If you’re going through a child custody case in Arizona, you’re probably hearing a lot of terms you aren’t familiar with, such as legal custody, decision-making rights, physical custody, parenting time, sole custody, and joint custody. Here is everything you need to know about how Arizona breaks down child custody, and what that means for you.
Legal Decision-Making Rights
Back in 2013, Arizona changed the language in their child custody laws. Now instead of saying “legal custody,” we use the term “legal decision-making rights,” as it’s more specific and leaves less grey area for potential conflict. Legal decision-making rights dictate who is responsible for making decisions about things like the child’s health care and education.
The term “parenting time” replaces what used to be called “physical custody” or visitation, and simply refers to the time a child spends with that parent. Parenting time is typically awarded on a schedule that is outlined in the parenting plan. Regardless of how much time the child spends with each parent or how often they switch houses, parenting time is intended to satisfy the child’s best interests while providing ample opportunity for the child to maintain a relationship with both parents.
Sole Versus Joint Custody
Along with the change in terminology, Arizona has changed its focus to emphasizing the best interests of the child. The state’s view holds that in most cases, it’s the best for the child to maintain relationships with both parents, so Arizona tries to balance decision-making rights and parenting time between both parents as long as doing so is safe for the child. As a result, Arizona frequently assigns joint custody, although sole custody is still a possibility in situations where it is determined to be the best thing for the child.
The Importance of a Parenting Plan
Determining legal custody is only part of the court order. The parenting plan is a court ordered and enforced document that lays out everything from a decision-making tree (in case both co-parents cannot agree on a health or education decision), to a division for parenting time. The parenting plan establishes a schedule of parenting time during the school year as well as during school vacations, and dictates how holidays and special occasions will be shared. Other details, such as religious education and how to go about making changes to the parenting plan, can and should be included as well. Think of this as a detailed guide that will help to minimize fighting between co-parents, and make sure your parenting plan is as thorough as possible.
Trying to decipher terms like legal custody and parenting time can make divorce and child custody proceedings even more overwhelming than they already are, which is just one of several reasons why legal representation can be so beneficial. For help navigating your child custody case, contact Simon Law Group today.