When there are children involved in divorce cases in Arizona (or paternity cases), many questions arise as to how child custody is resolved. Arizona Statutes deal with child custody issues in Arizona divorce and paternity cases and are a great first place to start.
Some definitions need to be known and understood. For instance, with respect to Arizona child custody, "Joint legal custody" means the condition under which both parents share legal custody. In this situation, "both parents share legal custody and neither parent’s rights are superior, except with respect to specified decisions set forth by the court or the parents in a final judgment or order." Normally, the major decisions regarding a child involve medical, education and religion. Most other decisions made by a parent such as daily activies of the child, what the children eat and wear, etc. are made by the parent who has physical custody of the child at the time the decision needs to be made.
That brings us to "Joint physical custody", which is defined as "the condition under which the physical residence of the child is shared by the parents in a manner that assures that the child has substantially equal time and contact with both parents." What "substantially equally time and contact with both parents" is, of course, where many problems may arise as both parents may have very different views on this subject.
In an Arizona divorce or paternity case, if mother and father are unable to reach an agreement as to what custody arrangements should be put in place for their child, Arizona statute authorizes the court to award when deciding child custody that custody be either "sole" or "joint". Importantly, there is no presumption in favor of one custody arrangement over the other. And, "the court in determing custody shall not prefer a parent as custodian because of that parent’s sex". So, the sex of the parent when determing child custody in Arizona should not be a factor in the court’s decision.
Many questions often arise about "what is in the child’s best interests" in Arizona custody cases. The divorce or paternity case judge considers the following: 1. the wishes of the child’s parents; 2. the wishes of the child; 3. the interaction and interrelationship of the child with the parents, the child’s siblings and any others who may significantly affect the child’s best interests; 4. the child’s adjustment to home, school and community; 5. the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; 6. which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and meaningful continuing contact with the other parent; 7. whether one parent, both parents or neither parent has provided primary care of the child; 8. the nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding custody; and 9. whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse.
Of course, this is only the basics. When dealing with Arizona child custody disputes each case is different because no two situations are exactly the same. Facts always differ. If you have any questions regarding Arizona child custody in the context of an Arizona divorce or paternity case, contact Nirenstein Garnice Soderquist PLC.