Effective January 1, 2013 Arizona has removed the term “custody” from the Family Law statutes. Parents will now be awarded “legal decision-making” and “parenting time.”
In determining how the parents will make major decisions with regard to the children, the Court can award “joint decision-making” or “sole decision-making,” or it can give one parent the right to make a certain types of decisions (e.g., educational decisions) and the other parent the right to make other types of decisions (e.g., medical 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. The final decision will be based on what the Court feels is in the “best interests” of the children.
In deciding what type of parenting arrangement will be in the children’s best interests, the judge will be guided by Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-403. That statute contains a list of factors for the Court to consider, including:
- 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. (This paragraph does not apply if the parent is acting in good faith to protect the child from witnessing or being a victim of domestic violence or child abuse.)
- 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 section 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 a parent has complied with chapter 3, article 5 of this title; and
- Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect under section 13-2907.02.
The factors that the Court uses in deciding whether to award joint or sole legal decision-making and parenting time can be found in A.R.S. §25-403.03.
Domestic violence is considered to be contrary to the best interests of a child. Under the newly revised Family Law statutes, Domestic violence is given increased importance. Substance abuse and alcohol abuse will also be factors that the Court considers in making an award of legal decision-making and parenting time.However, to prevent people from making frivolous claims of domestic violence and substance abuse, the Court is also instructed to consider whether a party has made false claims of abuse, or whether he or she has purposely delayed or expanded the litigation. If the Court finds that a parent has acted in bad faith in this manner, it can award the other parent sole decision-making, and give the offending party less parenting time with the children.
A party who is not a parent but stands “in loco parentis” to a child has the right to petition the Court for legal decision-making and parenting time. Grandparents and those standing “in loco parentis” can also petition the Court for visitation.
The Arizona legislature made many other significant changes to the existing “custody” statutes. If you would like to determine how these changes may affect you and your children, please call us today. We would be happy to meet with you for a consultation to help you learn about your rights.