Parenting plans are an essential part of child custody cases in Arizona. A written parenting plan is not only required but it is extremely beneficial to the entire family.
It lets the parents know who has decision making authority, and when each parent will exercise their parenting time.
The parenting plan is a requirement for all Arizona custody proceedings.
Developing a parenting plan can be challenging, though.
So, we put together a comprehensive parenting plan guide. In this guide you will learn about some of the information to include, how the court will decide on a parenting plan (if both parents are not in agreement), and what to do if the other parent does not follow the plan.
Types of “Custody” in Arizona
Arizona does not really have types of custody. Where other jurisdictions use the term “custody,” Arizona uses the terms “Legal Decision-Making” and “Parenting Time.”
Understanding the rights and responsibilities of each is essential before the completion of your parenting plan.
Legal Decision-Making is how you and the other parent make decisions regarding the child’s medical, education, religious, and personal care needs.
Legal Decision-Making is typically ordered as either Joint Legal Decision-Making, Joint Legal Decision-Making with one parent having final say authority, or Sole Legal Decision-Making.
With Joint Legal Decision-Making, both parents discuss the issue to be decided and come to an agreement. If one parent has final say authority, then that parent can make the decision if the parents are unable to come to an agreement.
With Sole Legal Decision-Making, only one parent has decision-making authority but that does not mean the other parent is completely cut out of the child’s life.
It is essential to understand that the legal decision-making designations above are for non-emergency situations.
Parenting time is the specific time each parent is actually spending time with the child, caring for the child. Parents commonly exercise an equal parenting time schedule that fits the needs of the child.
For example, the age of the child may play a part in how long the child is away from the other parent. If the child is young, less time away from each parent and more frequent exchanges may be best.
If the child is older, it might be fine to exchange once a week. Always look at what is best for the child, that is what the court is focused on.
However, there are situations where a regular equal parenting time schedule may not be in the best interests of the children. For example, if a parent has a history of child neglect or if they’re displaying significant fitness concerns, their parenting time may need to be supervised.
There are also situations where the parent’s living arrangement is not conducive to their child staying at their home. For example, if one parent lives too far from the child’s school to drop them off on time during the school year.
As discussed here and throughout our site, Arizona does not use terms like “custody,” “custody agreement,” “sole custody,” “joint custody,” “custody arrangement,” “custodial parent,” or “non-custodial parent” like many other states do.
Instead, you may hear the term “primary residential parent,” which refers to the parent who exercises the majority of the parenting time. But, where parents exercise equal parenting time, the Arizona family court often does not award this designation to either parent.
Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody
Again, the State of Arizona does not use the term “custody.” So, when you are looking for information on sole vs. joint custody, you are actually looking for information on legal decision-making and/or parenting time.
In most situations, the court’s inquiry starts with both parents exercising joint legal decision-making and an equal parenting time schedule.
Joint legal decision-making means parents share the right to make non-emergency decisions regarding their child’s health, religious training, medical treatment, and personal care.
Equal parenting time means the parents share an equal amount of parenting time.
From there, if it is in the best interest of the child’s physical and emotional well-being, non-equal provisions may be appropriate. For example, if there are issues with domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, or other situations that place the child in harm’s way.
What Information Should Your Parenting Plan Include?
Parenting plans give detailed information about parenting time, legal decision making, and more.
Each Arizona parenting plan should include at least:
- The designation of legal decision-making rights as joint or sole
- The responsibilities and rights of each parent for school, religion, and healthcare
- A practical parenting time schedule that works in the best interest of the child and includes holiday and school vacation times
- A child exchange procedure that include times, locations, and other essential details
- Any child support payments, in accordance with the Arizona Child Support Guidelines
- A Conflict resolution procedure relating to the parenting plan and any proposed changes, relocations, and alleged breaches.
- A timetable of periodic reviews of the parenting plan
- A procedure for communicating with each other about the child, including methods and frequency
- An attestation that both parents have read, understood, and agree to the terms set forth
How is Child Support Handled in Parenting Plans
Child support orders differ on a case by case basis, but typically the court applies the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.
The court provides an online calculator for the public to use to get an idea of how much their child support payments might be.
In your parenting plan, you should include the child support payments and who pays them to who, who should pay for insurance and its cost, the parents income, parenting time as well as childcare, extracurricular activities, and school tuition where appropriate within the Guidelines.
In cases where the parents do not agree, the judge decides.
They consider the factors in the Arizona Child Support Guidelines such as how much time the child spends with each parent, each parents’ income, and more. They then apply these factors in the child support guidelines.
Choosing a Parenting Time Schedule That Works
Parenting time is one of the most contentious topics when it comes to creating parenting plans. Sometimes, both parents want to spend as much time with the child as they can.
Other times, one parent might want to restrict the other’s parenting time or just have more of the parenting time because that is what they had become accustomed to during the marriage.
Either way, disputes over who will have the children can become heated and stressful.
It is best to be as open-minded as possible when you and your ex-spouse discuss the parenting time plan.
You should always keep the best interest of the child in mind when you are making parenting schedule decisions. Studies show that children who spend time with both parents after a divorce are healthier and happier throughout their lives.
The parenting time inquiry usually starts at equal and moves away from equal, if such movement is in the child’s best interest.
Equal Parenting Time
Developing a plan that gives each parent equal time to spend with their child is a good option for most families.
There are several great ways for you and your ex-spouse to spend equal time with your children. You can split the week, alternate weeks, or even alternate every few days.
If you have young children, alternating parenting time more frequently might be a better choice for your family.
Younger kids often have difficulty being away from either parent for long periods.
Divided Parenting Time
Equal parenting time is not always the best option for families. If the parents do not live close to each other, weekday visits can be challenging.
In these situations, it might be better for one parent to have parenting time during the week while the other parent sees the child on the weekends with shorter evening visits during the week.
While this is not ideal and the evening visits are sometimes impractical for the parent, always look at what is in the best interests of the child.
Long distance is particularly a problem for school age children. Many hours in traffic, being late to school, and spending every other week away from their friends may not be in their best interests.
But, it is absolutely a case by case situation. Some parents work well together and have the flexibility in their schedules to make it work while others don’t.
If your child is not able to spend as much time with you regularly, you should make every attempt to be in your child’s life in other ways.
That could include prolonged parenting time during the summer, involvement in extracurricular activities, or other activities that help you and your child bond.
If you divide time using an unconventional schedule, you need to make sure that you put everything in your parenting plan. Otherwise, you are trusting in good faith that the other parent will allow you to spend time with your child, and they might not.
Parenting plans should not be complicated. This will lead to dispute which can devolve the relationship between the parents and lead to more litigation.
The parenting plan is the backup resource, if there is a dispute you should be able to refer to your parenting plan and clearly identify who has parenting time.
Summer and Holiday Visitation
The parenting plan should include holiday and summer visitation times. These specific designations usually preempt the regular parenting schedule and allow children and parents to make special memories on these important days. There are many holidays throughout the year you need to consider.
It is a good idea for both parents to make lists of which holidays are important to them. It will help them have an idea of where they want to be in terms of holiday visitation when they complete their parenting plan.
If you are unable to spend a lot of time with your child during the school year, you can request extended parenting time during school breaks.
You can also ask for your parenting time plan to include extended parenting time during the summer.
The judge will consider all requests made in the best interest of the child. And, spending time with both parents is essential to your child’s development and mental health.
So, in most cases, it is wise for both parents to seek as much parenting time as they are physically able to spend with their child.
Timetable for Obtaining Parenting Plan Order in Arizona
There is no clear timetable for getting a parenting plan order in Arizona. Some cases take as little as three months while others might drag on for over a year. There are some things you can do to speed things up, though.
The biggest thing to do is to try and agree with the other parent. If the parents can present a mutual parenting plan to the judge, it will likely make the process faster. You should also make sure you:
- File the correct court documents with the appropriate superior court
- Follow all court orders, laws, and rules of procedure
- Attend any required parenting classes or mediation appointments on time and be prepared
- Provide all, appropriate, requested information to the other party and/or the court promptly
Temporary Parenting Plans
Temporary parenting plans can benefit everyone involved in your case. They help protect both the children and parents from unnecessary conflict.
Temporary parenting plans generally establish parenting time and legal decision-making the parties are to follow until the case is resolved. A temporary parenting plan is either agreed to by the parties or ordered by the court after a temporary orders hearing.
If you are considering reaching an agreement on a temporary basis, you should first discuss your situation with an experienced family law attorney. Agreements reached, even on a temporary basis, can greatly impact your overall case.
Modifying Your Parenting Plan
Life changes, and what once worked might not work anymore. When it comes to modifying a parenting plan, the process is very similar to the process of putting one in place.
You must follow the Arizona laws and file a petition with the court in your jurisdiction to modify the parenting plan.
There are situations where the jurisdiction that originally entered the order is no longer appropriate, if this is the case and you think the case should be transferred to a more appropriate jurisdiction you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.
What Happens When Parents Do Not Agree on the Parenting Plan
In child custody cases, it is best if parents can work together to adopt a plan that works well with their lifestyles, work schedules, school activities, and the child’s needs. Some parents are unable to agree, though.
If you and your ex-spouse can not come to a mutual decision, you will each be responsible for submitting a parenting plan to the court. The judge will, during an evidentiary hearing review both plans and the evidence presented during the hearing as to why your plan is best for your child’s well-being. The judge will select a plan that based on the information and evidence presented, is in the best interests of the child.
The final parenting plan the court orders could be very similar or completely different from the one you submit. It all depends on your specific case.
Creating a Parenting Plan Can Be Tough
Parenting plans are one of the most effective ways for divorcees to manage their parental duties, that is likely why they are required.
However, developing the right parenting plan for your family is not always easy. As family law attorneys, we know the challenges you may be facing as you create your parenting plan, especially if you believe allowing the other parent legal decision-making or parenting time could harm your child.
If you have child custody difficulties, consult with a qualified lawyer. Their legal advice can help you solve your issues as quickly and efficiently as possible so that you can focus on your child.