Child Custody is now referred to as Parenting Time and Legal Decision-Making. Parenting Time refers to the time your children spend with each parent. Legal Decision-Making refers to how important decisions concerning your children’s health, welfare, education and religion are made.
Resolving these issues can be easier said than done, especially when parents struggle with communication. Our goal is to reach a resolution outside of court where we can best tailor a solution that meets the needs of the children and the parents.
However, sometimes the parties cannot reach an agreement and court intervention is necessary. If court intervention is necessary then it is important to know what information the Judge wants to see and how they want it presented to them. An experienced family law attorney will know how best to present the information to the Judge so they can decide in the best interests of your children.
Child Support is calculated using the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. Generally, child support is calculated by inserting values into a Child Support Calculator, such as the parties’ income and costs incurred for things such as health insurance for the children or daycare costs. But not all child support issues are that straightforward. Many times, parties disagree on the figures the Court would use to calculate a child support order.
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A Bit of Information:
This page is meant to educate you regarding some of the aspects of children's issues in Arizona. Please understand, this page is intended to be educational only and each case has specific issues that may effect the information below. We recommend you consider discussing your matter with an experienced attorney.
Children’s Issues in Arizona
The typical issues the Family Court sees in Arizona are Child Custody and Child Support. What most people refer to as Child Custody is split into two categories, Legal Custody and Physical Custody. In Arizona, this is known as Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time which are determined in the best interests of the child. Child Support is determined by the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. Both can be established during a divorce/legal separation or, in the case of unmarried parents, by filing a petition with the Court.
How Do I Establish Child Custody (Parenting Time and Legal Decision-Making) in Arizona?
In Arizona, to receive an order for parenting time and/or legal decision-making, you must file what is known as a “Petition” with the Court. The type of Petition is based on whether the parents are married or unmarried.
Parenting Time and Decision-Making orders are determined at the time of divorce or legal separation. In order to get these types of orders, a party must file a Petition for Dissolution or Legal Separation with the family law court. At the time the marriage is terminated, the Court will, if the parties cannot agree on their own, enter orders regarding parenting time and legal decision-making.
There is a presumption that a man is the Father of a child if the man was married to the Mother at any time 10 months prior to the child being born. (See A.R.S. §25-814).
In the case of unmarried parents, for the Court to enter orders regarding Custody and Child Support paternity must be established. There is a presumption that a man is the Father of a child if a birth certificate is signed by both Mother and Father, acknowledgements of paternity are signed and notarized/witnessed by both Mother and Father or a DNA test confirms a 95% probability of paternity. (See A.R.S. §25-814). For an enforceable order regarding paternity, the parent will need to file a petition with the Court, if the Court has not already entered orders.
What does “Parenting Time” or “Legal Decision-Making” mean?
Family law courts no longer use the term “custody” to define what rights or access a parent may have to their child. The terms used are Parenting Time and Legal Decision-Making.
Legal Decision-Making is what the court uses to identify who will make decisions regarding the child’s personal care, medical care, education and religious education. This includes things such as, what school the child will attend, what religion they will practice, and what medical provider the child will see. These are only a few examples and this list is not exhaustive.
The court could order Joint Legal Decision-Making, Joint Legal Decision-Making with one parent having final say authority or Sole Legal Decision-Making. This decision is based on the best interests of the child and other factors. In Arizona public policy states, without evidence otherwise, it is in the best interests of the child for both parents to participate in the decision-making about the child. (See A.R.S. §25-103).
Joint Legal Decision-Making
Joint Legal Decision-Making requires both parents discuss the decision to be made and reach an agreement together. If the parents cannot reach an agreement together, generally the parenting plan provides that they use a third party to help mediate the problem.
Joint Legal Decision-Making with One Parent having Final Say Authority
Joint Legal Decision-Making with Final Say requires both parents discuss the decision to be made, together. If the parents are unable to reach an agreement, then the parent with final say authority can make the decision.
Sole Legal Decision-Making
Sole Decision-Making gives the authority to one parent to make decisions for the minor child. This does not mean that parent does not have to communicate with the other parent regarding the child. Unless there is another court order restricting communication, both parents should be made aware of the decisions being made for the child.
What Legal Decision-Making is Not
First, we would like to point out that many legal decision-making issues are caused by poor or a lack of communication between the parents. We understand that there is likely a reason the parents are no longer together but learning ways to move past your issues really is in the best interests of your children. We have found programs like Our Family Wizard and even the Google platform can be set up to help promote effective communication and co-parenting.
While the Court, in most cases, will require communication between the mother and father to make decisions regarding their minor child(ren), this does not mean any issue involving the child is a legal decision-making issue. For example, a parent has the ability to choose their child’s daycare provider or before/after school care without consulting the other parent. And, how a parent exercises their parenting time is up to that parent. These are all decisions that can be made without consulting the other parent, so long as, they are in the child’s best interests.
Parenting Time is the actual time the child spends with either parent. Parenting time can range anywhere from an equal parenting time schedule to a restricted schedule with one parent’s time being supervised. A parenting time order is based on the child’s best interests.
Arizona has declared, as public policy and without evidence otherwise, it is in a child’s best interests to have substantial, frequent meaningful and continuing parenting time with both parents. (See A.R.S. §25-103).
Example Equal Parenting Plans
These types of plans are ordered when both parents are fit and capable of providing care for the minor child. An equal parenting time schedule can be as creative as needed, so long as, it is in the best interests of the child. However, in our experience, the simplest plan is usually the best.
Example equal parenting plans are: 5/2/2/5 plans, 2/2/3 plan, week-on/week-off plans and every other weekend. The Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County provides a Parenting Time Guidelines through their self-help center with additional examples. (See Maricopa County Library Resource Center/Family Court).
Example Non-Equal Parenting Plans
These types of plans are ordered when one parent is not fit or is not capable of providing consistent equal care for the child.
Example non-equal parenting plans are: one parent having parenting time every other weekend, or mid-week non-overnight parenting time. This parenting time can be supervised or unsupervised.
Your parenting plan should be clear and easy to follow. We recommend you consult with an experienced family law attorney to at least review your parenting plan before finalizing it. Most conflict between parents comes from unclear parenting plans. An experienced custody lawyer will be able to identify potential issues that commonly arise and offer solutions to resolve them before they happen, keeping you out of court in the future.
What does the Best Interests of the Minor Children Mean?
Arizona Courts are always looking at the best interests of the children. In addition to the public policy declarations in A.R.S. §25-103 the Courts rely on the following best interest factors:
- 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 the 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. This paragraph does not apply if the court determines that a parent is acting in good faith to protect the child from witnessing an act of domestic violence or being a victim of domestic violence or child abuse.
- Whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause an unnecessary delay, to increase the cost of litigation or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or a parenting time preference to that parent.
- Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse pursuant to section 25-403.03.
- The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.
- Whether a parent has complied with chapter 3, article 5 of this title.
- Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect under section 13-2907.02.
There are other considerations for the Court when determining parenting time like fitness concerns and whether one parent is a perpetrator of domestic violence. If there are concerns regarding a parent’s fitness and/or if one parent is a perpetrator of domestic violence, the court generally starts looking at safeguards to protect the child. These safeguards can include, limited supervised parenting time, substance abuse testing and treatment and batter’s prevention programs.
Can I Modifying My Parenting Plan or Legal Decision-Making Order?
The quick answer is, yes. But there are restrictions of when a parent can modify a parenting plan or legal decision-making orders.
Generally, a parent cannot file a motion to modify legal decision-making or parenting time for one year after the order they want to modify was signed by the Court. (See A.R.S. §25-411). The parent who wants to modify the order must also show a substantial change of circumstances effecting the child's welfare. There are exceptions where the child’s present environment may seriously endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health. (See A.R.S. §25-411). There are other instances permitting a modification of legal decision-making and/or parenting time. We recommend you consider discussing your options with an experienced family law attorney prior to filing. Modification/Enforcement is discussed further here.
Child Support is determined using the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. Child Support is an amount one parent may be ordered to pay the other to help provide financial support for the minor child(ren). The purpose of child support is to pay for food, clothing and shelter. Child support is calculated using a child support worksheet by inserting figures, such as, the income for the mother and father, health insurance cost and child care costs for the minor child. But not all child support issues are that straightforward. Many times, parties disagree on the figures the Court would use to calculate a child support order.
Clients have many of the same questions: “What should I be getting credit for on a child support worksheet? What should the other side not be getting credit for? When should the child support start? What if I can’t work because I have a child with special needs? What if the child support amount I am calculating isn’t enough?” These are questions we can assist you with and answer for you. Arizona has attempted to simplify child support orders, but many clients still find the forms complicated, the answers to their questions unclear, and the attendance of a hearing intimidating.
Our office is experienced is handling child support matters. We can assist you with the necessary forms and represent you at court appearances, or we can simply explain the forms and help you fill them out. Our services can be tailored to meet your individual needs.
Can I Modify My Child Support?
Child support is modifiable if one parent can show a substantial and continuing change in circumstances and/or a 15% difference in what the order is and what the parent wishing to modify believes it should be. To modify child support, there is a simplified process and a standard process. A parent wishing to modify can use the simplified process if they meet the 15% and other requirements. To use the standard process, a parent must show a substantial and continuing change in circumstances. Maricopa County Superior Court’s self-help center has additional information on the two processes and the forms required. Modification/Enforcement is discussed further here.