedule, and maturity date. Applicable Federal Rates are published monthly by the Internal Revenue Service for debt instruments used in property transactions between related parties— including shareholders [http://apps.irs.gov/app/picklist/list/federalRates.html]. Often, there is no note, no interest rate, no historical payments, and…no intent to repay. Look for increases in shareholder loans reported on the balance sheet from year to year. The annual increases may very well be treated as business owner compensation. Shareholder loans typically represent community obligations— monies payable to the business. However, the disposition of such monies is often investigated in a forensic accounting or business valuation.

Perquisites

Travel, meals, entertainment, health insurance, vehicle loan or lease payments, and club membership dues are all examples of expenses that can be material and construed to reduce personal living expenses. Consequently, discretionary expenses paid by an employer can be attributable to the employed spouse’s compensation. 

Deferred Compensation

Business owners can establish deferred compensation plans whereby part of their compensation is deferred until retirement age. Nonqualified deferred compensation plans are an employer’s unsecured contractual commitment to pay employee compensation in future tax years to a select management group or highly compensated employees. Certain plans have both a salary deferral and profit-sharing portion to deferred compensation. According to plan documents and as allowable by law, employers may match part of employee contributions. Some plans allow loans against deferred assets— another source of income. Other forms of nonqualified deferred compensation include incentive stock options, restricted stock, stock appreciation rights, and phantom stock.

Payments from Affiliate Entities

A typical scenario in Arizona is a community business that is an operating company paying rent (which may or may not reflect market value) to an affiliated holding company— another community business. Such rents reduce the operating company’s taxable income and value. A property management fee can be taken, which minimizes the holding company’s taxable income and value. Payments from affiliate entities for services rendered may be treated as compensation.

Child Support Guidelines

Arizona Child Support Guidelines are an excellent resource when analyzing gross income from self-employment. Determination of the Gross Income of the Parents delineates components of income from self-employment including income from rents, royalties, proprietorship of a business or joint ownership of a partnership or closely held corporation. Regarding perquisites, expense reimbursements or benefits received by a parent in the course of employment or self-employment or operation of a business shall be counted as income if they are significant and reduce personal living expenses. Permissible deductions from gross income include ordinary and necessary expenses required to produce income, which include one-half of self-employment taxes actually paid.  Concepts of unemployment or underemployment are addressed and are also pertinent considerations as is a productivity adjustment to business owners in relation to their industry counterparts.

 

Laura S. Leopardi, CPA/ABV/CFF/CGMA, MBA is Managing Member of Laura S. Leopardi, CPA, pllc and is a credentialed and experience business valuator and testifying expert witness in family law cases including business valuation, income from self-employment, lifestyle analysis, and commingling issues. Laura can be reached at 602.595.3962 or lleopardi@leopardivaluation.com.

BASKETBALL PLAYER GETS A “PASS” ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

In an article about Jason Kidd, a former Phoenix Suns basketball player who was recently elected to the Hall of Fame, a local sportswriter wrote: “Kidd was traded after a 2001 fight with his wife that led to him pleading guilty to spousal abuse.” But he quickly went on to note: “His personal troubles didn’t seem to affect his play.”

Really? That’s it? Are we supposed to admire this guy for not letting the fact that he beat up his wife affect his play on the basketball court? – I have news for you: Many men who abuse their wives or children don’t let their “personal troubles” affect their performance at work. Maybe instead of praising the abusers for doing so well professionally, we should look at how those beatings affect the lives of the victims.

Domestic violence is an insidious evil. And that evil is endemic to all cultures, and all ethnic and socio-economic groups. It’s an evil that needs to be eradicated. But we’ll never wipe it out by downplaying it, or so easily giving an abuser a “pass” as long as he’s a famous athlete or a corporate executive, or a high-ranking politician. I stand with the “Me-Too” movement. I stand with “Time’s-Up.” Only by men and women standing up and speaking out against domestic violence, sexual harassment, gender inequality, and workplace discrimination will we begin to see any real change.

 

At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., both Gary Frank and attorney Hanna Juncaj are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator, which includes having acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, and serving on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. Hanna Juncaj is a highly-skilled attorney and mediator with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues – a great communicator who cares about her clients and uses her expertise to guide them through difficult times. We handle Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), grandparent and non-parent rights, division of property, spousal maintenance, child support, modification and enforcement actions, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email gary@garyfranklaw and hanna@garyfranklaw. You can also contact us through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

 

I WANT A DIVORCE — NOW WHAT?

Going through a divorce can be one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. Making the decision to dissolve your marriage (file for divorce) can be emotionally taxing, especially if there are children involved. The end of a marriage can be also be a confusing situation. Your divorce can include asset protection, child custody and support issues, spousal maintenance, domestic violence, or drug use/abuse. The attorneys at Gary J. Frank P.C. can make it easier for you and your children to go through the divorce process. We represent clients in both contested and uncontested divorce, with children or without children.

The following is some general information about marriage, and the general steps that need to be taken when filing for a divorce.

Covenant vs. Non-covenant

Arizona is a “no-fault” state, meaning that neither party needs to show blame or responsibility for the divorce. This is referred to as a “Non-Covenant” Marriage, and a marriage will be considered a non-covenant marriage unless the parties specify that they are entering into a “Covenant Marriage.” The only question that needs to be answered in a divorce of a Non-Covenant Marriage is whether the marriage is “irretrievably broken” or that there is no chance of the parties reconciling.

A Covenant Marriage is different in that the parties must have the intent to enter into this type of marriage, which should be declared on their application for a marriage license. A Covenant Marriage is also different than a Non-Covenant Marriage because in order for the parties to divorce, someone must be at “fault.” This is important because in a Covenant Marriage, a state court cannot grant your divorce without a reason. This can include adultery, felony, habitual drug or alcohol use, or if both parties agree to a divorce.

How to File for Divorce in Arizona

  • Residency Requirement

In order for a person to file for divorce in Arizona, one or both spouses must have lived in Arizona for at least 90 days. This includes spouses that are members of the Armed Forces and have been stationed in Arizona for at least 90 days.

  • Fill out your forms

In order to initiate your divorce in Arizona, the spouse filing for divorce (the petitioner) will need to file a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” with the Clerk of the Superior Court in the county the party resides. The Petition asks the court grant the parties’ divorce, while also entering other orders such as the separation of marital community property, the identification of sole and separate property, and if there are children involved, legal decision making and parenting time orders. This is only the start of the divorce process, and the requests in your petition are usually not considered until evidence and testimony are presented at a trial or evidentiary hearing.

  • Service of Process

Once you file your Petition for Dissolution, you will need to serve the other party (your spouse) with a copy of your documents, which include the Petition, the Summons, and the Preliminary Injunction, and other required documents. There are several methods of service, but the most common are arranging service with a private process server, or having the other party sign an Acceptance of Service, acknowledging that he/she has received the divorce paperwork. The signed Acceptance of Service must then be filed with the clerk of court.

Once the Petition is filed, you have 120 days from the date of filing to serve the other party. If the party is not served within that time frame, your case will be dismissed. Once your spouse is served, he/she will have 20 days to file their Response to your Petition (or 30 days if served out of state). If your spouse is served and fails to file a Response within the applicable time period, then you can apply for a “default judgement.”

  • 60-Day waiting period

The parties (you and your spouse) will have to wait at least 60-days before the Court will enter into any orders. This is otherwise known as the “cooling-off” period. This cooling-off period begins when your spouse is served. For example, even if you and your spouse have agreed on all issues in the divorce and submit a Decree, the Court will not sign it or enter any orders until the 60-day period has lapsed.

  • Decree of Dissolution

The order that finalizes the divorce is called a Decree of Dissolution. This will outline all of the terms of the divorce, including division of property and parenting issues, and each party will be returned to single status. The terms of a Decree of Dissolution can be ordered by the Court after a final trial; or the parties can negotiate their own agreement and submit a Consent Decree of Dissolution of Marriage to the judge for approval. If the parties submit a Consent Decree, and the judge approves and signs it, then they may be able to obtain a final divorce without ever stepping foot in a courtroom.

 

by Hanna Juncaj

The Law Firm of Gary Frank P.C. is an Arizona Family Law firm that has been a fixture in the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona for over thirty years.  Our attorneys, Gary Frank and Hanna Juncaj, are strong litigators, highly-skilled mediators, and compassionate counselors. We handle divorce and spousal maintenance cases, as well as legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, relocation/move-away, Paternity, Grandparents’ rights and Non-Parents’ rights cases, modification actions, enforcement actions, and all other matters related to Family Law.  If you are in need of a consultation, attorneys Gary and Hanna would love to talk to you.  Please call us today.  You can reach our office at 602-383-3610, or you can contact us by email at through our website.  To learn more about our firm, take a look at our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’d be happy to help you.

HOW DOES THE COURT DETERMINE SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE?

Spousal Maintenance, known in many other states as “Alimony,” is one of the most ambiguous and difficult areas in Arizona Family Law.  Determining whether to award spousal support during a divorce is a matter of judicial discretion. The award of spousal maintenance will be modifiable in the future (upon a showing of substantial and continuing change of circumstances) unless the parties agree that it shall be non-modifiable and such a provision is included in the final order

In making her/his decision, the judge will first consider the factors listed in Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-319(A). Those factors include the length of the marriage; the age of the spouse seeking spousal support; whether that spouse is able to be self-sufficient through employment; whether she/he has sufficient property to provide for her/his reasonable needs; and whether she/he is caring for a child whose age or condition makes it difficult or impossible to work.  If the judge determines that one or more of the above factors applies, then spousal maintenance may be awarded.

As for how much should be paid in spousal maintenance, and how long it should be paid, the judge will look to section B of the statute.  Arizona has no specific guidelines (as it does with child support) to make this determination, and there is nothing in the statute that specifically instructs the Court as to the amount, or the duration, of a spousal maintenance award. Instead, there is a second set of factors, which include the following: “

(1) The standard of living established during the marriage;

(2) The duration of the marriage;

(3) The age, employment history, earning ability and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;

(4) The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet that spouses’ needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance;

(5) The comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market;

(6) The contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse;

(7) The extent to which the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse;

(8) The ability of both parties after the dissolution to contribute to the future educational costs of their mutual children;

(9) The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to that spouse, and that spouse’s ability to meet that spouse’s own needs independently;

(10) The time necessary to acquire sufficient education  or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment and whether such education or training is readily available;

(11) Excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community, joint tenancy and other property held in common;

(12) The cost for the spouse who is seeking maintenance to obtain health insurance and the reduction in the cost of health insurance for the spouse from whom maintenance is sought if the spouse from whom maintenance is sought is able to convert family health insurance to employee health insurance after the marriage is dissolved; and

(13) All actual damages and judgments from conduct that results in criminal conviction of either spouse in which the other spouse or child was the victim.”

Since there is no set of guidelines for the determination and calculation of spousal maintenance, the final result will depend on how each judge applies the statutory factors to the facts of the case. This can result in wide variations in spousal maintenance awards — and it makes it important for a person seeking spousal maintenance to present a solid case using a “needs-based” analysis.  Thorough preparation, good organization, and a convincing courtroom presentation will give you the best chance for success.  A strong, experienced attorney can greatly increase your chances of receiving a spousal maintenance award.

 

This response is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or representation.  To understand your rights and obligations under the particular circumstances of your case, you should seek legal counsel.

The Law Firm of Gary Frank P.C. is an Arizona Family Law firm that has been a fixture in the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona for over thirty years.  Our attorneys, Gary Frank and Hanna Juncaj, are strong litigators, highly-skilled mediators, and compassionate counselors. We handle divorce and spousal maintenance cases, as well as legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, relocation/move-away, Paternity, Grandparents’ rights and Non-Parents’ rights cases, modification actions, enforcement actions, and all other matters related to Family Law.  If you are in need of a consultation, attorneys Gary and Hanna would love to talk to you.  Please call us today.  You can reach our office at 602-383-3610, or you can contact us by email at through our website.  To learn more about our firm, take a look at our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’d be happy to help you.

 

NEW CASE LIMITS JUDGE’S ABILITY TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR PARENTS

It came on like a silent earthquake. You didn’t see it coming. You never felt it when it hit. But now the foundation of the place where you live has shifted. The cracks in the walls are becoming visible. And nothing will ever be the same.

That is the effect of the 2018 Arizona appellate court case of NICAISE v. SUNDARAM,

Before Nicaise, the Family Court was the final arbiter of disputes over matters like education, medical, religious, or other decisions that parents make. If the parties couldn’t agree on an important parenting issue, one of them could take the matter to court and, after a trial or a hearing, the judge would make the decision for them.

But not anymore.

The Court in Nicaise ruled that a judge “may not substitute its judgment for that of a parent and make parenting decisions for them when they are unable to agree.” So now, when parents disagree, a judge can no longer decide which school a child will attend, or what doctor can treat her, or whether she will participate in therapy, etc. Those are parental decisions, and the Court no longer has the authority to intervene and “break the tie.”

For a number of years, the trend in divorce, legal separation, paternity, and other Family Law cases has been for the courts to award the parents joint legal decision-making authority (formerly called “joint custody”). But the Nicaise case is likely to slow down that trend, or even stop it in its tracks, in cases where people have trouble co-parenting.

Previously, the courts would sometimes enter a joint legal decision-making order, but give one of the parents the “Final-Say” in the event of a disagreement. It required the parents to at least discuss the issue, and each parent had input. But that has changed, too. The Court, in Nicaise, determined that “an award of joint legal decision-making that gives final authority to one parent is, in reality, an award of sole legal decision-making.” So now, if parents cannot seem to agree, then instead of awarding them joint custody with one parent having “final say,” it is likely that the judge will simply award one parent sole legal decision-making authority. This might make the other parent feel as though his or her parental rights have been stripped away. And it could set the stage for less co-parenting, and more fighting, in the future.

The effect of the Nicaise ruling is that if a mother and father are unable to make decisions together, the Court will have to appoint one parent to make all the decisions; or it might split up the decision-making authority so that, for instance, one parent is in charge of making educational decisions while the other has the authority to make medical decisions.

The Nicaise case represents yet another major shift in how Family Law cases are decided in Arizona. It may take years for the repercussions of that ruling to become clear. But this we do know: There is no longer a reason for a judge to order that the parents have joint legal decision-making authority with one parent having the final say. And when parents appear to be unable to make decisions together, it is likely that a judge will grant one parent or the other sole legal decision-making authority. This could derail the decades-old trend of Arizona courts giving divorced/separated parents joint decision-making responsibility, and expecting them to be able to co-parent.

How will the Nicaise ruling play out in the future? – It may result in pitched court battles between parents, with each of them seeking “sole custody,” and it could turn divorce and custody litigation into a high-conflict, winner-take-all contest. This makes it even more important for moms and dads to try to work together and co-parent effectively. And, where they are unable to do so, it will be worthwhile to consider peaceful options, such as mediation and settlement negotiation. Because if those efforts fail, and litigation becomes the only alternative, it is likely that one parent is going to win, and one parent is going to lose. And sometimes that is not the best outcome for the children.

 

 

At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., both Gary Frank and attorney Hanna Juncaj are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator. He has also acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, and served on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force.  Hanna Juncaj is a highly-skilled attorney with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. She has extensive courtroom experience, and is also a certified mediator. In addition, Hanna is an active member of her County Bar Association.  We handle Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal and child support, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, call us today at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

 

Family Law Attorney Speaks Out for Children

As a Family Law Attorney and a children’s advocate for 37 years, it angers me that our own government has taken more than three thousand children from their parents at the border. Some have been shipped to locations across the country, while their parents are deported. Separating immigrant children from their parents is cruel and inhumane. It’s a matter of basic human rights. Just imagine the horror of it happening to you and your kids. Today, little 3 and 4 year old boys and girls are being forced to appear in court and represent themselves in deportation proceedings. That makes a mockery of U.S. Immigration Law and our Constitution. Thousands of young children have been traumatized, and many will never find their way back to their mothers and fathers. This is not a Democrat vs. Republican issue. It is not American vs. Immigrant. The only question is whether we, as a society, will countenance child abuse.

Working Dad’s Journal – Thoughts on Father’s Day

May 31, 1985

To My Little Girl (6 months old):

Since you were born, I have undergone a gradual transformation. What has changed is my entire definition of self – the way I view myself.  The change is imperceptible to others.  I look, dress, and act the same as I always have, but I feel different.

I had a beautiful childhood.  I felt safe in the knowledge that my parents loved me.  This was, for me, a protective shield.  My memories of those days are vivid and happy.  I can still remember jumping in bed with my dad on Sunday mornings and the way he would turn and smile and wrap me up in his massive arms.  I remember him lifting me gently and carrying me off to bed at night, and clinging to him, my head on his shoulder, pretending to be asleep.  I remember our baseball games in the backyard and how proud I was that my dad was the one teaching us how to hit, field, and throw.  I remember our man-to-man talks and how important I felt as my dad listened intently to my thoughts.  In my eyes, my dad was of heroic proportions, fearless and strong, yet kind and wise.  Today I not only remember those times with my dad, I feel them.

 Now I walk into your room.  It is dark and you are crying.  You reach for me and I lift you out of your crib and hold you in my arms.  You cling to me.  Although you are still whimpering, you smile.  I talk to you softly and turn to gaze into the mirror on your closet door.  Through the dim light, I look at myself and see my dad.

ARIZONA CUSTODY LAW UPDATE – IS ASSUMPTION OF EQUAL PARENTING TIME AND DECISION-MAKING AUTHORITY UNFAIR TO CHILDREN?

  In 2012 I wrote an article on our law firm’s blog entitled “Say Goodbye to Custody,”, in which I discussed the brand new, and highly debated, revisions to the Arizona Family Law statutes. These laws, which guide the Court in making custody decisions involving children, have given rise to an assumption of equal parenting time and decision-making authority that has become the starting point for the Court’s analysis in every contested custody case. In my opinion, this approach hurts children more than helps them, and is unfair to both mothers and fathers. In this article, I’ll explain why.

Among the changes to the law were the following:

  • The word “custody” was replaced with the terms “Legal Decision-Making” and “Parenting Time.” (A.R.S. §25-403)
  • A provision was added providing that the court shall adopt a parenting plan “that provides for both parents to share legal decision-making regarding their child and that maximizes their respective parenting time.” (A.R.S. §25-403.02)
  • And in determining custody, whereas the Court was previously required to consider which parent had historically been the primary caregiver for the children, that was removed from the list of factors in the statute and replaced with a requirement for judges to consider: “The past, present, and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.” (A.R.S. §25-403 [1], Emphasis added.)

At the time, there was much discussion as to what these changes would mean. Some experts believed that the revisions were mostly “semantics” and that not much would change. Others argued that the revisions would lead to a “sea-change” in how the courts determine custody (now called Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time) in the future.

Now, more than five years later, the answer is in. Has there been a big change? Yes. The change has been enormous. It is a seismic shift in the way judges determine parenting time and legal decision-making authority. And, in my opinion, the change is not necessarily a healthy one.

The law still provides that the “best interests of the child” standard should be applied when making “custody” and parenting time decisions, but today, many judges interpret the statutory changes as requiring them to start with the assumption that both parents should be given equal decision-making authority, and equal parenting time. And, in many cases, that trumps the best interests of the child. It wasn’t that way before the law was changed. But, increasingly, it is the reality today.

Why do I think this is not a healthy approach? Well, I’ll get to that in a minute; but before I do, I need to explain a few things: The latest studies show that children do better, and are happier, when both of their parents are loving, active and involved. When a divorce or breakup occurs, the courts should work to make sure that loving, active and involved parents share in decision-making, and that the children get to spend plenty of time with both of them. In fact, Arizona law provides that:

It … is the declared public policy of this state and the general purpose of this title that absent evidence to the contrary, it is in a child’s best interest: (1) To have substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing parenting time with both parents; (and) (2) To have both parents participate in decision-making about the child.” (A.R.S. §25-103) 

So that’s the policy. And it’s true that equal decision-making and equal parenting time are good for children when both parents are loving and capable caregivers. But here’s the catch: Not all parents are equal. Some parents have never been meaningfully involved in their children’s lives, and never will be. And I’m not necessarily talking about “bad” parents. There are parents who love their children but are just too busy, or maybe not interested enough, to be involved. If a parent isn’t available to spend time with the children; and rarely or never attends doctors’ appointments, or school functions, or extracurricular activities; and if that parent doesn’t know the children’s friends; and isn’t tapped into their children’s likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses; their abilities, or disabilities; their medical conditions; etc., then how can that parent be trusted with making critically important decisions for those children? – But all too often today, these types of parents are awarded 50/50 parenting time and equal decision-making authority. And why? – Because of an unwritten assumption that a parent is entitled to it under Arizona law.

This is where I think the new law, as currently interpreted, goes off the rails and can hurt children. It places “Parents’ Rights” ahead of “Children’s Rights.” It assumes that in every case the Court should start its analysis with the proposition that both parents will receive equal parenting time and decision-making authority. And, by doing this, the best interest of the child has been made secondary to the best interest of the adults. Proponents of the law will not agree with my opinion. They will point out that there is no legal presumption mandating equal decision-making and parenting time — but that argument rings hollow. Because while it is true that overcoming a legal presumption requires a higher level of proof than a mere assumption, there is often little difference between the two in actual practice.  Try explaining the difference to a mother or father who has always been the sole caregiver, but whose children will now spend half their lives with a parent who never changed a diaper, never got up with a baby at night, never took care of a sick toddler, or attended a parent-teacher conference, or a school play, or a Little League game.

Those favoring an assumption of equal parenting-time and decision-making will argue that the Court is still required to consider all relevant factors, and that while “equal” may be the starting point in the analysis, a judge can give a parent less time, or no decision-making authority at all, where it is deemed to be in the best interest of the child. And that is true. But I would remind them that Arizona law was also changed in a way that makes such an outcome less likely.

Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 403 contains a list of factors that the Court shall consider in determining Legal Decision-Making and Parenting-Time. Before the law was changed, that statute contained a factor which required a judge to consider whether a parent had historically provided primary care for the child. But that factor was removed from the statute and replaced with this: “The court shall consider all factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being, including . . . (1) The past, present and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.”

So now, in making the all-important decision on where the child lives and who will make major decisions, the judge is required to consider a parent’s unproven “potential.” Instead of giving primary consideration to which parent actually took care of the child throughout his or her life, the Court must give equal weight to the other parent’s “potential.”

But here’s the problem — How many people do you know who never lived up to their potential? How many athletes were top draft picks but never became stars? How many employees were promoted but never became effective managers or supervisors? — How many moms or dads were excited when their baby was born but never became active and involved parents? In my opinion, it is a huge mistake to emphasize “potential” over actual experience, or even to give it equal weight. Because past history is the best predictor of future behavior. Thus, by putting too much stock in “potential,” the danger of a bad outcome is evident. And in the end, when a father or mother is awarded equal parenting-time and decision-making authority and never lives up to his or her potential, it is the children who suffer.

Of course, there will be parents who were stay-at-home moms or dads during the marriage, but will have to work full time after the divorce – and the fact that both parents will now be working should be taken into consideration by the Court in formulating a parenting plan. In that sense, the other parent’s potential to become a competent caregiver would come into play. However, it should be just one of many factors the judge considers in determining what is in the best interest of the child.

Fathers’ rights advocates maintain that an assumption of equal parenting time and decision-making is necessary because mothers were previously favored in custody disputes. Hey, I’m a father, and nothing is more important to me than my children. And, yes, it is true that there was a time when mothers typically received custody of children. But that was during an era when women were faced with societal and social barriers that made it difficult for them to obtain a college education or executive-level employment, or even a decent-paying job, and which practically forced them to be “housewives” and stay-at-home caregivers of children. Today, many of those barriers have been knocked-down, and glass-ceilings are being shattered. Recent studies show that over sixty-percent of all college students today are women. This means that in the future more mothers will be the family breadwinners; and more fathers will become stay-at-home parents. Therefore, for a judge to make a blanket assumption of equal parenting time and decision-making authority is unfair to both Mothers and Fathers.

In Arizona and other states across the country, the growing trend in custody cases is to award the parents equal decision-making authority and parenting time. That’s not a bad thing, so long as the parents are equally involved in raising their children. The experts agree that it is best for children to have both parents actively involved in their lives, and that effective co-parenting helps to ensure that children will grow up to be healthy and productive adults. But to make custody decisions based on a simple assumption that both parents are equally capable – when they may not be – is a colossal mistake. One that can harm the children in the long-run.

The care of children is too important to make broad assumptions, let alone instituting legal presumptions, regarding decision-making and parenting time. In the real world, parents are not always equal caregivers. Sometimes the mother is the more responsible parent; sometimes it is the father who is the nurturer and is in a better position to provide for the children’s needs; and in many cases both parents are loving, capable caregivers who are willing to co-parent their children (that is, obviously, the best scenario).

Rather than making assumptions, the Court should start with a blank slate when crafting a parenting plan. The judge should carefully examine the capabilities of each parent, the factors contained in Arizona’s custody statute (A.R.S. §25-403), and all other relevant factors. The judge should take a close look at who has been the child’s primary caregiver, and also consider the potential future relationship between the parents and the child. But the needs of the child should always come first. By taking this approach the Court can ensure that the best interest of the child is protected.

 

At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., both Gary Frank and attorney Hanna Juncaj are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator, which includes having acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court; and serving on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. Hanna Juncaj is a highly-skilled attorney with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. She has extensive courtroom experience, and is also a certified mediator. In addition, Hanna is an active member of her County Bar Association. We handle Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal maintenance and child support, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. To learn more about our firm, check us out on Facebook, Linkedin-Gary Frank, and Linkedin-Hanna Juncaj. If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

 

WORKING DAD’S JOURNAL – Letter to my six-month old daughter, 1985

  This morning your mother had a meeting, so I brought you to my office. I packed your diaper bag, dressed you, filled the car with the necessary items and off we went. You looked puzzled but I smiled and assured you that this would be fun. We would get along just fine without Mom’s help.

We arrived at the office and I had Anne, my legal secretary and a great fan of yours, hold you while I ran back down to the car. This was going to be a breeze. I swung the diaper bag around my back, hoisted the electric swing over my shoulder, propped the folded-up extra-large playpen under my arm and trudged up the stairs to my office, greeting fellow workers along the way. Once in the office, I set up the swing, unfolded the playpen, arranged all your toys inside, and placed the diaper bag in a convenient location. We were now ready to have fun.

You still looked bewildered as I lowered you into your playpen, but soon you were playing with your toys and I was at my desk, preparing for the day’s work. Then I realized that I had forgotten your jar of, baby food. “No problem,” I thought and, again placing Anne in charge of you, I jogged across the street to Safeway to purchase some strained squash. I returned to find your grandma in my office, smothering you with kisses.

“I’ll take her,” she offered.

“No thanks,” I replied. “I have plenty of experience taking care of my baby.”

“That’s true,” she said, “But not at the office. You won’t get any work done.”

“Sure I will,” I protested.

Grandma left. It was time for your morning nap, but although you were tired, you wouldn’t sleep. Instead, you were becoming fussy. I closed the door to my office, lifted you into my arms, and danced you around the room, singing softly. Thirty-five minutes later you were still fussy, and I was still dancing. “I’ll try feeding you,” I said. I placed you in your swing, tied a bib around your neck and opened the recently-purchased jar of strained squash. I fed you, careful not to spill food on your new pink jumpsuit. However, you were more interested in playing than eating, and it was only a matter of minutes before strained squash was all over both of us. When you had finished eating, I took you out of the swing, placed you on a pad on the floor, and grabbed a clean diaper and a change of clothes from the diaper bag. You were uncooperative. As I struggled to remove your diaper, you arched your back and flung your body to the side, like a wrestler determined not to get pinned. I held you down gently with one hand and, with the free hand, fumbled with your clothing. After some time, I finally succeeded in putting on your diaper and clothes. I breathed a sigh of relief — then noticed that your clothes were on backwards. Drenched in sweat and strained squash, I set about to remedy the problem.

In the end, you were even more exhausted from the ordeal than I was, and after what seemed an eternity you were finally asleep in my arms. I carefully placed you in your playpen and covered you with a blanket. I walked to the window and looked out. There was your mother coming up the sidewalk. I quickly sat down at my desk and began arranging papers, trying to look busy. The door opened and in she came, surprised to see my office the picture of serenity and you sleeping peacefully in your playpen.

“Gee, I’m impressed,” she said. “It looks like you have everything under control.”

“No problem,” I replied.

 

 

Gary J. Frank is an Arizona attorney and former Judge Pro Tem with over thirty years of experience in dealing with divorce, custody, parenting-time, and support issues in Family Court.  To schedule a legal consultation with Mr. Frank, you may contact us by email at gary@garyfranklaw.com, or through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.

 The issues in this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice in your particular case, nor should it be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship.  Every Family Court case is unique.  If you have a matter that appears similar to any of the scenarios that you read in this blog, you should be aware that: (1) even a slight difference in a factual situation can lead to a vastly different result; and (2) the laws are constantly changing and new laws are continually being enacted.  Legal advice cannot be given without a full consideration of all relevant information relating to your individual situation.  Therefore, if you have an important legal issue, you should obtain a consultation with a qualified attorney.