During divorce proceedings, many parents report that they would prefer to get sole legal decision making (custody) of their child or children. But what does this mean? What are the ramifications and likelihood of achieving this outcome?
Defining “Sole Legal Decision Making/Custody” and “Sole Physical Custody”
First of all, it’s important to understand that there are two kinds of custody recognized by family courts: legal custody and physical custody. Furthermore, neither of these terms is currently utilized by Arizona courts. Under legislation that went into effect in 2013, the term “custody” was scratched altogether. Now, physical custody is referred to as “parenting time” and legal custody is referred to as “decision-making” in order to provide more clarity between these distinctions.
- Sole physical custody (now called “parenting time”): With sole physical custody, or sole parenting time, you’re the one the child lives with and who is responsible for seeing to the child’s physical needs.
- Sole legal custody (now called “decision-making”): With sole legal custody, you have the sole ability to make legal decisions on behalf of the child. This includes:
- Decisions about schooling
- Decisions about health and medical care (including mental health care)
- Decisions about religious education and practice
How Can You Obtain Sole Legal Custody?
Numerous studies have shown that even when there’s conflict between parents, and even when one parent shows less responsibility in parenting duties, it’s to the child’s advantage to have both parents present in his or her life. That’s why most family courts around the country, Arizona included, favor shared custody wherever possible. Shared parenting time and shared decision-making is almost always in the child’s best interest, even though it may require compromise on the parents’ part.
That being said, there are certain grounds for one parent to have primary decision making and parenting time, including domestic abuse, mental health problems, and drug use. Even when one parent is granted the majority of parenting time and the other is limited to visitation, or supervised visitation, shared legal custody is usually the preference of the court, unless one parent has proven to be untrustworthy in such matters.
Furthermore, under Arizona’s January 2013 Parenting Time Law Reform, decision-making ability can be parsed and split between parents more specifically, allowing, for example, one parent to be the primary decision-maker in medical matters, and another to be the primary decision-maker in educational matters. When parents can’t agree on a decision, one parent is given “tie-breaker” status to overrule the other.
Negotiating a Court-Ordered Parenting Plan
When working out a parenting plan that will benefit your child the most, it’s important to have someone on your side that you can trust. With the insight and compassion of a parent who has undergone this process personally, and over 35 years of litigation experience, our team has what it takes to advocate for you in a court of law. Our goal is to obtain the best plan for you and your family. Contact us today for a free consultation.