Thousands of people wind up getting divorced each year in the state of Arizona. Many of these couples have underage children, and working out some kind of arrangement of who will have custody, under what circumstances they will have custody, and what the parenting obligations and constraints can be a real challenge to determine.

Most of us are familiar with the term custody or child custody, which has been used for some time to describe which parent will have authority to act on behalf of the child, or how much time each parent will receive in terms of caring for the child.

Legal Decision Making: Definition

Child custody used to be the term that was used in relation to this; but now in Arizona, the term has been changed to the legal decision-making authority. When you are discussing the parenting arrangements for a child, this is now the term that will be used by the court.

The legal decision-making authority is determined as part of some form of legal separation, or in relation to matters related to maternity and paternity. When one parent files a petition with the court, they are asking the court to grant them the authority of legal decision-making for that child.

If the court agrees that a parent has such authority and they meet the statutory requirements to be determined as a parent, then it is the court’s responsibility to ensure that the individual is granted some form of legal decision-making authority so that they can act on behalf of their child.

What Does Legal Decision Making Authority Grant?

According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, legal decision making  is defined as the court granting authority to a person or persons to care for a minor child. It is giving that person the right to care for the child on whatever term is set, whether that is for a day, a weekend, during the summer, or even permanent; and gives that person legal authority to make decisions that are in the best interests of the minor. These may include such things as religious choice, educational choice, medical treatment, and what extracurricular activities the child will be involved in.

However, the legal decision making authority does not relate directly to the amount of time that a parent or other person is granted. Instead, this is just about dealing with who has the authority to act on behalf of the child and make decisions that are in the best interests of the child.

It should be noted that even if one parent has custody of the child during a certain period of time, like over a weekend, that does not mean that they have legal decision-making authority. This is a very important point for any parent to understand.

Example of Legal Decision Making

If a father is granted visitation with the child every other weekend in a month, that may grant the father time that he can spend with the child, including bringing him or her to his home. He is given authority to have “custody” of the child according to what most people view as the definition of this term.

However, this may not give the father the responsibility of the legal decision-making authority. This means that if the child was hurt and needed medical care during that weekend period, the father may not have the authority to take the child to the doctor and seek medical attention. He may be required to contact the mother and ask her to meet at the medical facility, or he may be allowed to take the child to the doctor but all decisions on what kind of treatment the child would receive would come down to the mother. This is if she has full legal decision-making authority.

Types of Legal Decision Making Authority

Within the Arizona court system, there were actually two different kinds of legal decision-making authority. They include:

Sole Legal Decision Making Authority
In this legal situation, one person, usually a parent, is given complete authority to act on behalf of the child in all major decisions. They are the only person who can make such decisions, and is granted full authority by the court to make decisions for the child related to education, medical treatment, religious choice, and the like.

Joint Legal Decision Making Authority
This form of legal decision-making is different because neither parent has a superior authority over the other one. Both parents have the right to make decisions that are deemed in the best interest of the child, and if there is a matter that is unable to be decided upon then it is the court that will have the final authority to judge what should occur for the child. In essence, when parents agree to this kind of parenting authority, they give the ultimate authority to the judge overseeing the matter.

How Parenting Time Relates to Legal Decision Making Authority

When there is an arrangement for joint custody, meaning that both parents have the child at specified times agreed upon or designated by the court, there is usually some form of joint legal decision-making authority that is granted. This usually means that the parent who has custody of the child at a specific time determines what the child does or how to handle emergency situations.

Courts will often designate that parents work out matters so that if such an emergency arises, there will already be a pre-designated idea as to what to do in that situation.

However, there are many instances where one parent is given complete authority over the decision-making process even when the child is visiting the other parent. This means even if the child is under one parent’s care, it does not mean that that parent has the decision-making authority.

Because of factors like these, it is important for parents to work together to resolve as many issues as possible related to the care of their child or children. The more authority granted to the court, the least decision-making authority that parents can have.

How JacksonWhite Law Can Help

Divorce is difficult, especially when there is a child involved. You want to not only do what is best for yourself, but what is best for your child as well. Which is why if you should consider working with family law attorney.  At JacksonWhite Law we have divorce attorneys, child custody lawyers and an experienced family law staff that is dedicated to not only helping families during this difficult time, but making sure that they set themselves up for a successful future.

Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.

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