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How Arizona Treats Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time

Legal terminology in Arizona is slightly different from that of other states. Where some states use the phrase “legal custody” to describe decision-making authority for a child’s education, healthcare and religious training, Arizona refers to it as “legal decision-making.” Other states use the term “physical custody” to describe the parent’s responsibility for providing food, shelter, clothing and other basic needs, while using “visitation” or “parenting time” to refer to a noncustodial parent’s time interacting with the child. In Arizona, “parenting time” is used to refer to an arrangement addressing the schedule when either parent has access to the child.

Basis for court awards of legal decision-making and parenting time

Though some phrasing differs, Arizona courts render decisions based on the child’s best interests as in other jurisdictions. This can trigger a wide-ranging analysis during which a judge reviews numerous factors related to the child’s physical and emotional well-being.

Legal decision-making is typically granted on a joint basis to both parents. However, if one parent has committed an act of domestic violence against the other or has a recent history of substance abuse, that creates a rebuttable presumption in favor of sole legal decision-making for the other parent.

Parenting time determinations usually prompt a broader evaluation for whether one or both parents will provide a residence. Should you be involved in a parenting time review, you might wish to evaluate the time and environment you can offer your son or daughter. Even if a parent has done nothing wrong, concerns about childcare, neighborhood safety, education or disruptions to the child’s daily routine could lead a judge to rule that residence in the other parent’s home is preferable. If residence is granted to only one parent, a schedule for visitation with the other is usually established unless some potential danger exists.  

Modification and enforcement of legal decision-making and parenting time

Presenting your strongest argument is crucial, because these court orders have the force of law. Sanctions for violating parenting time or legal decision-making terms can include restrictions on access to your child. Decision on moving to a new home might also require extra examination because judges can prevent a parent from relocating with a child out of state or to an Arizona location more than 100 miles from the current residence.

Unless the child’s environment is dangerous or a violent incident has occurred in the home, a party must wait at least one year to seek modification of the parenting time or legal decision-making orders. After that, a party must satisfy the court that a material change in circumstances occurred since the initial determination was made.   

If you have any questions about your parental rights, Tucson divorce attorney Steven C. Weinstein can provide accurate answers and candid advice.

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