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Your Phoenix Child Custody Case: The Basics

Like the Mystery Castle in the South Mountain Park foothills, you’re not sure what held your relationship together. Maybe it was your children. But now that your ex is gone like the Cactus League every April, you need to figure out which of you will make the big decisions for your children or how to split them up. Navigating child custody issues can be more troublesome than the Dunlap and 35th intersection, so this article covers some of the basics of Phoenix child custody law.

How Does Custody Work?

There are two types of child custody in Phoenix. Physical custody, which is called parenting time, and legal custody, called legal decision-making authority. Legal decision-making authority can cover health, education, and personal matters. A court may order sole legal decision-making to one parent or joint legal decision-making to both parents. Recent custody law encourages joint parenting, requiring a court to adopt a plan that maximizes both parents’ time with the child and forbidding a court from giving one parent custodial preference based on the parent’s or child’s gender.

How Do I Apply for Custody in Phoenix?

There are normally four steps to determining child custody, starting with filing a Petition to Establish Legal Decision Making (Custody), Parenting Time and Support. This paperwork gives the court general information about your case, including paternity and whether you are asking for sole or joint custody. The second step is ensuring that the other parent has received the petition, otherwise known as “service.” There are several requirements for legal service in Maricopa County family court to be aware of. Once you’ve filed the paperwork and served the other parent, he or she may respond to your petition. If you both can agree on custody issues, the court will generally honor your agreement, so long as it is in your child’s best interests. If you can’t agree, the court will hold a trial to settle contested issues, which is step three. Finally, step four is the court’s order establishing legal decision-making authority and parenting time.

Your custody paperwork can be filed at either of the Phoenix courthouses:

  • The Office of the Clerk of the Superior Court at 201 West Jefferson Street, Phoenix, Arizona 85003-2205; or
  • The Office of the Clerk of the Superior Court at 18380 North 40th Street, Phoenix, Arizona 85032.

How Does the Court Decide Custody Issues?

In a contested custody trial, a court will generally determine legal decision-making authority and parenting time based primarily on the best interests of the child. The court can consider any factors that are relevant to your child's physical and emotional well-being, including:

  • Your child’s wishes, if he or she is of suitable age and maturity;
  • Your child's adjustment to home, school, and the community;
  • The past, present, and potential future relationship between you and your child;
  • The relationship of your child and his or her siblings, the other parent, and any other person who might significantly affect your child's best interests; and
  • Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse in the relationship.

What Happens After the Court Grants a Child Custody Order?

Both parents should follow the court’s order regarding custody. If your ex does not abide by the court’s order, you can file a Petition To Enforce a Child Custody Order. The court may assess attorney’s fees and court costs against your ex if it finds he or she has unreasonably interfered with, restricted, or denied court-ordered parenting time.

You can also file a Petition to Modify a child custody order if you would like to change an existing legal decision-making and parenting time order. Normally, you have to wait a year until asking for a modification, unless your child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health is endangered by his or her present environment, or your ex fails to comply with the original order. You may have to submit documentation supporting your request, and, as with the original order, the court will generally decide modifications in the child’s best interests.

More Resources

Child custody decisions are an especially complicated area of the law, so it may help to speak with an attorney. If you’d like help with filing petitions or appeals, you can try to meet with an experienced family law attorney or look for free legal aid in Phoenix.

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  • Custody & child visitation cases are emotional, and a lawyer can seek the best outcome
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