Arizona courts want to keep both parents involved in the child’s life after the divorce. Arizona courts have a demonstrated preference for joint/co- parenting arrangements. In fact, by law they are required to do everything possible to ensure that children can remain in contact with both parents. Except in extreme cases, this means that both parents will have shared custody after the divorce. It is important to understand what this means and how to prepare for yourself and your children.
Children Come First
Children always come first when the courts decide the shared custody arrangements. Arizona courts will act in the best interests of the child. This means they will take into account the child’s desires and the parent’s wishes when making a decision.
The courts will also consider the parent’s ability to raise the child. The judge will look at both parent’s personal and criminal records. The judge is going to examine the relationship between the child and the parent. Crucially, they will consider the willingness of both parents to cooperate in regard to the custody arrangements.
Parental Rights, Joint Legal Decision Making, and Joint Physical Custody
When the courts award joint legal decision making, they grant each parent equal rights to make critical decisions regarding the child’s welfare. These include educational decisions, decisions regarding medical care, religious upbringing, personal care, etc.
Joint physical custody, or shared custody arrangements, cover the amount of parenting time each parent will receive. It addresses where the child will live, where the child will spend holidays, and when/where transfers will take place.
It is up to the court to determine what specific rights and conditions to attach to the joint legal decision making and physical custody orders. Unless there are extenuating circumstances regarding domestic abuse, criminal activity, mental incapacity, drug/alcohol abuse, etc., the courts tend to divide these as equally as possible.
Parenting Plans and Shared Custody
The most effective shared custody arrangements have a solid parenting plan backing them up. The parenting plan should address how and by whom important decisions will be made. It should address how to handle any potential changes to the parenting plan. These include illness or other foreseeable or unforeseen events that could impact parenting time. It should also identify a clear plan on how the parents will resolve disputes regarding the shared custody arrangement.
Modifying Shared Custody Arrangements
The court will allow modification of shared custody arrangements if there is a significant change in circumstances. Parents requesting modification of the most recent custody order must provide solid evidence and reasoning that a modification is in the best interests of the child. Merely wanting to change them is not considered grounds for changing the existing child custody orders.
The court will consider evidence from the date of the last custody order forward. However, they may consider earlier evidence if it is relevant to the reasons the parent is requesting the modification. For instance, if there is an established history of job instability, domestic violence, or substance abuse issues.
In most instances, an existing order must be in effect for at least one year before the court will consider a modification. Exceptions to this include situations where the child’s emotional, physical, or mental health are in danger. The courts will act as quickly as possible when domestic violence or child abuse are involved. Other circumstances include incarceration, loss of income, or substance abuse.
Contact Simon Law Group, PLLC at (480) 745-2540 to discuss shared custody/legal decision making in Arizona. We are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions and provide guidance you can depend on.