Legal Custody in Arizona — Who Gets to Decide?
One of the most frequent questions I get as a Mesa Family Law Attorney is: can I get full or sole custody of my child or children? It is my experience that many clients going through a divorce don’t entirely understand what legal custody is. It is not uncommon for a client going through a difficult divorce to tell me that he or she wants the minor child or children to be with him or her the majority of the time… “I want full custody!”
The truth is, it is not an easy thing to get full or “sole custody” of a minor child in Arizona. What I think most of my clients really want, and are asking for, is for the court to award him or her, the majority of the parenting time with the child or children. There is a big difference between legal custody and parenting time. It is important to understand that, except for in specific circumstances, it is unlikely an Arizona family law judge will award one parent sole custody of a child. It is not uncommon, however, for a judge to award one parent more parenting time than the other. As in all cases, the specific circumstances of the case really do dictate what a family law judge may decide regarding these two very important issues.
Legal custody is really the ability of the parent or parents to make decisions regarding their minor child or children. These decisions include such things as educational decisions; religious decisions and medical decisions. A parent who is awarded sole custody of a child will have the legal authority to make all of these decisions on behalf of their child without input from the other parent. Because sole custody deprives one parent of the ability to make decisions about his or her child, it is not taken lightly. Almost every Arizona family court judge I have appeared before has shown a preference for a child to have both parents as actively involved as possible in their children’s lives. For this reason, most Arizona family law courts will award parents joint legal custody. This requires the parents to continue to make these important decisions jointly on behalf of their children.
When deciding legal custody or legal decision-making, Arizona family law judges are required to consider a number of factors. These factors are found in A.R.S. 25-403 and include the following:
- The relationship between the parent and child, past, present and future.
- How the child interacts with each parent and the interrelationship of the child with other siblings or any other person (such as a grandparent) who affect the child’s best interest.
- How the child adjusts to home, a school or a community.
- The wishes of the child, if the child is of suitable age and maturity.
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
- Which parent is the most likely to allow ongoing and meaningful contact with the other parent. ( Note that the court will not apply this factor if the court finds that one parent, in good faith, is trying to keep the child from a domestic violence or abuse situation)
- Whether one parent tries to mislead the court or intentionally delay the proceedings to unnecessarily increase litigation costs.
- Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse.
- Whether one party has used coercion or duress to obtain an agreement from the other parent.
- Whether a parent was convicted of a false act of child abuse or neglect
Each of the factors must be carefully considered by the judge before making a decision regarding both custody (legal decision making) and parenting time. In weighing each of these factors, the court must always consider what is in the best interest of the child. The complexity of these factors make custody fights some of the most difficult and emotional issues in any Mesa Arizona child custody case. Because of the difficulty of this issue, having an experienced family law attorney in your corner can make all the difference.
I have long held the belief that knowledge is power in family law cases. Clients who have an understanding of what the courts must consider before making these difficult and important decisions always have a leg up in the case. This knowledge eliminates a lot of the fear and uncertainty and helps the client to focus on what is really important. When it comes to issues involving custody, this approach may be the most important part of any case.
If you have any questions about a Child Custody case in Mesa, AZ Please give my office a call.
The Law Offices of Kevin Jensen
Family Law Attorney Mesa AZ
3740 E. Southern Ave.
Suite 210 Mesa, AZ 85206
Phone: (480) 999-2321