In Arizona, the family law court now refers to child custody, officially, as “legal decision-making authority.”
For purposes of this discussion, we will use these terms interchangeably. Every Arizona divorce where the spouses have minor children in common will address custody and parenting time. Feel free to review our divorce with children page for more information on child custody and parenting time specific to divorce.
For couples who are not married but have a child or children together, the family law court has a process for establishing paternity, legal decision-making authority, parenting time and child support. The parties can choose to solely establish paternity and child support, foregoing court orders regarding child custody and parenting time.
However, most frequently, Affordable Family Law assists both moms and dads looking to establish their custodial and parental rights through the court. In addition, for parents who are already divorced or have gone through the establishment process, we can assist with modifying and/or enforcing current custody orders.
People are often taken aback when they hear it is necessary for the Court to establish paternity. Oftentimes, this is because the father has already acknowledged paternity and/or is listed as the father on the child’s birth certificate. In this instance, a Court ordered paternity test is not required – although it can be requested if any question as to paternity exists – and we will simply attach proof of father’s acknowledgment and/or the child’s birth certificate in order for the Court to officially establish paternity. Understand that the Court requires paternity be established first so that the Judge is not entering orders for child support or custody to a parent that has not established they are the child’s biological parent. As indicated, if there is a question as to paternity by either party, the first step will be obtaining a Court order for a paternity test to be completed by a Court-approved agency. If the named father in the paternity case is found to be the biological father, the Court will move on to address custody, parenting time and child support.
Child Custody/Legal Decision-Making
In Arizona, custody is formally referred to as legal decision-making. Affordable Arizona Divorce can assist you in establishing legal decision-making authority through the Court. Joint custody, where the parents share equal decision-making authority, is the most common form of custody in Arizona. So long as there are not any substantiated concerns regarding a parent’s drug or alcohol abuse, child abuse or neglect, criminal history, domestic violence or severe mental health issues, the Court typically believes it is in the children’s best interests that both parents be involved in raising their children. Besides the aforementioned major areas of concern that would typically warrant an award of sole custody, if one parent has been absent or extremely uninvolved with the child the Court may find that sole custody is appropriate. When one parent has sole custody, they have exclusive decision-making authority over their children’s lives, including medical and educational decisions, as well as religious upbringing. When parents share joint custody, they make decisions regarding their children’s lives jointly.
If, after a child custody order is in place, the parents are not able to reach an agreement regarding a specific decision related to the upbringing of their child, Affordable Arizona Divorce can assist in filing a Petition for Post-Decree Mediation. During mediation, both parents should make a concerted effort to resolve their disagreement, keeping in mind what is in the best interests of their child. If, despite mediation, the parents are still unable to reach an agreement, they can then seek clarification from the Court regarding the disputed issue. In addition, after a child custody order has been in place for one year, if either parent determines that a continuous ongoing change of circumstances warrants a modification of child custody, Affordable Arizona Divorce can assist with filing a Petition for Modification of Legal Decision-Making Authority. We can also assist in petitioning the Court to enforce of a current custody order if one parent is not following the Court’s order – this most commonly occurs when the Court has entered an order for joint custody and one parent has disregarded this order, making decisions regarding their children without first consulting the other parent or obtaining their permission.
Parenting time is sometimes incorrectly referred to as visitation. Technically, visitation can be granted to non-parents, such as grandparents, but parents enjoy parenting time with their children. Regardless of joint or sole custody, parents will have specific time scheduled with their children. This schedule is outlined in a document called a Parenting Plan, which will also address holiday and vacation parenting time. There are all types of parenting plan schedules that parents can follow. For example, parents may follow a week on/week off parenting time schedule, and other times the children may primarily reside with one parent while enjoying parenting time with the other parenting a few evenings during the week and every other weekend. Occasionally, there are concerns that require a parent to exercise supervised parenting time. In this case, the parent’s time with their child is supervised by a mutually agreed upon supervisor or a Court-approved agency. Regardless of the type or amount of parenting time a parent gets to enjoy, it is important they make the most of the time with their child.
If, after a parenting time order is in place, there is a dispute between the parents – such as one parent wanting more parenting time and the other parent resisting – or a change in circumstances – such as a change in a parent’s work schedule or a parent relocates – Affordable Arizona Divorce can assist in filing a Petition for Post-Decree Mediation. During mediation the parents should make a sincere effort to resolve the disagreement or come up with a revised parenting plan that works with the new circumstances while maintaining the best interests of the child. If, despite mediation, the parents are unable to reach an agreement, Affordable Arizona Divorce can assist in filing a Petition for Modification of Parenting Time and/or a Petition for Enforcement of Parenting Time.
When custody and parenting time has been established, the Court requires child support be established. Each and every parent of an Arizona child has a legal duty to provide financial support for their child. Child support is calculated based on several factors, including the age and number of children, each parent’s income, the number of parenting time days each parent exercises with their children, and expenses incurred for the children related to daycare and health insurance. The parents’ standard of living and/or expenses are NOT taken into consideration in this calculation because the Court holds child support as an overriding primary financial responsibility of parents. Please check out our child support page for a comprehensive overview of Arizona child support, including how Affordable Arizona Divorce can assist you in modifying and/or enforcing existing child support orders.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer?
First of all, no one in Arizona is required to hire an attorney in order to establish paternity, child custody, parenting time and child support or for subsequent modification or enforcement. However, one’s need for an attorney depends upon each person’s unique circumstances. That being said, the majority of cases filed in the Arizona Family Court are done so without attorney representation.
If parents are able to work together to reach agreements in the best interests of their children, a lawyer may be an expensive and unnecessary venture. Parents might just need someone to guide them through the legal process and completion of the paperwork. That is exactly what we do at Affordable Arizona Divorce. We gather all Court-required information up front. Based on that information, we then explain all available options and allow our clients to select the option that works best for them. From there, we prepare all paperwork according to the Court’s rules. Our clients review and approve of everything before anything is submitted to the Court.
Make sure you explore all your options before hiring a costly attorney. Contact Affordable Family Law today to learn how we can help you achieve your goals for a fraction of the cost of an attorney.