Top Rated Child Custody Lawyers in Arizona!
Few things in life are as powerful and important as your relationship with your child. So, child custody and visitation is one of the most important issues you’ll have to address when you:
- Are divorcing your child’s other parent
- Are separating from a co-parent you weren’t married to
- Are welcoming a new child into the world with a parent you aren’t married to
Ideally, parents will come to an agreement about how to share time with their child and decisions about the child’s welfare. Parents who are no longer together–even those who don’t get along well–will have to work together for the good of their children until those children reach adulthood. A contentious battle over custody and visitation does not set a family up for smooth cooperation after the orders are entered.
Because it is so important that parents are able to work together after ending their relationship, it’s generally a good idea to try mediation if the parties can’t work out a custody agreement on their own. Arizona courts recognize how important it is for parents to get on the same page about caring for and supporting their children, so they make it easy for either parent to request mediation on these issues.
At Lincoln & Wenk, we encourage mediation as a potentially less stressful, less combative and more cost-effective way to address issues in a divorce case–especially issues impacting the welfare of your children.
Unfortunately, some parents aren’t able to come to an agreement, even with the help of a mediator. Some parents use custody as a weapon to try to pressure the other parent to give up property or make other concessions. Some family situations involve domestic violence, child abuse, or other factors that make it impossible to come to an agreement in the best interests of the children. In these scenarios, a trial is likely necessary
Custody Determinations in Arizona
An Arizona court must decide two separate issues to determine custody: (i) who has decision-making power, and (ii) how parenting time is divided. If the parents reach an agreement, one of their attorneys will draft a proposed parenting plan based on the terms they agreed to. Then, the other spouse and their attorney will review the proposed agreement. When everyone is in agreement, they’ll jointly submit the parenting plan to the court.
Though courts want to facilitate agreements between parents, they don’t automatically accept whatever the parents have agreed on. The court has a responsibility to rule in the best interests of the child or children. So, a parenting plan must be reviewed and approved by the court.
In determining how parenting time should be allocated, the court must consider all factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being. ARS 25-403 sets forth several factors to be considered, but this is not an exhaustive list. The court may consider any factor relevant to the best interests of the child.
The statutory factors include:
- The child’s relationship with the parent (past, present, and potential future)
- The child’s relationship with other family members and people regularly a part of their lives, including siblings
- The child’s adjustment to home, school and community
- The wishes of the child, but only if the child is sufficiently mature
- The mental and physical health of the children, parents, and anyone else involved
- The likelihood that a parent will encourage a meaningful relationship with the other parent (unless the court determines that there is a legitimate reason not to do so, such as domestic violence)
- Whether either parent has intentionally misled the court to delay the proceedings, increase costs of litigation or gain an advantage in the proceeding
- Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse
- Whether and to what extent either parent has used coercion or duress in attempting to obtain an agreement on parenting issues
- Whether the parent has complied with the statutory obligation to complete education regarding the impact of divorce on children
- Whether either parent has been convicted of false reporting of child abuse or neglect
Even if a parent is not granted any decision-making authority, the court should award sufficient parenting time to provide substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the non-custodial parent. If the court finds, after a hearing, that parenting time would put the child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health at risk, this requirement does not apply.
In determining whether parents should share decision-making authority or that authority should be awarded solely to one parent, the court may take into account any of the factors listed above, and any other relevant factors. In addition, the court must consider:
- Whether the parents have reached an agreement regarding joint decision-making
- If they have not, whether the lack of agreement is unreasonable or is influenced by an issue not relevant to the child
- The parents history of cooperation and their potential to cooperate in decision-making
- Whether joint legal decision-making is logistically possible (i.e., is there an Order of Protection in place?)
Contested Custody Hearings in Arizona
If the parents are unable or unwilling to reach an agreement regarding decision-making and parenting time, each will present a separate proposed parenting plan to the court. They will also have to provide evidence in support of their plan at a contested hearing. This can be an involved process, which may involve issuing subpoenas for witnesses and/or records regarding the children’s health, relationship with each parent, school performance, emotional well-being, and other issues.
If you’re going to have to fight for custody or for your fair share of parenting time, you’ll want to start preparing as soon as possible. Many decisions you make after deciding to separate from your spouse or live-in co-parent can impact the outcome of a contested custody hearing. Some may even impact your ability to come to an agreement with your child’s other parent and work productively together moving forward.
The sooner you have knowledgeable guidance from an attorney who knows the ins and outs of Arizona custody cases and understands how important your relationship with your child is, the better. To learn more about how the experienced child custody lawyers at Lincoln & Wenk can help, call 623-294-2464 right now. Or, if you prefer, fill out the contact form on this site and we’ll reach out to you.