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Arizona Child Custody Laws

Are you a parent navigating an Arizona court case about a child custody dispute? If so, understanding how to advocate for your rights while prioritizing the well-being of your child is crucial.

This article explains some important child custody terms and various child custody arrangements applicable in the state of Arizona. Read on to learn more about the basics of Arizona child custody law.

Relevant Arizona Statutes

In Arizona, child custody matters are primarily governed by Title 25 of the Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S). In Arizona, custody may be described as legal decision-making. Visitation may be referred to as parenting time.

At A.R.S. Section 25-403, the law emphasizes the importance of determining custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child. The court considers factors such as:

  • The child's relationship with each parent
  • The child's adjustment to home, school, and community
  • The parents' ability to cooperate in matters concerning the child
  • Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse
  • If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the wishes of the child

A.R.S. Section 25-403.02 outlines how to create parenting plans. This includes a parenting time schedule and elements of a parenting plan that are necessary to protect the mental health and physical health of the child. Successful plans will consider the child's needs and the importance of the child's relationship with both parents.

Familiarizing oneself with these statutes is essential for navigating child custody disputes in Arizona courts.

What Does Having Legal Custody Mean?

In a divorce or legal separation in Arizona, a child’s parents or the court must determine who has custody of shared minor children. This must also be addressed for unmarried parents who separate their households.

Legal decision-making authority (legal custody) concerns the right and responsibility to make decisions for your children. With joint legal custody, the parents typically make major decisions jointly. These decisions can include what religion the child may practice or whether the child is old enough to date or drive a car. The parents may use joint legal decision-making to decide the child's health care or schooling.

Although Arizona law doesn’t provide a legal default for joint custody, it’s more common than sole custody. Arizona law supports adopting a parenting plan that includes joint legal decision-making and substantial time with both parents if the court finds it consistent with the child's best interest.

A parent with sole legal custody makes the big decisions alone. The other parent is expected to correspond with them in making day-to-day decisions around the child.

But without an agreement, a parent with sole legal custody may be limited in attempts to bind the other parent to certain financial obligations. For example, if a parent decides unilaterally to enroll a child in a private school without the consent of the other parent, child support will not be increased to cover that expense without an express agreement of the parties or a court order. (See Maricopa County Child Support Guidelines at p. 15.)

What Does Having Physical Custody Mean?

When both parents have joint legal custody and split time with the child, this is called shared or joint physical custody.

But it's uncommon for joint physical custody to result in an exact 50/50 time-sharing arrangement. The exception is when both parents actively desire it or have demonstrated a consistent history of sharing time in this manner during their separation.

If the parents have joint physical custody, there’s usually a residential plan describing each parent's time with the child. This is sometimes called the physical custody schedule.

If one parent has sole or primary physical custody, the other parent's time with the child is usually referred to as visitation or parenting time.

In Arizona, the law allows a parent without custody to have visitation rights, unless limitations are necessary to avoid a danger to the child. If there is a history of domestic violence or child abuse, or a parent engages in substance abuse, joint custody may not be appropriate or in the child's best interests.

What Is a Parenting Plan?

Arizona law also requires both parents to sign a parenting plan if they agree to joint legal custody. The parenting plan is reviewed by the court and made part of the decree of dissolution of marriage or custody order. Any parenting plan may include the following:

  • Provisions for how the parents will be involved in caring for the child and how the big decisions – such as education, religion, and health care – will be made
  • A residential plan (schedule of physical custody)
  • A method of mediating or resolving disputes before taking problems back to court
  • A provision for a periodic review of the parenting plan
  • A statement that the parties realize joint custody does not necessarily mean equal parenting time

Get Legal Advice From a Family Law Attorney Today

Do you have more questions on child custody in Arizona? You can learn more about Arizona custody laws here.

Making child custody decisions can be complicated. You might find that consulting with an experienced child custody lawyer in Arizona could help.

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