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In Arizona, the courts are firm in their belief that it is in the best interests of the child to have equal contact with both parents. So if you are fighting for custody of a child, you need to realize that this is the primary premise. Also, there are several legal definitions for custody. Let’s define those first so that you will have an understanding of what the terms mean.
Whenever a child is involved in a divorce it is crucial that both parents focus on what is best for the child, because child custody laws are designed for this specific purpose. These cases can become extremely complicated, it is highly recommended that you seek out the services of a family law attorney that specializes in child custody.
Types of Child Custody
If you have legal custody, you can make legal decisions for your child.
If your child stays with you, you have physical custody.
One parent has physical and legal sole custody of the child, but the noncustodial parent can visit the child.
Legal Custody by Both Parents
Both parents have a legal right to decide on issues for the child. If they are in disagreement, the courts will settle the matter.
Joint Physical Custody
The child splits the time living with both parents. Often in Arizona, the court system awards equal physical custody for both parents.
In Loco Parentis
A person who is not the parent can fulfill the role of a parent. This includes custody. This can occur if one of the parents of the child is dead or if the child’s parents are unmarried or if the child’s parents are in the process of divorcing
In all decisions, the court takes into consideration the best interests of the child. Physical access to the child is shared equally by the parents. But some factors can change this balance.
Child Support Factors
Often the best interests reflect the age of the child. So if the child is very young, most times the decision is to award more time to the most stable parent or the parent that the child is most familiar with. Therefore, physical custody while the child is young is weighted to one parent over the other.
But as the child grows older, the goal of the court is to equalize the time between the two parents. This can happen as early as five years old. When the child is even older, the judge may ask the child’s opinion about where he or she wants to live. Usually, a child is entering their teen years when this happens.
Physical custody may change over the course of time. Either parent seeking a different arrangement of the time allotment can initiate the process to make the changes to reflect the age of the child.
The determination of paternity has significant weight on custody. Until paternity is determined, sole custody of the child is awarded to the unwed mother. Decisions are up to her, even to the point that the mother can put the child up for adoption. She does not need to seek permission from the alleged father if paternity has not been established. So how is paternity established?
- The Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) has a process in which unwed parents can sign a form establishing the paternity of the child if both parents agree.
- If there is a disagreement, a paternity test can be taken.
- If there is difficulty in establishing paternity, the DCSS can request that the court assists in having paternity established through legal means.
- Unwed parents can choose not to involve the DCSS but work through the court system to establish paternity.
- A similar process can be established if the child is born out of state.
If both parents in the marriage agree that the child’s father is the husband, then paternity is established.
Mental and Physical Health of Parents
If both parents are physically and mentally healthy, then they have rights to equal custody. But if there is an issue with both or either of them, then custody can be affected. Social agencies are involved in making the determination about the physical or mental health capabilities of the parents.
The parent must be able to provide a stable home for the child. Again a social agency will make the determination.
How the child interacts with the half-siblings in a situation in which there is a blended family can affect custody.
If there has been some domestic violence in the home, physical custody can be in jeopardy. Even visitations can be stopped. Or, visitation can take place under the supervision of a person who works for an agency.
Alcohol or Drug Abuse
If it has been established that either or both parents have a drug or alcohol abuse issue, the custody will not be awarded.
Location of the School
Sometimes, the homes of the parents are not in the same school area. This issue can affect custody of the child unless a practical solution can be found. Often the child will live with one parent, usually the mother, during the week to attend school and then live with the father for the weekends and holidays.
Who Makes the Decisions about Custody?
If you are fighting to have custody of your child, the best possible scenario is to have the other parent agree with the decision. Then both parents can face the court with a solution, as long as the decision is based on the best interests of the child. But be aware that despite the agreement that the parents have struck, the judge will still rule in the best interest of the child.
In many cases, life circumstances can change significantly. At one time, one of the parents might not be able to afford a stable home, but with a new job, this can change quickly. The intent of the law is to provide the child with access to both parents.
If you have been denied custody for whatever reason, as long as the circumstances have changed for the better, you can expect to have a good chance of the custody order being changed. It will be essential for you to make a strong argument that this change will be permanent.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.
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