During the divorce process, tensions often run high amidst discussions of property division and spousal support. When the question of child custody is added to the mix, the stakes are even higher with both parents vying for adequate time with their young ones. At Garnice Law PLLC, we understand the delicate nature of child custody matters and our compassionate legal team works closely with our clients to ensure the best interests of the children and parents are protected.
When most people think of child custody, they think of where the child will live. In reality, child custody encompasses more than just physical residence; it also involves the authority to make decisions on behalf of the child. In Arizona, child custody is legally referred to as “legal decision making” whereas time spent with the child is referred to as “parenting time.” There is generally a presumption that parents should share legal decision making authority and that parenting time for each parent should be maximized, unless this arrangement is contrary to the child’s best interest.
The courts generally prefer that issues of custody be decided amongst the parents, whenever possible. If there are disagreements and a custodial arrangement cannot be reached, the court will often suggest that parents attend mediation to arrive at an agreement. If the child custody mediation hearings do not end in agreement from both sides, a trial will commence. During this legal proceeding, the court attempts to identify the best interests of the child and issues a ruling.
In determining the best interests of the child, the court will evaluate a long list of factors, including:
- The relationship of the parents and child
- Child’s preferences (depending on age and emotional maturity)
- Mental and physical health of each parent and of the child
- Any problems the parents might have, or had in the past, such as substance abuse or a criminal record
- How the children thrive in the household with each parent, and within the community
- Parents’ work schedules
- Each parent’s willingness to work with the other parent for the benefit of the child
Legal Decision Making Arrangements
Generally speaking, there are two types of custody arrangements.
Sole Legal Decision Making – This is when one parent has the authority to make all important decisions on behalf of the child. This may include decisions on schooling, religion, extracurricular activities and healthcare
Joint Legal Decision Making – This arrangement requires that both parents be actively involved in the decision making process on all major issues concerning the child.
During the custody proceeding, the court will issue an order concerning how much time the child will spend with each parent. If the child will spend much of his or her time with one parent, that parent may be referred to as the “primary residential parent”. It’s important to note that parenting time is independent of legal decision making. For instance, one parent may have a very demanding job with long hours and may have much less parenting time with the child during the workweek, however, he or she may have joint legal decision making authority.
A parenting plan must be included in the custody order. This plan outlines the following:
- Designation of legal decision making authority
- A parenting time schedule
- Details about how the child will be transported between parents
- Acceptable communication between the parent and child when the child is in the other parent’s care
- A procedure for how the two parents are to communicate
The Role of the Parenting Coordinator
In cases of high conflict, the court may order the parents to consult with a Parenting Coordinator for assistance. This individual is often an attorney or mental health professional who is there to help resolve any disputes that may arise after final parenting orders are entered. In most cases, the court will allow the parents to select a professional to fill this role but if they cannot agree on one, the court will appoint one. The Parenting Coordinator is supposed to help parents resolve any conflicts and keep subsequent issues out of court. The Parenting Coordinator is usually assigned to the case for a set period of time, and cannot be “fired” by the parents should disagreements arise. Instead, the court must intervene and decide whether the coordinator can be removed.
Child custody cases are complex with the outcome of these matters having long-term consequences on your children’s well-being and your family’s future. With so much on the line, you need the assistance of an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through the legal process, serve as your advocate in negotiations or at trial and help to safeguard against any pitfalls that may arise in the future. Garnice Law PLLC is well-respected in the Scottsdale community for providing high quality legal counsel to parents, ensuring their best interests and those of their children are protected during the divorce proceedings and long after the final parenting orders have been issued. Call us at 480-351-4804 to schedule a confidential consultation with our experienced legal team.