Many of the case stages for divorces with children are the same as divorces without children: Legal Separation, filing a Petition for Dissolution, the possibility of a Default Hearing, the choice of either a Trial or a Negotiated Settlement, the Discovery Process, the allocation of Spousal Maintenance, and Property Division are all the same as they are for divorces where no children are involved (non-covenant marriages). However, because of the complicated and sensitive nature of raising children together, cases with minors are often more complex and hostile.
One key legal difference in divorces with children is the issuance of Temporary Orders: in Arizona, the Court automatically constructs and issues Temporary Orders when children are involved in order to fairly determine legal decision-making and parenting time either once papers have been served or once the proceeding has begun. Since this process can take months, either party may also choose to petition the court for their own Temporary Orders and file them with the Court.
One stage that is specific to divorces with children concern the matter of Legal Decision-Making (known as custody in some other states) and the Parenting Time that is attached to it. As with non-covenant marriages, these matters may either be worked out with a family attorney or via divorce mediation in Arizona to create a Negotiated Settlement and avoid a trial. If a divorce case goes to court, the judge must consider many things when deciding on Legal Decision-Making and determining the best interests of child(ren) including, but not limited to:
- The child(ren)’s past, present, and potential future relationship with each parent
- The child(ren)’s wishes on the matter (if determined to be a suitable age and maturity)
- Which parent is most likely to provide meaningful and consistent contact with the child(ren)
- Whether that has been domestic violence, sexual abuse, or neglect
- Coercion, deception, or duress on behalf of either spouse
Judges will often choose to hear testimony from expert witnesses to help make their rulings. Legal Decision-Making in Arizona may be sole or joint, depending on the judge’s ruling. Joint, however, does not always mean equal, just as Sole does not necessarily mean the other parent has no contact. The actual contact depends largely on the construction of a Parenting Plan.
Once Legal Decision-Making has been determined, the parents must create a Parenting Plan that is signed by both parties. This detailed document must include:
- A schedule of the child(ren)’s physical residence, including school vacations, holidays, etc.
- An overview of each parent’s rights and responsibilities for the child(ren)’s personal care and non-emergency decisions for matters such as education, healthcare, and religious practices.
- A proposed approach for handling disputes, last-minute changes, and breaches. This may include the use of divorce mediation in Arizona appointment of a Parenting Coordinator or other counseling services.
- An approved method for the parents to conduct periodical reviews of the plan.
- A statement that both parents understand that Joint Legal Decision-Making in Arizona doesn’t necessarily mean “equal time.”
The second stage that is specific to divorces with children is the determination of Child Support in Arizona. Here, if the matter has not been reached via a Negotiated Settlement, the judge will consider many things to determine Child Support, including, but not limited to:
- Each spouse’s financial contributions throughout the marriage
- The presumed standard of living for each spouse during the marriage
- The ability or inability of a spouse to work due to the care for young children
- The ability of the spouse being commanded to pay Child Support to maintain a suitable standard of living while paying Child Support
If Child Support is awarded, the amount that must be paid is determined by Arizona Supreme Court Guideline formulas. Using standard calculations, lawyers and/or the Court can determine how much child support a parent should pay/receive. There is, however, always the possibility for child support modification in Arizona, depending on specific changes to a party’s lifestyle.
Finally, in divorce cases with children that go to trial, a judge may decide to assign a court-appointed attorney to the minor/s. This only happens when the judge feels the conflict and hostility of the parents are negatively impacting the minor/s, and that they are not acting in the best interest of the child(ren).
As with divorces without children, a final Decree of Dissolution will be issued, the divorce will be finalized, and a Consent Decree will be constructed. Any divorce is complicated and difficult, and requires the skills of a highly-trained and committed Phoenix divorce attorney. From providing expert witnesses to helping clients wade through the laws surrounding child visitation in Arizona, Simon Law Group of AZ is standing by 24 hours to assist. Call 480-745-2450 and begin the process of an aggressive, yet fair, divorce procedure.