Arizona Child Custody Laws

You should know the following important information if you’re engaged in a child custody action in Arizona.

What are the Types of Child Custody in Arizona?

Arizona law recognizes legal and physical custody.  Legal custody grants one or both parents the right and responsibilities to make important choices regarding a child.  This may be related to education, religion, health, and similar issues.

Physical custody determines where a child lives the majority of the time.  Instead of awarding  physical custody to one or both parents, the court will create a parenting time schedule for each parent after evaluating what’s best for the children.  It’s possible to have one parent be granted primary physical custody, but both parents share in joint legal custody.

If the court awards one parent primary parenting time, they become the custodial parent, meaning the child lives with that parent more than 50% of the time.  The parent awarded physical custody has the rights and responsibilities necessary to manage every aspect of the child’s day-to-day care.  The judge considers the other parent to be the non-custodial parent and will award that parent reasonable parenting time.

Arizona also can award custody to a third party, such as the grandparents.  However, this only occurs when one parent has died, the legal parents are unmarried, or the custody case is still before the courts.

Do I need to take a parent information course?

Before custody is awarded, parents must take a mandatory parent information course. The court also has the discretion to order parental participation in the program in other cases such as a modification or enforcement of child support, custody, or visitation.

Read More:  How to File For Divorce in Arizona

Determining Child Custody in Arizona

Arizona courts will decide on custody when parents can’t reach an agreement on their own. Judges must consider several factors when determining custody, including each of the following as mandated by state statutes.

  • Who will receive legal decision-making authority and primary custody?
  • What are the proposed visitation parameters?
  • The past, present, and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.
  • The child’s interaction and interrelationship with the child’s parent or parents, siblings, and any other person may significantly affect the child’s best interest.
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community.
  • If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the non-binding preferences of the child for legal and physical custody.
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
  • Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other? This does not apply if the court determines that a parent is acting in good faith to protect the child from witnessing an act of domestic violence or being a victim of domestic violence or child abuse.
  • Whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause an unnecessary delay, to increase the cost of litigation, or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or a parenting time preference to that parent.
  • Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse.
  • If coercion or duress was used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.
  • Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect.

When the court determines custody, the judge must state the factors that played a part in the decision in the final order.

Parents can take an active role in determining custody by creating an agreement on their own or with the help of a mediator or family law attorney.  Mediation is available in every family law case involving an issue regarding “child custody or parenting time.”  Mediation sessions may be scheduled through the court’s conciliation court or through a private mediator.

Do I need to use a Guardian Ad Litem?

A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interest in a divorce.  They gather evidence, conduct interviews, and report what they believe is in the child’s best interest to the court.  Courts usually give a lot of weight to the GAL’s opinion.

Depending on the circumstances, one or both parties pay for a GAL’s work.  Costs vary from county to county and on the amount of work performed.

Though the GAL’s report is not dispositive of the court’s decision concerning custody or shared parenting, courts do often give a great deal of weight to the GAL’s opinion. Whether you need one depends upon the details of your particular case.

Can a father get custody in Arizona?

Yes.  Custody determinations are gender-neutral and are based primarily on the child’s best interests.  If a father is in a better position to be the primary caregiver for a child, they can get legal and physical custody.

Can I get child custody and support during the divorce process?

You can file a motion early on, and a judge can issue temporary orders for custody and support during a divorce.  This does not guarantee the terms will be the same when the divorce is final, but it does provide stability during a case that may take months to resolve.

Temporary orders may address parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, access to personal items, and many other aspects of a family law case.

Can my child decide which parent to live with?

No.  A judge may ask for their input if the child is sufficiently mature.  But this is not binding, and ultimately, a judge will have the final say based on input from several parties.

Is a child custody evaluation necessary in all divorce cases?

Not necessarily. Under Rule 68 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure, the judge assigned to the case may order a custody evaluation when parents can’t reach an agreement on custody. If a custody evaluation is ordered in your case, the family court’s conciliation services will arrange for a professional child custody evaluator to assess what is in the child’s best interests.

Can a child have an appointed attorney in a custody case?

Sometimes.  Rule 10(E) of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure allows for the appointment of types of attorneys for a child. The first is the “Best Interests Attorney,” who represents the minor child’s best interests. The second is the “Child’s Attorney” who represents the child and is reasonably bound by the child’s directives and objectives.

What if supervised visitation is required?

Supervised visitation occurs when a third party must supervise the non-custodial parent’s visitation. A third party may be a relative or a friend or possibly assigned by the courts. It may be ordered where a parent poses potential harm or cannot properly care for the child.

Read More:  Spousal Maintenance and Alimony in Arizona

What is Arizona’s Best Interests of the Child Standard?

Arizona always places a child’s best interests above all other factors when deciding custody cases.  With this in mind, a judge will then apply the state’s statutory factors to create a binding agreement that is fair and just.

What to Know About Parenting Plans

The best way to avoid potential future conflicts regarding child custody is to create a detailed parenting plan that addresses all aspects of a shared parenting situation.  When parents can’t create an agreement on their own or with the help of a third party, the court will step in and create a parenting plan for them.

Parenting plans are binding court documents, and parents are bound by the terms laid out in these agreements.  Failure to comply can lead to penalties at the court’s discretion.

At a minimum, parenting plans should contain the following:

  • Physical custody, including overnight visits, holidays, and school break schedules.
  • Legal custody, including which parent is responsible for specific issues and situations.
  • Child support payment amounts and recourse if a parent falls behind.
  • Exchanging children, including when, where, and time of day
  • Transporting children for visitation and other events
  • Parental access to records and information
  • Vacation and travel approval and advance notifications
  • A child’s ability to communicate with both parents
  • How parents will communicate with each other
  • Contact with other family members and friends
  • Guidelines when a new partner is involved
  • How are various expenses handled?  These could be related to tuition, medical costs, school activities, hobbies, and recreational activities.
  • Children’s use of technology and online activities
  • Handling special needs for the children as they arise
  • How to address child discipline and mental health issues
  • Grooming and dress guidelines (extreme haircuts, make-up, etc.)
  • Drinking or drug use in the presence of the children

Read More:  How to Choose the Best Health Insurance Plan After Divorce

How Do I Modify an Arizona Custody or Visitation Order?

Either parent can ask the court to modify a child custody agreement if:

  • The prior court order regarding custody has been in place for one year.
  • There is reason to believe the child’s present environment may seriously endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health.
  • Any time there is evidence that domestic violence, spousal abuse, or child abuse occurred since the joint legal decision-making order was entered.
  • Six months after a joint legal decision-making order is entered, a parent fails to comply with the provisions of the order.

Until a judge approves a modification it’s important to comply with the current order.  It is a legally binding document and unless there is harm posed to the child, a judge could impose penalties for non-compliance.

Read More:  How to Prepare for a Divorce Hearing

Arizona Child Custody FAQs

Can I leave Arizona and take my child with me?

This may be considered parental kidnapping when a parent violates the custody order and seizes the child, illegally depriving the other parent of custody or visitation. Whether the child is taken to a location in or out of Arizona, the result is the same and could lead to the court imposing punishment on the parent who removed the child.

Can I permanently relocate my child to another state?

Yes, but you must follow court-approved procedures. When custody is involved, a parent must notify the other parent to seek the Arizona court’s permission before relocating.  As the custodial parent, you are under a custody order and cannot simply decide to move away because the child is under the court’s jurisdiction, usually until age 18.

If you intend to relocate 100 miles away inside Arizona, the other parent is entitled to 60 days advance notice because your intended move directly affects the noncustodial parent’s access to the child.

Also, when a spouse files for a Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation, the court will automatically put a restraining order in place preventing either party from leaving Arizona without an order of the court or the agreement of both parents.

I recently moved to Arizona.  Can I file my child custody case here?

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) specifically addresses Arizona’s jurisdiction over your child. Arizona Superior courts can exercise jurisdiction when:

  • Arizona is the child’s “home state” when proceedings are initiated; or if the child is now absent, Arizona was the child’s home state for six months prior to filing the action and one or both parents (or person acting in loco parentis) lives here.
  • Another state lacks jurisdiction, or the home state’s court declined jurisdiction in the child’s best interests.  In addition, the child and one or both parents (or person acting in loco parentis) have a “significant connection” with Arizona, and information and evidence regarding the “care, protection, training, and personal relationships” of the child is available here.
  • All other courts who could exercise jurisdiction have declined to do so and Arizona is the “more appropriate forum.”
  • No other state’s court has accepted or assumed jurisdiction, and it is in the child’s best interests for Arizona to do so.

Can a parent refuse to allow parenting time if child support is not paid?

No.  Child support and parenting time are two separate issues. A parent is not permitted to make a unilateral decision to refuse parenting time previously ordered by the court.  Doing so could

lead to several legal repercussions.

Helpful Resources

Related Content