Typically, child custody arrangements are settled through voluntary agreement of the parents. If the parents of a child are unable to agree to child custody arrangements, the court can be used as an intermediary to settle the dispute. In these actions the court will always look at factors that support “the best interests of the child.” These factors can include but are not limited to:
- Physical, emotional, and mental development of the child
- Child’s age
- Relationship of the child with each parent
- Ability of the parent to support the child
- Home environment
- Time the child spends with each parent
There are two central legal decision-making options in Arizona courts. These main categories, form a general framework upon which a court or two spouses in a settlement agreement can build from and alter.
- Sole legal decision-making: When sole legal decision-making is ordered, only one parent will have the right to make important decisions for the child. Both parents can still discuss all decisions, but the ultimate say rests in the hands of the sole legal decision-maker. Sole legal decision-making can be awarded by agreement of both parents or the court could so order this arrangement if there has been a history of abuse, domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or other circumstances that call into question the fitness of the non-custodial parent. On rare occasions, the court could also issue this order if the parents are both fit but cannot work with one another.
- Joint legal decision-making: With an award of joint legal decision-making, both parents will have equal rights to make decisions for the child. Neither parent will have a preference over the other’s decision. Sometimes, the court may order that only one parent have legal decision-making over certain issues.
There is often a misconception that the courts favors mothers over fathers. That is not the case. The court understands that meaningful contact by BOTH parents in the upbringing of a child is important to their development. Typically, the court will award joint custody to both parents so long as it supports the “best interests of the child.” In this determination issues of legal decision making, physical custody, and parenting time should be settled. Due to the complexities and importance of these types of issues, it is vital that parents secure a qualified child custody attorney to represent them during any child custody proceeding.