When parents decide to divorce or decide live separately, there are often disagreements as to the way in which the child will spend time. Arizona law requires that parents who are unable to come to an agreement regarding parenting time and legal decision-making authority submit a parenting plan before the court makes decisions regarding custody. Importantly, Arizona courts will not order joint legal custody unless a parenting plan has been submitted.
Custody Options in Arizona
While many people still refer to “legal custody” and “physical custody” in the context of child custody cases. Arizona law refers to “legal decision-making” and “parenting time” instead. There are many options available to courts determining child custody disputes. These include the following:
- Joint Legal Decision- Making – In this type of arrangement, both parents share the right to make decisions regarding the way that a child will be raised. Neither parent can override the other parent’s decision, except in cases in which a court has specified that certain decisions are the sole responsibility of one parent.
- Sole Legal Decision-Making – This situation occurs when the court determines that it is in the best interests of the child that only one parent will have the legal right and responsibility to make major decisions.
- Sole Physical Custody – In some cases, the court will not allocate parenting time to one of the parents, resulting in a situation commonly referred to as “sole physical custody.”
- Joint Physical Custody – If the court awards parenting time to both parents both parents are said to have joint physical custody.
How do I make a Parenting Plan?
You can make a parenting plan on your own or with the help of a professional like a lawyer, judge, or mediator. If you can create a parenting plan collaboratively with your child’s other parent, it is advisable to do so. In some cases, even if you and your child’s other parent are unable to effectively communicate, the assistance of an experienced attorney can help negotiate a parenting plan that works for both of you, avoiding the need for costly litigation.
The Arizona Supreme Court’s Administrative Office of the Courts, Court Services Division has published a helpful guide that provides information regarding creating an effective parenting plan as well as model parenting plans to which you can refer in considering your own plan.
How Does a Court Determine the Best Interests of the Child?
When making decisions about parenting time and legal decision-making authority, Arizona courts consider the best interests of the child. Arizona law requires that a judge consider all relevant factors when determining what arrangement is in the best interests of the child, including the following:
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- The way in which the child interacts and relates to parents, siblings, and any other people that may affect his or her best interest
- The way the child has adjusted to his or her home, school, and community
- The mental and physical health of the people involved
- The wishes of the child, depending on his or her age and maturity
When a court is determining the best interests of the child, the parents are allowed to provide evidence in support of their position. As a result, the assistance of an attorney can often have an impact on the arrangement a court determines is in a child’s best interests.