How to File for Joint Custody in Arizona


During divorce proceedings in Arizona, spouses with children are required to agree to a custodial determination that outlines who has legal and physical child custody.

Parents in Arizona can agree to sole custody or joint custody. Of the two, joint custody is the more common agreement – sole custody cases are rare and usually occur only when one parent is unfit or unwilling to care for the child.

In 2012, Arizona passed Senate Bill 1127, legislation that placed more focus on joint parenting. The bill prevents Arizona courts from giving preference to one gender or another during custody proceedings. The law was enacted in 2013, and today, the courts are much more likely to grant parenting time to both parents, instead of defaulting to one parent, in order to maximize “both parents’ time with the child,” according to the Arizona Republic. 

With this new law, joint custody agreements are only expected to become more common, and the parenting time of each parent is expected to become more equal over time. For parents considering divorce or separation, it’s important to know how joint custody works and how it affects children.

What is Joint Custody in Arizona?

Generally, joint custody refers to “joint legal custody,” which means that both parents have a legal right to make decisions for the child, including matters of education, medical care, religion, and personal care.

Joint custody can also mean “joint physical custody,” which refers to the actual parenting time that each spouse has with their child. For example, a child may spend weekdays with one parent and then spend weekends with the other. It’s important to note that an agreement can include joint legal custody but not joint physical custody.

In many cases, however, joint custody includes both legal and physical custody. Having legal custody is also known as having legal decision-making authority, while physical custody is known as parenting time.

Agreeing to a Parenting Plan

When parents agree to joint custody, they must also agree to a written, formalized parenting plan that outlines how the child will be cared for by both parents.

This could include:

  • How the parents will cooperate on significant decisions for the child
  • How parenting time will be determined
  • How disputes and conflicts regarding custody will be resolved

Essentially, the parenting plan outlines the rights, expectations and responsibilities of each parent. The parenting plan also clearly states that joint custody does not necessarily mean equal parenting time, simply that the child’s time at each residence will be divided if joint physical custody is granted.

If there are significant disagreements between the two sides while drafting a parenting plan, the two parties may consider divorce mediation services. A skilled mediator can help smooth the transition of the divorce and help each side make decisions surrounding custody and other issues without having to step into a courtroom.

The Best Interests of the Child

While there are many mitigating factors during custody proceedings, the courts are concerned, above all else, with the best interests of the child. The courts take into consideration the child’s preferences, as well as the parents’, and determine parenting time that reflects what’s best for the child.

The court does take the preferences of a child into account, especially if the child is old enough to share their opinions. However, the court ultimately makes the decision based on several factors. There is no set formula for determining a child’s best interests, as each case is different, but the court works to consider what will provide the best outcome for both their short and long-term needs.
Other factors that can affect how custody is arranged can include:

  • The personal and criminal (if any) history of each spouse
  • The nature of relationships between the child and each spouse
  • Who has previously been the primary caretaker of the child
  • Cooperation between parents regarding custodial agreements

​​Joint Custody Parental Limitations

A joint custody agreement requires that both parties cooperate with each other when it comes to communication, scheduling, and coordination. Therefore, both parents must be aware of a few potential limitations in order to respect the child’s welfare and the other parent’s custody.

Some limitations parents may face include: 

  • Parents must provide written notice to the other parent and receive permission from the court if they intend to relocate the child out of state or more than 100 miles away within the same state, as noted in A.R.S. 25-408.
  • Parents must be aware of taking the child out of state for a brief trip or location so as not to violate their custody agreements, obstruct the other parent’s right to custody, or engage in parental kidnapping.
  • Parents must communicate with each other regarding the scheduling of events and trips to be sure not to infringe upon the other’s designated custody schedule.

Get Help with Joint Custody Agreements in Arizona

Determining how to arrange a child’s custody can be a source of conflict for separated parents, but it’s crucial for both parties to work on finding an agreement that works for both sides. To file for joint custody, the parents must agree to a written parenting plan, and the court must also find the resolution to be in the best interest of the child. At this point, the court will grant joint custody to the parents.

In some cases, navigating this process can be difficult without an experienced attorney, especially in cases of contested divorces. At JacksonWhite Law, our Family Law attorneys are experienced in supporting clients with all aspects of divorce, including joint custody agreements. We support families in navigating the various challenges that come with divorce so that both sides can find an amicable agreement.

Call the Family Law Team at (480) 418-7896 to hire a qualified attorney to represent you.

Contact Our Family Law Team

Call (480) 467-4348 or fill out the form to schedule your consultation and discuss your best legal options.