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   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, or through our web site at

 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.  


There has long been a debate among experts over whether Parental Alienation is really a “syndrome.” To which I respond: Does it matter? In our Family Law practice, we see Parental Alienation all the time. It occurs frequently in divorce and custody (now called Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time) cases. Whenever a parent talks badly about the other parent to the children, or in front of the children, that’s an act of parental alienation. Why? Because children look up to their parents. They respect them They believe them. And if a parent is trashing the other parent within hearing distance of the children – or, worse yet, to the children – then there is a pretty good chance that it will affect how the children view the parent who is being “trashed.” Some parents do this incessantly. Others do it sporadically. Some do it intentionally. Others do it without thinking of the consequences. But either way, it can impact how the children view their other parent, and can alienate the children from that parent. More importantly, it can negatively affect the children, and even cause long-lasting emotional harm. So, does it matter whether Parental Alienation is a psychological condition? A “syndrome”? That’s missing the point. It’s a bad thing. It breaks down the relationship between a child and a parent whom he or she loves (or should be allowed to love). And, in the long run, it hurts the child.


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 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, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email through our website at   We look forward to hearing from you.

The information contained in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be, nor should it be construed, as legal advice in your particular case. You should consult with an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. Further, reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship. We invite you to contact us if you are in need of legal advice or guidance. To schedule a personal consultation, you can call us at 602-383-3610 or reach us through our website at We’d be happy to talk to you.


WHEN YOU COME IN for an initial conference at the Family Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., what you get is a real legal consultation. Not a short sales pitch, like you get from some other lawyers. In our first meeting, we will discuss your matter thoroughly and give you a solid understanding of your legal rights and how the court system works – and at the end of the meeting we’ll give you a “game-plan,” so that you will know what you can do to reach your goals.  Unlike most firms, our attorneys do not limit the initial consultation to one hour.  Instead, we will take as much time as is necessary to:

• Learn about your family history and the background facts of your matter;

• Obtain important information that can be used to help you with your case in court;

• Listen to your concerns and answer your questions;

• Talk to you about the law pertaining to your case;

• Explain your legal rights under the law;

• Discuss the court process – how it works, how long it takes, what documents must be filed; what information must be disclosed; what hearings are held, and how the judge will examine your dispute;

• Discuss options for peaceful resolution of your dispute outside of the court-system, such as Mediation, Conciliation Services Conferences, Settlement Conferences using a judge pro tem, round-table negotiations between the parties and their attorneys; and other healthy alternatives;

• Talk about legal fees and a range of how much your matter might cost; and

• We’ll give you a “game plan” tailored to your needs and the specific facts of your matter.  The “game plan” is our recommendations and advice regarding what must be done in your case and the steps that you can take to reach your goals.

An initial conference with an attorney is a critical step in the process of finding a solution to your problem. This is where you begin, for the first time, to put together a “road map” of where you want to go and how to get there.

By the time you leave our office after your first consultation, you should have a much better understanding of your legal rights; of how the court process works; of what your options are; and of what you will need to do to reach your goals and resolve your problem.  Many people walk into our office timid and afraid, and leave armed with knowledge and a sense of renewed confidence.

If you are in need of a legal consultation regarding a divorcecustody, grandparent or third-party rights, modification, enforcement, or other family law matter, please check out our web site: .  And do not hesitate to call us at 602-383-3610 or contact us by email.   We look forward to meeting you, and we’re happy to help.


Gary Frank & Hanna Juncaj


Here is my personal mission statement:

I am a Family Law Attorney who cares about my clients.  I understand that my clients are in the midst of a difficult period in their lives.  And by accepting their case, I have made a commitment to be there for them — to help them, to advise them, to support them, and to fight for them.  I will tenaciously protect my clients’ interests by applying the legal knowledge, litigation and negotiation skills, and powers of persuasion that I have gained over my thirty-plus years of Family Law experience.  I will work with each client to creatively explore options for settling his or her dispute in a healthy, amicable, and inexpensive manner if possible.  These options may include the use of alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, settlement conferences, active negotiation, or collaborative divorce.  However, if a fair settlement cannot be achieved,  then I can be counted on to aggressively fight for my clients’ rights, utilizing the skills I have honed over many years as a courtroom litigator.  My goal is to protect my clients; to preserve their relationship with their children; to assure that they receive a fair division of assets; and to obtain the financial support they need to provide a secure future.   I will continue to be both a caring, compassionate attorney, and a fierce advocate for the best interests of my clients.

Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience in the areas of domestic relations, divorce, custody, division of property, support, modification actions, enforcement actions, Grandparents and non-parents rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children.  Mr. Frank’s experience includes acting 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.  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 at, or through our website at   We look forward to hearing from you.


From 1981 to 1984 I represented a Guatemalan refugee and her two children in an attempt to help them gain political asylum. I am a Family Law Attorney — I don’t practice Immigration Law.  But this woman needed my help.  A member of her family had been killed by a government-backed “Death Squad” before her eyes.  She was then targeted as a “subversive” because of her association with him, and for being a member of a bible study group (Indians, poor farmers, and Catholics were all considered to be subversives. In fact, priests and nuns were among those murdered by the death squads.) 
Bands of armed-rebels roamed the Guatemalan hills. Their objective was to overthrow the government. But the rebels were killing innocent people, too, and kidnapping for ransom — much like the gangs that are running rampant in Central America today. For months after the death of her brother-in-law, my client was forced to hide in caves in the mountains, and sneak into town to pick food out of garbage cans so her children could survive. When the time was right, this brave woman fled. Carrying a two year-old toddler and a nineteen day-old baby, she made the dangerous trek through Mexico and across the U.S. border. However, it was not long before she was caught, and deportation proceedings began. 
I tried to find an attorney who would handle this woman’s case, but nobody I talked to was able or willing to help.  They said it was hopeless.  So, I took on her case myself.  After three long years of litigation, and over $100,000 in free legal services, I finally prevailed, and my client was allowed to remain in the U.S. with her children. We didn’t win our case for asylum (at the time, the U.S. was backing the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador, making a political asylum case almost impossible to prove). But we prevailed because I was able to keep my client here on appeal long enough for the winds of public opinion to shift. The President ultimately granted amnesty to undocumented workers who could prove that they had been in the U.S. for (I think it was) seven years. Anti-immigrant sentiment was rampant then, as it is now, but intense and unremitting pressure from both the sanctuary movement, and the business community, resulted in the grant of amnesty. The bottom line was that our economy needed those undocumented workers. Ironically, the President who granted amnesty to the “illegal aliens” was Ronald Reagan – a Republican.
BUT HERE’S THE BEST PART — The day I told my client that we had won and she and her children could stay in the U.S. . . . was the same day my wife surprised me with the news that she was pregnant with our first child!


Corey Vargas is a 21 year-old kid who was walking his dog in the desert outside of Phoenix, AZ and fell 30 feet into a dry riverbed.  He broke his back in several places and laid there, paralyzed and helpless, for three long days.

That Corey survived is a miracle.  He surely had a guardian angel watching over him (and sometimes guardian angels come in animal form).  It was his dog, Ace, who stayed by his side and kept him safe until he could be rescued.

Thankfully, Corey has his life back.  But now he is facing a new challenge — he is fighting to learn to walk again.  His medical bills are almost insurmountable.   His rehabilitation will be long and grueling, and will cost even more.  But Corey’s will to live, his positive attitude, and his determination to “make it all the way back” prove that anything is possible.

You can help.  Just by reading this post and sharing it with your friends, you will be making a difference in the lives of Corey and his devoted dog, Ace.

I’m supporting “Footsteps for Corey.”  I hope you will, too.

BABY VERONICA – Did the Court Truly Consider the Best Interests of the Child?

The Indian Child Welfare Act, enacted in the 1970’s, was intended to protect Native American Children and their tribes. For decades, many Native American children were taken (some were literally stolen) from their parents and sent to Anglo families for adoption. (According to CNN, at one point, 30% of children on reservations were taken from their parents.) The Indian Child Welfare Act was meant to correct this horrible injustice, and others like it.

But in the 2012 case of Baby Veronica, this necessary and important law may have been applied unfairly. Veronica’s biological father abandoned the mother during the pregnancy. He did not attend the birth. He paid no support and made no effort to see the child after she was born. When Veronica turned four months old, he signed a waiver of his parental rights. However, two weeks later, he changed his mind and commenced legal action to have the child returned to him. This week, the South Carolina Supreme Court finally issued its ruling, requiring that Veronica be returned to the biological father.

Veronica is now two years old. She’s not a newborn baby, she is an intelligent little person. She was abandoned by her father, and voluntarily placed by her mother with an adoptive family who raised her with love and care. Now she is bonded with her adoptive parents. Yet, the Court required her to be handed to a stranger, who happens to be her biological father.  She was put in a car and driven away from the only family she has ever known, as if she were a puppy.

Did the South Carolina Supreme Court truly consider the “best interests” of this child? 

Gary Frank is an Arizona Family Law Attorney and a children’s advocate.  For many years, he represented children in child abuse and neglect cases in Superior Court.  He has been appointed to serve on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force.  He won a Maricopa County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer of the Month Award for representing a child in a Family Court Custody Action and successfully petitioning to have the case transferred to Juvenile Court, where the child could be protected from her abusive parents.  Our law firm focuses on Family Law Matters, including Divorce, contested Custody matters, Parenting Time disputes, Relocation/move-away cases, Enforcement and Modification actions, Child and Spousal Support, Paternity/Maternity, Grandparent and Non-Parent rights, Mediation, and all other matters involving families and children.  If you are in need of a consultation to learn about your rights, please call us today at 602-383-3610; or contact us by email at  To learn more about our firm, check out our website at  We’d be happy to help you.


Welcome to my new blog.  In the days, weeks, and months to follow, I will be posting articles of interest; new laws handed down by the legislature; important cases decided by the Arizona Supreme Court and Court of Appeals; tips for clients and readers; and my thoughts on matters pertaining to Family Law in Arizona.  I hope you find this blog to be interesting and helpful.  Please let us know your thoughts.

Gary Frank

 Check out our web site at