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How do Arizona courts decide custody and parenting time?

Raising a child while divorced or separated from the other parent brings many challenges. You and your co-parent may share different ideas about what is best for your child or have different parenting styles.

Ideally, you will agree on a custody schedule, but that does not always happen, and you might find yourself headed to court.

Going into custody court can be scary and intimidating. If you have never been in custody court before, you probably have many questions about what to expect and how a court makes custody decisions.

First, it helps to understand the two different types of custody. Legal custody involves making major decisions on behalf of your child, such as decisions about healthcare, education and religion. Physical custody, sometimes called parenting time, refers to which parent your child lives with and when.

When it comes to legal custody, courts usually order joint legal custody, which gives both of you equal decision-making power.

Sole legal custody allows one person to make all major decisions for the child, with the other parent having no input. Courts seldom award sole legal custody without some compelling evidence about why it is best or necessary.

Parenting time orders

From there, there are various types of parenting time orders. A parenting order with a schedule lays out specific days and times the child is with each parent, including holiday and vacation days.

A reasonable parenting time order has more general language. For example, it might specify that parenting time must be equally shared between both parents but allow the parents to allow the days and times. This order usually works best for parents without set schedules and who can be flexible.

Supervised parenting time is ordered when there is evidence that a child is in danger of being harmed by a parent or when the child has not seen the parent for a long time. The visits are supervised by the other parent or an agreed upon third-party. In rare cases, a parent may receive no parenting time if a court determines it would harm the child.

The best interest of the child

Arizona courts review various factors to determine which parenting time order is in the best interest of the child. The court starts with the assumption that shared physical custody is best since it allows the child to spend the maximum amount of time possible with each parent and develop meaningful relationships.

Additional factors a court considers include:

  • The age and health of the child
  • The bond between the child and each parent
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child

A child’s relationship with their home, school and community is also considered. Finally, evidence of a history of violence by one parent or ongoing alcohol or substance abuse issues could impact a court’s custody decision.

Everyone’s custody situation is unique. Your child is special and unlike anyone else’s. These factors can give you an idea of what a court will be looking at when deciding custody, so if you and your co-parent cannot agree on a custody order, you should begin gathering evidence to argue for the outcome you want.