A parenting plan is equivalent to a custody agreement in other states, and is an essential part of divorce proceedings in Arizona. Parenting plans can cover a variety of topics and vary from case to case. Generally speaking, they’ll need to address the following core issues:
- Which parent has primary custody of the child
- Visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent
- Statement of rights and responsibilities for each parent, especially concerning decision-making abilities
- Conciliation plan to address breaches, disputes, and amendments
- Procedures for periodic reviews
Parenting plans must include a statement that joint custody does not mean equal parenting time, with both parents acknowledging that they understand this.
Parenting plans are a legally binding agreement, so they should not be taken lightly. It’s best to consult with an attorney when drafting and signing a parenting plan.
Parenting Time in Arizona
According to ARS 25-401, “parenting time means the schedule of time during which each parent has access to a child at specified times. Each parent during their scheduled parenting time is responsible for providing the child with food, clothing and shelter and may make routine decisions concerning the child’s care.”
In simple terms, parenting time confers primary responsibility for feeding, clothing, and sheltering a minor child. Parenting time also confers the right to make routine daily decisions like what to eat, what to wear, or what movie to watch.
Parenting time is dictated by the parenting plan, which is a legally binding agreement. If you’re unhappy with your current parenting time arrangement, you’ll need to reach a new agreement with your former spouse or file a motion in court to amend the parenting plan.
Arizona Parenting Plans
A parenting plan is a legal document that establishes how major decisions will be made (legal custody) and when the child will spend time with each parent (parenting time). It’s the equivalent of a custody agreement in other states, and is required in Arizona divorce cases involving minor children.
Note that when it comes to custody of the child, there’s a difference between legal and physical custody. The former pertains to major decisions like education, religious upbringing, and healthcare, while the latter concerns the child’s physical living arrangements.
Most cases result in joint custody, with one parent serving as the custodial parent and the other as the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent will be required to pay child support, though that matter is addressed separately in the child support agreement.
How to Create a Parenting Plan
When you’re ready to draft a parenting plan, read through Planning for Parenting Time: Arizona’s Guide for Parents Living Apart. The guide is produced by the Arizona Supreme Court, and even provides suggested parenting plans based on a child’s age and special issues.
How Working With an Attorney Can Help
Determining legal custody and defining parenting time is often a hot point in divorce cases, with both parents vying for physical custody and more parenting time. It helps to have an experienced family law attorney in your corner who can protect your rights, maximize your parenting time, and ensure the child’s best interests come first.
In the ideal scenario, your attorney can broker an agreement between you and your former spouse. The court will then review and ratify the parenting plan.
If you and your former spouse cannot reach an agreement, your attorney will submit your own parenting plan to the court. The judge will evaluate your parenting plan against your former spouse’s proposed plan, and rule in favor of the plan that preserves the child’s best interests. In such cases, working with an attorney significantly improves your chances of a favorable outcome.
FAQs About Parenting Plans in Arizona
Q: Is a parenting plan legally binding?
In Arizona, a parenting plan that’s approved by a judge in court is a legally binding agreement. When a parent breaks the agreement, the other parent may petition the court to enforce the agreement. If changes are necessary, the parties must reach a new agreement and have it ratified by the court, or petition the court to amend the existing agreement.
Q: What happens if a parent doesn’t follow the parenting plan?
When a parent fails to follow the parenting plan, the other parent can petition the court to enforce the agreement.
For example, if the custodial parent refuses to drop off the child for weekend visitation according to the parenting time schedule, the non-custodial parent can notify the court. The court can then step in to enforce the agreement.
When a delinquent parent continues to willfully disregard the parenting plan and doesn’t respond to the court’s enforcement orders, the court may issue an amended parenting plan that seeks to protect the child’s best interests.
Q: How much does a parenting plan cost?
As of September 2019, the filing fee for a parenting plan (aka custody agreement) in Arizona is $164. The cost of legal services from a divorce attorney depend on the complexity of the case and the effort required to reach an agreement through negotiations, mediation, and hearings.
Q: Does a parenting plan have to be notarized?
A parenting plan that’s approved by a judge in court does not need to be notarized. However, a private agreement between two parents outside of court should be notarized. The notarization doesn’t make the agreement legally enforceable, but the courts are inclined to honor a notarized agreement, as are schools, healthcare providers, etc.
What to Do If You Need Help With a Parenting Plan in Arizona
In amicable divorce cases where the parents agree on everything, you may be able to draft a parenting plan on your own. Just be sure to have an attorney review the agreement before you sign.
That said, most divorces are not amicable, and parenting plans often require negotiations or formal mediation. Even if you and your former spouse are getting along relatively well, there will likely be differences of opinion concerning parenting time and how the child should be raised.
If you need help drafting a parenting plan, negotiating a plan with your former spouse, or enforcing a parenting plan after your former spouse has broken the agreement, discuss your case with an attorney.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.
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