Family Law Frequently Asked Questions

How is Legal Decision Making Authority/Child Custody determined in Arizona?

The primary concern is to determine what is best for the child. Typically a parenting plan is reached in one of three ways; between the parents, through Court provided or private mediation, or through negotiation between the parents' lawyers. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, the Court looks at a number of factors in determining the best interests of the children.  The law (A.R.S. § 25-403) sets forth some of those factors. 

  • the child and parents' wishes
  • how the child relates to each parent and to other people in the child's life such as brothers and sisters
  • the child's home and school environment
  • who will provide the primary care of the child
  • how frequently the child will be able to have contact with each parent
  • the health and well being of the parents
  • whether there is a history of domestic violence

Can we both decide what is best for our child?

If two parents want to both determine equally what is best for their child in regards to education, religion and other important issues then they are seeking what is known as joint legal custody. Joint legal custody does not refer to where the child physically resides, it refers only to equal decision making between parents.

Can my child and I move away?

If the child has grown up with both parents involved in their upbringing, the court prefers to keep both parents in relatively close contact with the child. If a parent wishes to move more than 100 miles from their present location with the child, the parent needs the written agreement of the other parent or a court order and must give at least 60 days written notice to the other parent by certified mail. Within 30 days after receiving the written notice, the non-moving parent may ask for a court hearing to prevent the move.

How does the court decide spousal maintenance?

For spousal maintenance to be ordered the person seeking spousal maintenance is either unable to support themselves, is custodian of a child who requires the parent be with them and thus not seek gainful employment, has contributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse and/or the partners have been married for so long that the person's age may prevent them from obtaining gainful employment. If the court finds that one of the above factors exists, spousal maintenance may be ordered. There is no calculation to determine spousal maintenance (as there is with child support) and each ruling is decided on a case by case basis.  One party's misconduct during the marriage is only relevant to the extent that the party engaged in financial misconduct, or to the extent of the actual cost of a domestic violence conviction.

The law setting forth the factors considered in a request for spousal maintenance is A.R.S. § 25-319.

How is child support calculated in Arizona?

The Arizona Child Support Guidelines are used to determine Child Support.  The Guidelines can be found online at:  http://www.supreme.state.az.us/dr/childsup/CSG2004.pdf.  The Guidelines are intended to approximate:  “the amount that would have been spent on the children if the parents and children were living together.”  The Guidelines then determine each parent's proportionate share.

Arizona Courts look to the following factors to determine child support pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-320:

  • both parents' incomes
  • whether either parent is supporting another natural or adopted child
  • whether either parent is paying or receiving spousal maintenance
  • the number of children at issue
  • the number of children over 12
  • the cost of health insurance for the children, and which parent is paying that cost
  • the cost of day care, and which parent is paying the cost
  • the cost of extra-education or extraordinary expenses for a child, and which parent is paying the cost
  • the amount of days the parents have parental access with the children.

Child support is calculated in a divorce or separation action involving children or a paternity action (when the parents are not married).  The Arizona Courts allow people to modify the support amount whenever there has been a change in circumstances (a reduction or increase in a party's income, or change in parenting time, are the two most common examples) that would change child support by 15 percent or more.  Child support generally continues until a child is 18 and finished with high school.  Child support does not automatically cease or modify when a modification or cessation of support is appropriate.  A parent has to file documents to stop support.

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