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3 factors that impact custody and parenting time decisions in Arizona

In Arizona divorces, the court may consider logistical issues, each child’s interests and harmful parental behaviors when awarding custody and visitation.

During divorce, child custody can quickly become one of the more contentious issues that couples in Arizona face. Under state law, divorcing parents have the right to create their own plan for dividing custody and visitation, which are also referred to as decision-making responsibility and parenting time. However, many parents in Tucson may end up needing a family law court to create a parenting plan to address both of these issues.

The factors that a judge takes into account during these determinations are often complex. As a result, most parents can benefit from understanding what family law judges are required to consider when allocating child custody and visitation rights.

1. Best interests standard

Family law courts in Arizona are tasked with awarding decision-making responsibility and parenting time in a way that supports the best interests of each child. To do this, a judge may consider all of the following factors:

  • The mental and physical health of both parents
  • The relationship between the child and each parent
  • The preferences of the child, provided he or she is mature enough to make this type of decision
  • The adjustments that the child would need to make to a proposed arrangement

If a parent deceives the court, intentionally delays legal proceedings or refuses to cooperate with the other parent, family law judges may take this behavior into account. Judges may also weigh whether one parent is likely to impede the other parent's relationship with the child. Although judges have latitude to weigh many variables, they cannot favor or discriminate against a parent based on gender, since this can be a violation of mothers' or fathers' legal rights.

2. Pragmatic considerations

When awarding decision-making responsibility and parenting time, family law judges may also consider the feasibility of various arrangements. For example, if parents cannot reasonably cooperate and make decisions together, a judge might order sole rather than joint decision-making responsibility. Logistical concerns, such as the scheduling and location of both parents, may similarly influence the allocation of parenting time.

3. Harmful parental behaviors

If a parent has substance abuse issues, Arizona law establishes a presumption that granting him or her decision-making responsibility isn't in a child's best interests. This isn't an irrefutable presumption, however. Parents may use evidence such as past abstinence from substance use and the results of random drug or alcohol tests to show that they are fit to have decision-making responsibility.

Documented incidences of domestic violence also create a rebuttable presumption that a parent should not receive decision-making responsibility or parenting time.

In these cases, the parent is tasked with showing that the former would be in the child's best interests and that the latter wouldn't endanger the child's well-being. If the court does award parenting time, it may require certain restrictions, such as professional supervision.

Reaching the right arrangement

Given the complex considerations that go into child custody and visitation awards, parents who cannot come to terms on these arrangements may want to consider consulting with an attorney early on. An attorney may be able to help a parent present his or her case more effectively and ultimately work toward an arrangement that serves his or her child's best interests.