When parents decide to separate or divorce in Arizona, they must agree on a plan to provide continued care for their offspring. In many cases, the parents are awarded joint custody of the children. If parents have difficulty reaching agreeable terms to raise their children going forward, the court will decide.
Custody is a legal term that means the parent having custody has the right to make decisions about their child. The decisions involve major life areas like education, religious training and health care. The parent with the right to make these decisions is called the custodial parent. A parent can have sole or joint custody. Joint custody means sharing these responsibilities with the other parent.
Joint custody, whether legal or physical, means that each parent has the same right to make decisions regarding their child’s care and welfare.
The court’s decision about which parent receives what type of custody depends on how much time each parent spends physically caring for the child, among other factors.
The court sets a custody order that cannot change unless the parents petition the court with a new plan. This scenario could happen if, for example, a parent receives sole custody after the divorce, and at some point, the other parent becomes more involved and would like joint custody.
Legal vs. physical custody
The child’s best interests dictate the custody awarded to each parent. A parent can have legal custody but may not be granted physical custody.
Legal custody pertains to the parent’s or guardian’s right to decide about the child’s major life issues. On the other hand, physical custody means the parent has physical possession of the child.
When parents have joint physical custody, they share responsibility for providing a place for the child to live and for their care. The child’s care can include taking them to the doctor and other appointments along with buying school supplies, clothing and other necessary items.
Parents need to make decisions about their children’s legal and physical custody. Arrangements could be an informal agreement between themselves or documented in the final judgment of divorce by the court. If the parents cannot agree, a family law judge will decide.
Although custody decisions can be challenging, ex-spouses can still provide safety and security for their children by collaborating on the custody agreement.