Child Custody in Arizona

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How We Can Help With Your

Child Custody Issue in Arizona

Ideally, both parents will be involved in their child’s life. But reality is often far from ideal. We have handled the full range of custody issues. We have helped estranged parents become a meaningful part of their child’s life. We have also helped parents protect their child from the other parent’s dangerous choices. Nothing is more important to you than your child. You want to spend time with your child, love your child, and protect your child. We can make sure you have that opportunity. 

We can help make your custody issue less stressful. Our attorneys have experience representing clients in nearly every circumstance. We help our clients reach successful resolutions by ensuring they are informed throughout the process.

People come to us to for help with their custody case for a variety of reasons. Some parents come to us right when they are breaking up with the other parent, as they want to get a Parenting Plan in place right away. Some parents have tried to work it out with the other parent, but they find themselves continually either in conflict with the other parent or being denied access to the child. Some parents are coming to change the plan they do have, finding it no longer workable, because it puts their child in a dangerous situation, the other parent is unwilling to work with them, or something else has changed. Some parents are looking just to enforce their current plan because the other parent won’t abide by it. Some parents are looking to move out of state. Sometimes, they aren’t even parents—they are grandparents or other interested people who want to pursue visitation or perhaps even custody of a child.

We Guide You Through Custody

Questions to consider when starting a custody case?

  • Will things get better or stay the same if you don’t go to court?
  • What parenting plan would work best for your child?
  • What concerns do you have about the other parent?
  • What issues are you having with the other parent?
  • What might the other parent say about you?
  • What solutions are available through court?
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Stages of a Child Custody Case in Arizona

The Beginning

Filing a Petition. While there are several different types of custody (divorce, establishment, modification, enforcement, third-party rights, or relocation), all of them must start the same way: A Petition is filed with the court.

Serving the Other Party. The other party must be served the petition or other appropriate documents in one of three ways: by process server; by certified mail, return receipt as requested, with delivery restricted to the person you are serving; or by having them sign an Acceptance of Service in front of a notary.

Temporary Orders. The family courts are impacted, and it can take six to nine months before your case ever goes to trial. Custody often cannot wait. For that reason, the petitioning party may want to consider whether asking the court for temporary orders is necessary. Temporary orders ask the court to put orders in place while the case is pending.  It requires a trial within sixty (60) days of filing. A final trial or future agreement between parents can change the temporary orders, but sometimes swift action is needed.

Response. Generally, the parent who did not file the court initiating petition will have a chance to respond. The response is optional for a Petition to Modify or a Petition to Enforce.

Litigation & Negotiation

First Court Hearing: Other than a Petition to Enforce, the first hearing will most likely be a Resolution Management Conference (RMC). The parties are required to file a resolution statement stating how they wish to resolve the outstanding issues in the case, and, if represented, they must meet and confer with each other.

Options for Settlement. There are many options for settlement, including mediations (parties negotiate using the assistance of a neutral third-party), parenting conferences (low-cost mediation option with the court strictly limited to legal decision-making or parenting time), settlement letters, and settlement conferences.

Evaluations and Professionals. The court has many options for evaluating the parties that include psychological evaluations, substance abuse evaluations, comprehensive family evaluations, vocational evaluation, and others. Additionally, the court may appoint certain professionals, such as a Court-Appointed Advisor or Best Interest Attorney. These evaluations and these professionals can carry a lot of weight in what happens in your case.

Resolution and End of Matter

Trial: Once a case starts, there are ultimately two options: settle or let the judge decide. A judge cannot make a final decision without first holding a trial. So if you cannot settle your case, you must be prepared to put on a trial.

Parenting Plan: Whether you settle or have a judge decide your case, a Parenting Plan must be issued. It must decide how legal decision-making is allotted between the parents. It must also contain not just the normal schedule for parenting time, but a holiday schedule and a vacation schedule. It should include a communication plan for how the parents are going to communicate with each and the child. There are certain other requirements, imposed by the Legislature, that must be included in the Parenting Plan. Finally, there must be a child support order and child support worksheet, even if the parties have agreed that neither party should pay child support. Once signed by the judge, the Parenting Plan remains in effect until modified. Under Arizona law, it may not be modified for one year, absent an emergency; or if a parent is not abiding by the parenting time orders, it can be modified after 6 months.

Have Questions? We have answers

Child Custody in Arizona FAQs

Child Custody FAQs

How long do I have to pay child support for?

You must pay child support until your child is 18 and graduated from high school or until they turn 19 years old.

What should I be doing to prepare for a modification?

The answer depends a little bit on your circumstances, but generally speaking, you should be keeping a timeline of events that have occurred and any evidence you might have to support it. If for instance, the other parent sends you a nasty text message, you should have a place where you write down the date and what was said, and then print out the text message and save it with the other evidence you have.  

If the Court ordered you to do certain things, such as attend counseling or complete a parenting class, make sure you do that and keep a record of it. The items the Court requires of you are not only mandatory, but i the judge is signaling to you what changes the judge wants to see before increasing your access to the child. You may not agree with the judge, but we recommend you follow what the judge has required of you to increase your chances for a better result next time around.  

For spousal maintenance and child support, keeping your financial records so that you are ready to go on discovery and disclosure is important and can save you a lot of time and money when you are ready to modify.  

What do the Arizona courts try to achieve in a custody case?

In an ideal world, judges are trying to create a situation where both parents are equally involved, and the child is safe, loved, provided for, and cared for. The parents communicate well with each other and both are involved in the child’s education and attend the child’s medical appointments, school events, and extracurricular activities without any drama whatsoever. That would be the ideal, but most cases are going to fall short of that—and many will not come anywhere close to that. In those situations, the child’s safety must be tended to first, but after that, the court and others have developed programs to help parents communicated better, coparent better, and keep the focus on what is best for the child. Attorneys are aware of these programs and can talk to you about what solutions might fit your situation. 

For child custody, is Arizona a “Mother’s state”?

No. Arizona is a gender-neutral state, meaning it does not favor one parent over the other because of gender.

The other parent refuses to follow the Parenting Plan. What can I do?

You have a few options: The first option is to enforce the Parenting Plan by filing a Petition to Enforce. A Parenting Plan is a Court order, and the Court can enforce its order. It can do so by imposing penalties on the offending parent or requiring them to attend certain classes or counseling to help them learn how to co-parent. Another option may be to modify the Parenting Plan. Depending on the infraction, the Court could make small adjustments to the plan, put conditions on the parent’s time with the child or adjust parenting time and legal decision-making altogether. 

The other parent refuses to follow the Parenting Plan. What can I do?

Yes, you can. You two are still the parents. Except in cases involving third parties, whenever the parents agree, the Courts encourage. Most judges would rather the parents decide what is best for their child than leave it up to the judge. The Parenting Plan is a fallback provision to what you will do when the two of you cannot reach an agreement. If you would like your Agreement to become the new Parenting Plan, you can complete an updated Parenting Plan, have both parents sign it, and submit it to the Court. 

Why did Arizona change what “child custody” means?

In 2012, the Legislature changed the meaning of the termcustody because they were concerned too many people fighting for custody did not understand what they were fighting for. There was a feeling that some people pursued “custody” simply because it was what a parent is supposed to do. The Legislature thought if they made the terms more descriptive of the rights being pursued, parents could make an informed decision of whether it was something they wanted to pursue in Court. The Legislature hoped the change might lessen conflicts and litigation.  

What is decided in a custody case?

Broadly speaking, legal decision-making, parenting time, and child support.

What is Custody?

In a broad sense, custody means “legal decision-making and parenting time.” But more specifically, the term “custody” is actually no longer used in Arizona. In 2012, the Arizona Legislature passed, and Governor Brewer signed, a bill that renamed custody as “legal decision-making and parenting time.” The thought was that many parents fought over “custody” without understanding what it really meant, so the Legislature reasoned if they made terms more descriptive of the rights involved, there would be less conflict over “custody.” So legal decision-making and parenting time are descriptive terms. Legal decision-making means the right to make decisions on behalf of your child when it comes to major decisions in the areas of healthcare, education, religious, and personal care decisions. And “parenting time” means the schedule of when the child is with each parent.

What is Arizona Custody Public Policy?

A.R.S. § 25-103(A) requires judges to apply the custody provision in a way that promotes strong families and strong family values. A.R.S § 25-103(B) says that, absent evidence to the contrary, it is in the child’s best interest for both parents to participate in legal decision-making and for each parent to have substantial, frequent, meaningful, and continuing parenting time with both parents. This policy is significant because best interests of the child is the standard Courts use to determine legal decision-making and parenting time. In Woyton v. Ward, the Arizona Court of Appeals found this public policy means there is a rebuttable presumption that parenting time should be equal, but in Gonzalez-Gunter v. Gunter, the Court also found that courts are not required to order equal parenting time just because both parents can safely watch the child if equal parenting time is not in the child’s best interests.

What is Parenting Time?

For parenting time, what must be decided goes far beyond just setting a regular schedule. There must also be orders regarding holiday parenting time, vacation schedules, communication between the parties, communication with the child when in the other’s parents care, and exchange protocols. By law, whenever parenting time is decided, child support must be decided as well.

What is Legal Decision Making?

As for legal decision-making, the Court will decide whether both parents or one parent will make the legal decisions. The Court can even assign that one parent have decision-making for one specific area of legal decision-making. For example, in instances where parents cannot decide on what school the child will attend, the Court will “split the tie” by awarding one parent decision-making over educational issues only.

How do the courts decide custody cases?

The best interests of the child are the standard under which the Court determines all matters relating to the child. To assist the Court in this function, the Legislature has enacted the 11 best interest factors listed in A.R.S. § 25-403. Parties should address these factors in their Pretrial Statement and at trial. The Court must make written findings on the 11 factors at trial.

Learn More About Divorce

Arizona Divorce Resources

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