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During the divorce process in Arizona, the courts must make a custody determination if children are involved. Legal custody involves decision-making authority.
A parent with legal custody has the right to make important decisions relating to his or her children. The important decisions legal custody authorizes a parent to make on behalf of their children are decisions involving:
- Non-emergency medical care
- Other important life decisions
Types of Custody Arrangements in Arizona
The most common type of custody arrangement in Arizona is joint legal custody, which authorizes both parents to share in making important decisions on their children’s behalf. It should be noted however, that joint legal custody does not necessarily mean the parents share equal parenting time.
Child custody courts in Arizona presume that joint legal custody is in children’s best interests. In certain instances, joint legal custody may not be in the children’s best interests. This is particularly so if one parent is unfit, or simply refuses to co-parent with the other parent.
A parent with sole legal custody has absolute authority to make important decisions for the child. In cases involving a parent who is seeking sole legal custody, it is especially important to have a qualified family law attorney on your side to protect your rights and your child’s best interests.
Determining Physical Custody and Visitation Rights
Just as the court must make a legal custody determination, the court must also enter physical custody orders. Physical custody is generally referred to as parenting time. It is almost always in a child’s best interest to maintain frequent and meaningful contact with both parents.
Sometimes an equal physical custody arrangement is preferred. This means the parents share 50/50 parenting time. In other cases, Arizona courts will designate one parent as the primary residential parent, and award the other parent reasonable visitation rights. What “reasonable” visitation means, however, is often a point of dispute.
What is reasonable may mean something entirely different to each parent, resulting in disagreements and conflict. When parents are unable to agree as to what constitutes reasonable visitation, the courts will decide the matter.
Where a parent has a history of abusive or unstable behavior, courts may require that a parent’s visitation be supervised. Sometimes parents and the court decide who will supervise the visits, and other times the court appoints a person unknown to the parents. After a period of time, a parent whose visits are supervised may petition the court for unsupervised visits.
Coming to a Custody Agreement in Arizona
It’s generally in the best interests of parents and their children to come to an agreement as to custody and visitation rather than litigating these issues in court. Parents know their children and their needs far better than a judge who has never met, and likely never will meet their children.
Of course, by the time a couple decides to dissolve their marriage, it is often difficult for them to work things out on their own. If the parents are unable to reach a child custody and parenting time agreement, it will be necessary for the court to make this decision.
To help with their decision, Arizona courts consider a host of factors, including the following:
- The preferences of the children and parents.
- The relationship between the child and each of the parents.
- The environment at each parent’s home.
- The health and well being of each parent.
- How well the parents get along with one another.
- Each parent’s history of providing and caring for the child.
- Any misconduct of either parent.
- Courts sometimes order an independent custody evaluation to aid in their decision.
There is much at stake when courts become involved in child custody arrangements. Parents typically need the counsel of an experienced child custody lawyer when going through this process, particularly if there extraneous factors such as drug addictions or previous criminal histories.
Do You Need Help with Child Custody Arrangements?
It can be be difficult to navigate child custody laws without the right help. At JacksonWhite Law, we not only provide that help, but also a compassionate understanding for your situation. We work diligently to explore legal solutions that have your – and your family’s – best interests in mind.
Contact us to discuss your child custody needs. Our lead attorney Tim Durkin is available to answer your questions and discuss the specifics of your case.
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