Child custody laws are implemented in order to ensure that children are raised in safe households. They are designed in such a way that equal decision-making power is assumed for married parents with no history of domestic violence or substance abuse. In cases such as single parents, divorce, and issues like domestic violence, there are specific ways laws can be enacted to help the child. Arizona has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Act which was created to make child custody laws more uniform throughout the country.
What is Child Custody?
There are two types of custody in Arizona law. These are legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the ability of the custodial parent to make life decisions for the child such as education, activities, and religion. Physical custody refers to the living arrangement of the child.
Joint Custody, Sole Custody, Hybrid Custody
Legal and physical custody can be given to both parents equally, individually, or in an arranged combination. At times, legal custody can be shared while physical custody is given to one parent.
- Joint Custody
Joint custody occurs when parents have equal custody of the child. They will have equal responsibility for the child’s physical welfare, which is split evenly between the parents. They will also have equal legal decision-making powers.
- Sole Custody
Sole custody refers to instances when the child is placed under the complete care of one parent. This is often used in cases where one parent has shown behavior such as violence or substance abuse which is considered a danger to the child.
- Hybrid Arrangements
Hybrid custody arrangements can be made to allow the child to visit the non-custodial parent. Often, this will take the form of visitation every second weekend and longer visitation over holidays. These arrangements are made by a judge.
In cases of joint custody or hybrid arrangements, a key issue is parenting time. This refers to the amount of time a child is legally allowed to spend with a non-custodial parent. As long as there is no threat of endangerment to the child, parents are entitled to reasonable parenting time.
Reasonable Parenting Time
Reasonable is a term which is sometimes used in Arizona child custody law to indicate an average amount of time. However, this depends on the family’s circumstances and the age of the child. The Model Parenting Time Plans published by the Arizona Supreme Court offer recommendations for what is considered reasonable.
Arizona child custody laws do not presume joint custody for unwed parents. Instead, the mother of the child is given legal custody by Title 13 Section 1302 (B) unless the courts have found a reason to remove the child from her care. In addition, unwed mothers do not need a custody order to request child support from the child’s biological father.
Arizona law uses DNA testing to determine paternity. If there is a 95% chance that a man is the child’s biological father, paternity is presumed. If paternity is presumed in court, the father can challenge the mother’s right to custody. With unwed couples, paternity is necessary for father’s rights in Arizona to be legally recognized.
What are Custody Orders?
Custody orders give legal powers to a parent in terms of decision-making and living arrangements. In Arizona, custody orders are not required except in certain circumstances. These can include when parents are obtaining a legal divorce when they are requesting a change to prior custody orders, or in cases where a danger is clearly presented to the child.
How is Custody Decided?
Generally, it is best when parents are able to agree upon the custody of their child. When agreeing upon joint custody, parents must submit a parenting plan which details how the child will be raised. However, Arizona courts can make a number of decisions that go against the agreement made by the parents if it is in the best interests of the child. Some of these include ordering legal custody despite objections by a parent or ordering joint legal custody while giving physical custody to one parent.
Arizona child custody laws adhere to a set of factors provided by state law when determining custody. The wishes of both the child and the parents are considered, as are factors like health, schooling, and instances where one parent has acted as the primary caregiver in the past.
Some of the most important factors center on the child’s safety and welfare. The courts will consider any past domestic abuse and current or recent substance abuse as a threat to the child’s welfare.