I am frequently asked at what age children can decide where they’d like to live, and whether or not they want to spend time with a parent. The answer to that question is that children under the age of majority are notallowed to make those kinds of choices on their own. Those are decisions for parents — and when the parents can’t agree, a judge will make the decision. But although children are not given the right to make these crucial choices, their voices can be heard — and the courts are listening.
In determining parenting time and legal decision-making authority (formerly called “custody”), the courts in Arizona are guided by the law as set out in Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-403. When children get into their teens and closer to their 18th birthday, the courts will increasingly consider their desires regarding parenting time and where they want to live. But judges must be careful, because although many teens are logical and mature and have good reasons for their point of view, others are immature and unable to make well-reasoned decisions. For example, some children may simply want to live in the household of the parent who has less rules and supervision; or they might have been unduly influenced by a parent. Judges have the right to interview children, but they rarely do so. It is even more rare for children to be allowed to testify in a Family Court trial or hearing. However, it is common for a judge to appoint a behavioral health expert to interview the children (and sometimes the parents) and make a report and recommendation to the Court. There are a number of different ways that this can be done. For instance, the judge can order the parents to participate in a Parenting Conference, or a Family Assessment; or the judge can order a Custodial Evaluation (either limited or full-scale). The custodial evaluation process results in an in-depth investigative report and recommendation to the Court, and it may include psychological testing. The purpose of each of the above-options is to assist the Court in developing the best custody and parenting plan for the children. In doing the interviews, the experts will also be on the look-out for signs that a parent is coaching the children and/or attempting to alienate them from the other parent.
In high-conflict cases, the Court may also appoint a Parenting Coordinator, or even a separate attorney to represent the children. The option that the Court ultimately selects will depend on a number of factors, including the level of conflict; the types of issues presented; how complicated those issues are; what kind of evaluation the parents want; and, to some extent, what the parents can afford. The Court’s goal is to protect the best interests of the children. Most judges are not mental health or child development experts, and they don’t have sufficient time to do an in-depth investigation of their own. Therefore, they utilize professional experts to help them determine the facts of the case, and the needs of the children. In this way, the children’s voices can be heard.
Gary J. Frank is an Arizona attorney and former Judge Pro Tem with over thirty years of experience in dealing with custody and parenting time issues in Family Court. The issues in this blog are provided 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.To schedule a personal consultation with Mr. Frank, you may contact us by email at [email protected], or through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.
Most people think that a “high-conflict divorce” necessarily involves two people who are angry and unreasonable. But that’s not always the case. When one party to a divorce suffers from a borderline, narcissistic, or other type of personality disorder, he or she can pull the entire family into a “knock-down/drag-out” litigation. A person with a personality disorder often lacks basic compassion and/or the willingness to compromise for the benefit of the children. He or she may be driven by revenge or the desire to inflict emotional pain and suffering — and appealing to this person’s sense of reason and logic is of no avail. This may make it difficult or impossible to negotiate a fair settlement, leaving no alternative but to go to trial. Our firm brings many different strategies to the table when dealing with an opposing party with a personality disorder. For instance, sending out subpoenas for medical or counseling records will allow us to obtain important information on the person’s physical and psychological background; Drug testing may be warranted if there is a history of drug or alcohol abuse; A deposition can give us great insight into the mind of the person being deposed — it can enable us to obtain admissions of guilt, and it will also give us clues which may lead to other critical information that can be successfully utilized at trial; And the appointment of court experts to conduct interviews, mental health evaluations, or family assessments can prove to be of great value in diagnosing a personality disorder that may not have previously been formally discovered. These are a few of the many strategies we typically employ in high-conflict Family Court litigation involving people who may have personality disorders. If you find yourself in this situation, then you’ll need a strong advocate — an attorney who will fight hard to protect your interests. If you are in need of a consultation, Contact us today.
The Law Office of Gary J. Frank has been a fixture in the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona for over thirty years. Gary Frank and Hanna Amar are strong Family Law litigators and mediators with a wealth of experience both in the courtroom and in settlement negotiations. Our firm handles a wide array of cases, such as divorce, custody, relocation, paternity, child and spousal support, division of property and businesses, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, same sex divorce and custody, and all matters relating to families and children. If you are in need of a legal consultation, please do not hesitate to Contact us today. You can reach us by telephone at 602-383-3610, or by email at [email protected] and [email protected], or through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com. We’d be honored to help you.