Chandler child custody lawyer
Serving families in Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert, and Scottsdale, and the rest of the Phoenix Valley in child custody and other family law matters
If you have children, nothing is more important to you than their well-being. That’s why child custody, to most parents, is the number-one issue in a divorce or legal separation. Understanding the key legal issues and finding an experienced Chandler child custody lawyer to review your matter are crucial to a favorable outcome, both immediately and for the long term.
Types of child custody
Child custody is the determination of which parent(s) or guardian(s) are allowed to care for a child, and when they are allowed to do so. In legalese, the word custody is shorthand for “care, custody and control.” This means having legal authority over and responsibility for the welfare of a minor. In family court, child custody breaks down into legal and physical custody.
Legal custody, or what is now in Arizona called legal decision-making, means the ability to make important decisions relating to the child’s well-being. This includes which doctor(s) the child goes to; which school(s) the child attends; whether, and if so, where the child worships; who the child’s friends are; and with which relatives the child can spend time.
Physical custody, or what is now in Arizona called parenting time, is just as it sounds: the physical location of the child, or the parent or guardian with whom the child lives most of the time.
Sole versus joint child custody
Although many parents desire sole legal and/or physical custody, it is far less often awarded than joint custody. Arizona law gives preference to joint legal and physical custody. There are rare exceptions, such as where there has been:
- “Significant” domestic violence in the household, usually involving a criminal conviction.
- Extreme abuse or neglect of the child.
- Incarceration or other unavailability of a parent.
In these situations, not only is sole custody commonly ordered, but also termination of parental rights frequently follows.
Even with joint custody, an exact 50/50 physical custody award is highly unusual. For practical reasons, if nothing else, the judge almost always designates a primary physical custodian. Typically, one parent is more available than the other one because he or she has lesser work demands, a more flexible schedule, or the ability to work from home. Many other factors may affect the court’s determination of the exact time division, including the geographical distance of the parents from one another and the ease of administration by courts, schools, medical providers, and other third parties.
Determining who will be the primary custodial parent
Factors that an Arizona court reviews in determining who should be awarded primary physical custodianship include:
- The best interests of the child.
- The child’s desires, if old enough to voice an opinion (usually at least seven years old).
- Which parent is already the primary caretaker.
- The child’s siblings and any other person living in the household or who otherwise may significantly affect the child’s best interests.
- The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community.
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
- Which parent is more likely to be cooperative and allow reasonable parenting time to be exercised by the other parent.
Legal decision-making in child custody matters
Joint legal custody is the standard in family court. When it is awarded, each parent must consult with the other one on all important issues relating to the children. But it can complicate legal decision-making if the parents are confrontational and cannot set aside their own feelings and biases to focus on doing what is best for their children.
Occasionally, the court reviews the matter and designates one parent as the sole or primary legal custodian. Usually, this is the same parent who has primary physical custody. Sometimes the court order says that if the parents cannot reach a compromise or resolution after reasonable time and effort, the primary legal custodian gets the final say. Other times judges require that parents seek the services of a mediatorbefore going back to court if they cannot agree on what should be done for the child. The mediator can be either court-sponsored or private.
Parenting time or visitation
Visitation, more often called parenting time today, concerns the time that the parents and children can spend together. It varies from more than half the year to exactly half the calendar year to zero, depending on what the court says.
Many people ask whether children have any say about whether they have to visit the other parent, when, and for how long. The answer is no. Even if the child is 17 1/2 years old, unless a judge decides to take his or her wishes into account, the child must obey both the court and the parents, and go on all parenting-time visits.
Noncustodial parents do not have to exercise all regularly scheduled parenting time or may not always be able to do so. Still, they must give their ex-spouse or the other parent the right of first refusal. This means notifying the other parent as soon as they find out or decide they will not be available to take the kids on a certain date or for a certain period of time. This gives the other parent first dibs at opting to be with the children instead.
Where to start in gaining child custody
A good place to start in making child-custody arrangements is to review and fill out—perhaps in pencil at first—a proposed parenting plan or agreement form. These forms are available at your county superior court clerk’s office or website. The process is helpful because it gets you thinking about what a shared parenting arrangement might look like, particularly as it relates to weekdays, weeknights, weekends, holidays, and special days such as the parents’ and children’s birthdays. If you and the other parent can review and discuss a plan together and agree on even some of the terms, you will go a long way toward fully resolving your dispute, be it a divorce or child-custody establishment proceeding.