Child Custody in Arizona- The Best Interests of the Child

In the state of Arizona, there are two separate issues that must be determined regarding custody of children after a divorce. The first issue is physical custody, which refers to how parents share time with their children. The second issue is legal custody, or how parents make decisions on behalf of their kids. Arizona law now refers to these issues of parenting time and legal decision-making authority, rather than using the terms physical and legal custody.

Parents are encouraged to compromise on parenting time and legal decision-making authority so the court does not have to simply impose orders upon the family which may not work well given the family’s specific situation and the needs of the child. Parents could decide to share decision-making authority and parenting time, or one parent could be given sole authority and/or sole custody.

There are circumstances in which parents cannot agree on appropriate custody arrangements. If this occurs, the court must decide on the issues that the parents are not able to come to a consensus on. In situations where the court must make a decision, a legal standard called the best interest of the child standard is used to guide the court.

Singer Pistiner, P.C. can advise you on what the best interest of the child standard means and can help you to understand what this legal standard could mean to your custody case.  Our legal team can also assist you with both negotiating on the issue of child custody and litigating for your preferred custody plan if your case must be decided by a judge. Give us a call to find out how we can assist you.

What Does Best Interests of the Child Standard Mean?

Arizona Law section 25-302 establishes the best interests of the child standard. The statute states: “The court shall determine custody, either originally or on petition for modification, in accordance with the best interests of the child.”

The statute then goes on to outline all of the specific factors the judge must consider when deciding which custody plan is in the child’s best interests. The factors that matter in determining custody include:

  • The parents’ preferences on how to share parenting time.
  • The child’s preferences on custody, assuming the child is only enough to express his or her preferences.
  • The interaction of the child with the parents.
  • The relationship the child currently has with each parent.
  • The interaction the child has with siblings and the relationship the child has with siblings.
  • The relationship and interactions of the child with any other person who could have a big impact on the child’s best interests.
  • How the child adjusts to his or home life, as well as the child’s adjustment to his or her school and community.
  • The physical health of all involved parties, including parents and children.
  • The mental health of all parties involved, including both parents and children.
  • Which of the child’s parents is most likely to allow the child to continue to have meaningful contact with the other parent, except in cases where the court determines a parent is limiting interaction to protect the child from abuse and/or to protect the child from witnessing abuse or domestic violence.
  • Whether one or both parents have previously served as the primary caregiver of the child.
  • Whether either parent tried to obtain a custody arrangement, or successfully obtained a custody agreement in the past, through the use of coercion or duress.
  • Whether either parents has ever been convicted of falsely reporting child abuse or falsely reporting child neglect.
  • Whether there is any history of domestic violence.
  • Whether there is any history of child abuse.

These are the key things that the court must think about when deciding on custody. The best interest of the child standard is always going to be the controlling factor if a court decides on the issue of custody. Parents cannot make an agreement for custody in a prenuptial agreement and expect it to be enforced as this type of clause would not be honored by a court and is considered void as against public policy.

When parents contest the issue of custody and a judge is forced to make a decision, Arizona Statute section 25-403, which sets forth the standard and lists the factors for consideration, also requires that the family court judge make “specific findings on the record about all relevant factors and the reasons for which the decision is in the best interests of the child.”

Parents should keep these factors in mind as they try to negotiate on the issue of parenting time, as the best interest of the child standard can help each parent to better understand his or her rights. By keeping these factors in mind and considering what the judge looks at to decide custody, parents can get a better idea of whether they might be granted primary custody in contested proceedings or not. Parents can also think about the types of things the law says matter when custody decisions are made, and the parents can  think about how these factors would shape the custody plan they are making.

Getting Help with Child Custody Issues

Singer Pistiner, P.C. can explain the best interest of the child standard and can help you to understand how this standard applies in your particular situation when you are involved in a custody case. Our legal team will assist you in making a decision on what type of custody arrangement would be reasonable to expect when your relationship ends. We can also guide you though the custody negotiation process and help you to litigate on custody issues in court if no compromise can be reached with the child’s other parent.

Child custody issues can be some of the most contentious and high-stakes issues handled within the legal system. Be sure you have an experienced, compassionate lawyer to protect you rights.  Contact Singer Pistiner, P.C.  as soon as possible to speak with an experienced attorney about your options for both physical and legal custody after divorce.