Separations can be lengthy and complicated processes. Determining custody and parenting time" adds another difficult layer to the process. Though both parents may want the best for their children, one parent might believe the other to be unfit to maintain joint custody.
Courts can award sole or joint custody of children, but if joint custody is awarded the parents will have to come together to agree upon major decisions for their children. The court will award custody based on the “best interests” of the child.
Custody cases typically occur when parents are filing for legal separation, or when paternity or maternity cases commence.
What will the court consider in deciding custody?
Courts determine the “best interests” of the child by considering the following statutory factors A.R.S. 25-403:
- The past, present and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child's parent or parents, the child's siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interest.
- The child's adjustment to home, school and community.
- If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the wishes of the child as to legal decision-making and parenting time.
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other parent if no abuse or neglect is involved.
- Whether a parent has been convicted of domestic abuse.
- The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.
- Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect.
- Whether either parent intentionally delayed a court case to gain preference.
- Whether a parent has complied with chapter 3, article 5 of this title.
If children are involved in a divorce, the parents will be required to attend separate court-mandated classes to lean about the effects and impacts divorce will have on their children. Both spouses will be required to attend these classes, and refusing to attend can result is lost child custody. (A.R.S. 25-403)
Though Arizona is a “no-fault” state for divorce meaning that a cause of divorce does not need to be proven in order to file for a divorce and property division does not factor in marital misconduct, this status is not protected the same way in determining child custody. Courts will factor in the actions of both parents during the marriage, and any behavior that could endanger a child or reduce stability will be held against the parent.
If the custody case is contested, the court will look at all factors that influence the “best interest” of the child to determine the custody arrangement. The court may refer to experts in child psychology or family structure to evaluate individual situations.
Types of custody
Courts can award sole or joint custody of children.
Sole custody means one parent is responsible for making all major decisions for the child, especially in regards to the child's education, religion, and health.
Joint custody means both parents share equal right in making all major decisions for the child.
Arizona courts also define a difference between “legal” and “physical” custody.
Sole or joint “legal” custody can be awarded to parents that allows them rights in making major decisions, especially in the areas of education, religion, and health, in the child's life. But legal custody does not mean that a parent shares equal rights to the living arrangements of the child.
Sole or joint “physical” custody refers specifically to the living arrangements of the child. Parents may share legal custody, but not physical custody; one parent could be the primary parent while the other has access to visitation rights.
When parents share parenting responsibilities for their children, they will need to create a joint parenting plan (A.R.S. 25-403.02). The parenting plan will need to define:
- Decisions or decision making processes for major issues in the child's life like education, religion, and health
- A visitation schedule, including the daily or weekly routine, and a division of holidays and vacations
- A map of the responsibilities of each parent
- A plan for conciliation or mediation if a disagreement arises
- A procedure for periodic review of the parenting plan
- A signed statement from each parent documenting that they understand that joint custody does not necessarily mean equal parenting time
For more information on visitation rights in Yavapai County, visit this website.
Arizona follows an “Income Shares” model of child support meaning that each parent contributes the same proportional income. Courts consider how much money would have normally be spent on the child in the parents were living together or had remained married, and factors in other elements like the cost of education, childcare, medical expenses, and any other important elements.
Read the 2015 Arizona Child Support Guidelines here.
In determining the amount of child support required courts will look at:
- Duration of child support
- Income of the parents and their individual financial needs, including any disparity in the two incomes
- Financial needs of the child, including the number of children involved in the case, and any extraordinary needs like medical equipment
- Standard of living maintained by the child while the parents were married
- Third-party care givers
- Future parenting time
Child support lasts until the child turns 18. But if the child doesn't finish high school by 18, an additional year can be added. Parents and children may also file for retroactive child support if one of the parents failed to maintain their financial responsibility to their child.
Filing for child support
You want the best for your children during a legal separation, but these issues can be contentious and problematic, especially if one parent is filing for sole custody. You need an experienced lawyer who has you and your child's best interest at heart, and who knows how to create the strongest possible case for custody.
If you are filing for child custody, contact Cliff Hill today to start your case and learn how you can best resolve these issues.