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 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.

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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. 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 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.

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 determines parenting time that reflects what’s best for the child.

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

To recap, the parents must agree to a written parenting plan, but the court must also find the resolution to be in the best interest of the child. Only then will the court grant joint custody to the parents.


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