In Arizona, the phrase”legal decision-making”replaced the term”child custody” in 2013. In Title 25 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, Marital and Domestic Relations, Chapter 4 specifically refers to all child custody laws in the state of Arizona. These encompass all legal decision-making and parenting time court orders.
Legal Decision-making and Parenting Time
Legal decision-making is the legal right of one parent (or both, in shared or joint decisions) to make all non-emergency legal decisions for the child, including choices regarding healthcare, religion, and education. Additionally, according to statute, legal decision-making means legal custody. Parenting time refers each parent’s scheduled access to the child. During this time, the parent is responsible for routine childcare decisions and can make emergency decision even if they are awarded joint-legal decision making authority.
The court determines legal decision-making and parenting time based upon what is in the best of the child. Contributing factors include the child’s relationship with the parent and other family members, such as siblings;issues with one or both parents, such as a history of domestic violence; the mental and physical health of all parties; and the wishes of the child, if the child is of suitable age and maturity to express those wishes. Arizona law provides a presumption that joint legal decision making is in the best interest of the child, but his presumption can be overcome.
When deciding to award sole or joint legal decision-making and parenting time, the court considers a number of factors, always with the goal of determining what is best for the child. These include but are not limited to:
- Agreements reached by the parents (or lack thereof)
- Cause behind lack of an agreement
- Parents ability to cooperate with each other
- Logistic issues
History of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse
If the court finds that a significant history of domestic violence exists between the parties, it considers this fact as contrary to the child’s best interest. To determine this, the court weighs relevant factors, including findings from other courts, police and medical reports, records from the department of child safety and domestic violence shelters, school records, and witness testimony. The court will allow a parent’s rebuttals of domestic violence allegations to be heard, but ultimately the court must make the ruling as to whether or not significant domestic violence has occurred. Additionally, it may make conditions intended to protect the child and other parent, such as supervised visitation and public exchanges in a protected setting.
Registered Sex Offenders and Convicted Murderers
Unless it finds the child faces no significant risk, the court will not grant either sole or joint legal decision-making of a child or unsupervised parenting time to a registered sex offender or a parent convicted of the first-degree murder of the other parent. The court will consider evidence if the convicted parent was a victim of domestic violence, including expert witness testimony. If one parent learns that a convicted or registered sex offender, or another person convicted of a dangerous crime against a child, has access to the child, that parent must immediately notify the other parent.
Prescription Medication and Records
Unless otherwise ordered, both parents are entitled to equal access to records and information regarding the child’s prescription medications, education, all aspects of his or her health (mental, physical, emotional, and moral), and any legal records. If a parent refuses to allow the other access, the non-compliant parent may be responsible for court costs and attorney fees, and is subject to legal sanctions.
Eligibility for Public Assistance
To determine eligibility for public assistance, the court may specify one parent as the child’s primary caretaker and one home as his or her primary residence. This finding should not influence the legal decision-making or parenting time order procedures.
Resource Allocation and Fees
In the legal decision-making and parenting time process, the court may find a financial disparity exists between the two parties if either requests financial assistance due to insufficient resources. In this event, the court may order payment of some of these fees and expenses to allow adequate preparation and legal representation for both parties.
The court awards child support in accordance with A.R.S. §25-320 and the Child Support Guidelines. This award is not negated even in the event of joint legal decision-making or the creation of an equal parenting time plan.
Hire a Skilled Family Law Attorney
With so much at stake and so many variables to consider, you need an attorney experienced in Arizona family law to help prove that you are the parent who should have legal decision-making authority for your child. Contact us today for your free, confidential consultation.