Child Custody in Arizona
In Arizona, “custody” refers to legal decision-making and parenting time. Legal decision-making means the legal right to make all nonemergency decisions, such as education decisions, healthcare decision, and religious decisions. Parenting time is what we use to call “visitation”.
Joint Versus Sole “Custody” aka Legal Decision-Making
You may have heard the terms joint and sole legal decision-making. Joint legal decision-making means that you and the other parent must have a meaningful conversation to try to reach a decision. If you two are unable to reach a decision, then you may need a tie-breaker. Some parents appoint one parent as a tie breaker. Other parents use mediation services to resolve any issues that may come up in making decisions. If awarded sole legal decision-making, you get to make the decision without consulting the other parent.
When is Sole Legal-Decision Making Appropriate
There is a strong preference in the courts towards joint legal decision-making. However, there are a few of reasons why the court may award one parent sole legal decision-making:
- A parent or child has been the victim of domestic violence perpetrated by the other parent
- A parent has a substance abuse issue
- A parent is a sex offender or murderer
If one of the above situation applies, you may be able to become the sole legal decision-maker for your child.
How Does the Court Decide Custody aka Legal Decision-Making?
Courts look at a number of factors to determine whether to award joint or sole legal decision-making. First, the court will consider “best interest factors”. Best interest factors include the child’s relationship with each parent and extended family, the child’s adjustment, the child’s wishes, the physical and mental health of all parties, whether domestic violence has occurred, and which parent is more likely to allow the other parent contact.
For more information on best interest factors, visit http://www.azleg.gov/viewdocument/?docName=http://www.azleg.gov/ars/25/00403.htm. Courts will also consider why the parents cannot reach an agreement to joint legal decision-making, the parents’ ability to cooperate, and, whether joint legal decision-making is logistically possible. If one of the three conditions mentioned earlier exists, the court has to consider additional factors in making its determination.