Area of Law:
When a couple divorces and there is a minor child involved, an Arizona divorce decree will specify who has physical custody as well as legal custody of the child. Physical custody determines where and with whom the child will live. Legal custody specifies who has the legal right to make important decisions concerning the child related to issues such as education, religion, medical issues, and discipline. Spouses often reach an agreement regarding child custody on their own, but if they do not, the court will intervene and establish custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child.
In Arizona, there are typically several different custody arrangements that may be made for children of divorced parents. In most cases, courts will award physical custody to one parent with whom the child will live most of the time. The parent with physical custody, who is referred to as the custodial parent, often shares legal custody, or the right to make decisions regarding the child, with the non-custodial parent. Many child custody arrangements involve joint custody in which the child spends a relatively equal amount of time with each parent.
In Arizona, courts award sole or joint child custody without preference regarding the sex of the parent. Custody is based on the best interests of the child, along with the following factors:
- The preference of the child
- The desire and ability of each parent to allow an open, loving, and frequent relationship between the child and the other parent
- The wishes of the parents
- The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
- The mental and physical health of the child and the parents
- The relationship between the child and the parents and any siblings
- Any evidence of significant spouse or child abuse
- Any coercion or duress in obtaining a custody agreement
- Which parent(s) has provided primary care for the child
According to Arizona law, joint custody may be awarded if the parents submit a written agreement providing for joint or shared custody, and it is found to be in the best interests of the child after taking into consideration the factors listed above as well as the following additional factors:
- That neither parent was coerced or influenced by duress into withholding or granting his or her agreement to joint custody
- That the parents can sustain an ongoing commitment to the child
- That the joint custody agreement is logistically possible
Arizona courts typically grant visitation to the non-custodial parent as long as such visitation will not pose a threat to the child’s physical, mental, emotional, or moral health. The Arizona Parent Child Access Guidelines outline the minimum frequency and duration that a non-custodial parent is entitled to see the child unless there are reasons to restrict visitation. These guidelines are based on certain presumptions, including the fitness and desire of both parents to have an ongoing relationship with the child and it being usually in the child's best interest for each parent to have frequent, meaningful, and continuing access to the child. Grandparents and great-grandparents may also be awarded visitation rights under Arizona law if it is in a child's best interests. For a full explanation of child custody laws in Arizona, go to lawyers.com.