Traditional Arizona child custody laws have changed dramatically in recent years in order to provide better solutions for families. In fact, the laws have changed so much, the terms “legal custody” and “physical custody” are not even used any more.
Learn about the two separate issues that must be determined regarding custody of children after a divorce here.
Instead of the law dictating how custody is divided, Arizona laws are now structured around the creation of a parenting time plan and a decision on who should have legal decision-making authority. Understanding the updated rules for custody, which went into effect in January of 2013, is very important for parents who want to end a relationship and make determinations on what will happen with their kids after the parents are no longer living together.
How Do Arizona Child Custody Laws Work Now?
According to A.R.S. § 25-401, a parent who has legal decision-making authority has the right to make important decisions about the upbringing of the child and about the child’s life. Except in an emergency situation where a decision is needed right away, the parent with legal decision-making authority will get to make the choice regarding exactly what kinds of medical care a child will receive. A parent with legal decision-making authority can also decide on other issues, like where a child goes to school.
Parents can share decision-making authority, or it can be given only to one parent and the other parent will lose all rights to make choices about their child’s upbringing.
Before the 2013 changes to the law, parents would typically be denied legal decision-making authority over a child in cases of domestic violence or abuse, as well as in cases where a parent was a substance abuser. When the law changed, parents who were abusive were typically still denied legal decision-making authority. However, there was an expansion of the rules on substance abuse so a conviction was no longer required.
Pre-2013, a parent’s legal decision-making authority was at risk due to a drug or alcohol offense only if the parent was actually found guilty of a drug crime. After 2013, any evidence of abuse of drugs or alcohol in the 12-months before the time the petition for legal decision-making custody could have an adverse impact on a parent’s ability to weigh in on decisions about their child.
Parenting Time Under Arizona Law
Parenting time is the other key issue when parents separate, and it refers to actual physical time that a parent spends caring for a child. A parenting time schedule will be created when a couple separates that dictates exactly who is responsible for the child at any given time.
The child will live with or spend time with the parent who the parenting time schedule says is supposed to provide care at that particular time. The parent who is supposed to be providing care will be responsible for supervising the child, housing the child, feeding the child, making routine decisions, and otherwise doing the normal thing that parents do on a daily basis.
The revised custody laws encourage parents to share parenting time equally, or close to equally, when possible. The law does not mandate equal parenting time, but it is the preferred and encouraged option because it is usually best for children and families. When deciding how parenting time is shared, the gender of the parent and/or child does not play a role and the courts do not give preference to either parent on the basis of gender.
What About Visitation?
Under traditional custody laws, it was common for one parent to get primary custody and the other parent to get visitation. This framework of custody and visitation was one of the reasons why the laws were changed. The idea of primary custody often resulted in a lot of fighting among parents. The term visitation also suggested that the non-custodial parent was just a visitor in his or her child’s life.
Now, the term visitation is only used if time is officially scheduled for a child to visit with someone other than a parent. Parents do not get visiting time with their own kids. Instead, they get parenting time as determined by the parenting time schedule that was created. Grandparents and certain other relatives could potentially ask the court for visiting time under certain circumstances, but there is no guarantee it will be granted.
How is Parenting Time Divided?
When possible, parents should try to create a parenting time plan that meets the needs of the child and that makes sense given the family situation. When and if parents do not come up with a plan, the court will create a parenting plan for the parents.
The court uses a best interests of the child standard in order for the court to make a determination on how parenting time is shared among the parents. There are a number of different factors used to determine what is in a child’s best interests. When the law changed in 2013, the factors the court is supposed to consider in deciding what is best were also modified.
Previously, the wishes of the parents was one of the factors the court prioritized in deciding what is in a child’s best interests. Now, however, the court has revised its focus to emphasize things like “the past, present, and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.” The law also changed the rules on when a child’s wishes are a factor in making a custody arrangement. Now, the law makes clear that a child’s wishes matter only if the child is old enough and mature enough to have an informed preference that the child can share.
Getting Legal Help
It is important to understand your rights as a parent and to find ways to protect your children. Singer Pistiner, P.C. can provide you with help as you determine how parenting time is divided and can help as you determine who should have legal decision making authority. We can assist you with trying to negotiate a parenting plan or with going to court to argued for your desired arrangement. Give us a call today to find out more about the ways in which our legal team can help you.