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Understanding the Arizona “Legal Decision-Making”/Child Custody Process

Law Office of Tad Davis July 21, 2017

As of January 1, 2013, Arizona no longer uses the term “custody” for children. Instead, the legislature split up “custody” into two distinct parts. “Custody” is now legal decision-making, which refers to the ability parents have to make major decisions for their child, and parenting time, which refers to the time parents have to actually spend with their children. Lawmakers in Arizona have changed the term “custody” to “legal decision-making” and “parenting time” in part, to reflect this reality.

These terms more accurately reflects what custody really means under Arizona law. Judges take the entire situation into account and decide how to divide up these two important responsibilities.

Understanding “Legal Decision-Making”

Legal decision-making generally refers to the major decisions that parents have to make for their children. Those decision might include which school or church to attend, whether to authorize medical treatment, or giving consent for a child to participate in extracurricular activities.

As a general rule, the Arizona courts want both parents to work together for the benefit of their children and so the starting point for the courts is joint legal decision-making, where both parents make make these kinds of decisions together. If parents are deadlocked on an issue the court has mediation options open to them to help get through those difficult decisions.

Additionally, the court will take the specific facts of each case into account and if there is a legal reason why one parent should not be allowed to make decisions, the other parent can be given sole legal decision-making where just that parent has the opportunity to make decisions for the child.

Understanding “Parenting Time”

As the name suggests, parenting time outlines how much time each parent is able to spend with their child. Parenting time comes in many different configurations. Parents may choose to follow a model parenting plan or they can decide on a plan that is less traditional. In any instance, the parenting plan decided by the parents will be the plan the court expects everyone to follow.

Deciding Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time

In most situations, if the parents can agree to a legal decision-making and parenting time arrangement, the judge will approve it as long as it is reasonable. If, on the other hand, the parents cannot agree on what type of legal decision-making will be appropriate and determine adequate parenting time, the judge will step in to make this decision. Each parent will propose a plan, and the judge will decide the issue on the parents’ behalf.

In making decisions about legal decision-making, the court is required to consider what will be in the best interests of the child. The judge will review all the factors presented in the case, including:

  • The child’s physical and emotional well-being

  • The relationship between the parent and the child

  • Interactions and relationships with siblings

  • The child’s current placement in school and interactions with the community

  • The mental and physical health of the parents

  • Which parent is more likely to follow the parenting time plan and act in the child’s best interests

  • If the child is older and mature enough, the child’s preferences and wishes

  • Whether either parent intentionally misled the court or otherwise acted unethically during the divorce or legal decision-making determination process

  • Whether the parent has been convicted of false reporting child abuse or neglect

  • Whether the parent has engaged in child abuse or neglect

All of these factors will allow the court to determine whether both or just one parent should have legal decision-making and how parenting time should be structured.

While the name has changed, the focus of the determination process has not—the best interests of the child is always the driving force. The court will try to do the right thing so that the child has the best chance of having a safe and healthy environment.

Presenting your case in a very specific way to the judge is an important part of showing the court that you can provide this type of environment to your child, and the Law Office of Tad Davis can help with this process. Call today for more information.