Divorce is a complicated, long and expensive process that can involve many uncertainties. For those people with children, when faced with a divorce, one concern might be which spouse will get custody. In the State of Arizona, child custody is referred to as legal decision making and includes the right to make decisions relating to a child’s personal care, health care, education and all other non-emergency matters. State law allows separating and divorcing parents to decide which parent will retain legal decision making and how parenting time will be divided. If the couples cannot decide and the courts become involved, the courts will make the decision for them. The courts do not just pick the parent they like the best. They are obligated to consider many different factors when making their decision.
All legal decision making issues are decided according to the best interests of the child standard. As part of this standard, the courts must consider certain factors relating to the child. They must consider the relationship between the child and each parent. They have to contemplate the current relationship, as well as the past and future relationships, between parent and child. The courts must look at the interactions between the child and each parent, as well as siblings, if any exist. The courts will also consider how well-adjusted the child is to home, school and the community they reside in. If the child is old enough, they can consider the child’s wishes as well.
The courts will then turn their attention to the parents. They will consider which parent is more likely to foster a relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent. This factor is only used in cases where domestic violence and child abuse are not present. Therefore, the courts must inquire as to whether domestic violence or child abuse was present within the family. The courts then look to the parent’s behavior. For example, did they delay litigation or run up costs in bad faith? Did they falsely accuse the other parent of child abuse? Have they engaged in coercion or duress to get the other parent to agree to the legal decision making agreement? Have they complied with the mandatory divorce education program provided by the court?
Arizona courts take all of the above factors into consideration when deciding which parent is best suited to care for the child subsequent to divorce. Dealing with a child custody issue is not easy. It is imperative that you have a qualified attorney to protect your rights. If you are going through a divorce and have questions or concerns, call Arizona family law attorneys Nirenstein Garnice at (480)351-4804.