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Understanding the dynamics of physical and legal custody

Child custody can be a contentious issue for divorced parents in Arizona. They must determine various aspects, such as their children’s living arrangements, parenting time division, and decision-making authority allocation. The pivotal point of these disputes often concerns whether one or both parents will have legal or physical custody.

Legal custody

When determining child custody, the primary concern for a judge is the child’s welfare. Legal custody designates which parent is entitled to make decisions about the child’s life, such as:

  • Education
  • Religion
  • Healthcare
  • Extracurricular activities

If a parent gets granted sole legal custody, they can make all decisions about their child without consulting the other parent. This type of custody typically gets granted in cases where one parent is absent or unfit to make decisions for the child.

On the other hand, joint legal custody is when both parents have an equal say in making decisions about their child’s life, similar to when they were married. While one parent may be the primary caregiver, both will still have some input in day-to-day decisions. Parents need to agree on communication expectations beforehand, especially in the case of medical emergencies.

Physical custody

Physical custody refers to a parent’s right to provide their child with daily care and living arrangements. Previously, mothers were granted sole physical custody, with fathers having visitation rights. But now, either parent can be granted sole physical custody if the other is deemed unfit due to unsafe housing, incarceration, child abuse or neglect allegations, or substance abuse. The noncustodial parent typically receives visitation rights unless they pose a risk to the child’s safety, in which case a judge may order supervised visits.

Shared physical custody, on the other hand, allows children to spend significant time with both parents. This arrangement works best when parents live near each other. It does not necessarily mean a 50-50 split. One parent may still have primary custody, but the child can spend time with the other parent. Ultimately, successful child custody arrangements require both parents to prioritize their child’s well-being above all else.