For many parents, the first priority during a divorce is protecting your child. This is especially true if it’s an ugly divorce, or if you’re worried about your child’s well-being. You may think that primary custody is the best thing for your child, but will the courts agree? Here is everything you need to know about your chances of getting primary custody, and when you’re likely to succeed.
How Custody Works in Arizona
To eliminate confusion about what “custody” actually means, Arizona replaced the concept of custody with two separate legal terms: decision-making rights, and parenting time. Decision-making rights determines who has the power to make decisions about the child, while parenting time is how much time the child spends with each parent. This means that if you are wanting primary custody, you’ll need to discuss it on two different levels: whether you’ll have sole decision-making rights, and how parenting time will be split.
Arizona’s Joint Custody Default
In Arizona today, the court’s default is always joint custody, rather than the traditional assumption of the mother automatically getting primary custody. Typically, this means both parents share decision-making rights equally, although this doesn’t always mean that they will both get equal amounts of time with the child. Parenting time can vary according to what makes the most sense for children regarding school, extracurricular activities, weekends, holidays, and so forth. The courts do try to be as equal and fair as possible when making determinations on parenting time, but it’s not always logistically possible, such as if one parent has moved far away from the children’s school.
Putting Children First: When Primary Custody Kicks In
Arizona’s default to joint decision-making and parenting time is designed to ensure children maintain relationships with both parents, which is thought to be very important in most children’s development following a divorce. However, the courts also prioritize their well-being in any divorce. That means that if there is a reason why joint custody is not in the child’s best interests, the courts will award primary custody to one parent instead.
As you can imagine, you will have to have a strong case to prove that primary custody is truly best for your child. The biggest factors that will convince Arizona courts to rule in favor of primary custody include:
- A history of physical abuse or domestic violence from the other parent
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Criminal history
- Mental health issues that impact the ability to care for children safely and responsibly
- A history of abandoning the family, especially the children
Basically, if your former partner has a history of something that would make them a danger to their child, and if your attorney can present a strong case establishing this history, you may be able to get primary custody of your child.
Gone are the days where mothers automatically got primary custody of their children, no matter what. This benefits many families, but sometimes it’s not in the children’s best interests for custody to be shared equally between both parents. Because so much of your family’s future is riding on how effectively you can make a case for your child’s best interests, it’s important to have good legal representation. For more information about primary custody, or a consultation that will tell you whether your case for primary custody is strong enough to succeed, contact the Simon Law Group, PLLC, today.