Parents of a minor child will sometimes need to decide which of the parents will be responsible for making major decisions about the child’s life and how much time the child will spend with each parent. These kinds of Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time issues can come up for parents going through a divorce, or for parents who have had children out of wedlock.
Legal Decision-Making (legal custody)
In Arizona, “legal decision-making” is the term now used in place of what was previously referred to as “legal custody.” Legal decision-making is defined as “the legal right and responsibility to make all nonemergency legal decisions for a child including those regarding education, health care, religious training and personal care decisions.” A.R.S. § 25-401(3).
Legal decision-making can be either sole or joint. Joint legal decision-making means “both parents share decision-making and neither parent’s rights or responsibilities are superior except with respect to specified decisions as set forth by the court or the parents in the final judgment or order.” A.R.S. § 25-401(2). On the other hand, sole legal decision-making “means one parent has the legal right and responsibility to make major decisions for a child.” A.R.S. § 25-401(6).
The court will ultimately award legal decision-making based on the what is in the best interests of the child. See A.R.S. § 25-403(A). To make this determination, the court is required to consider all factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being. See id. The issue of legal decision-making can be complex, and factors such a parent’s prior substance abuse and a history of domestic violence can significantly affect a legal decision-making order. See A.R.S. §§ 25-403.04 and 25-403.03.
Parenting Time (physical custody)
In Arizona, “parenting time” is the term now used in place of what was previously referred to as “physical custody.” Parenting time is different than legal decision-making. Parenting time is defined as “the schedule of time during which each parent has access to a child at specified times. Each parent during their scheduled parenting time is responsible for providing the child with food, clothing and shelter and may make routine decisions concerning the child’s care.” A.R.S. § 25-401(5). “A parent who is not granted sole or joint legal decision-making is entitled to reasonable parenting time to ensure that the minor child has substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the parent unless the court finds, after a hearing, that parenting time would endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health.” A.R.S. § 25-403.01.
Parenting time, like legal decision-making, is awarded based on the best interests of the child. Many times, parents can work out their own parenting-time plan in mediation. If the child’s parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, each parent must submit a proposed plan to the court, and the court will adopt a parenting plan that maximizes parenting time. A.R.S. § 25-403.02.
The issues of parenting time and legal decision-making are of critical importance to you and your child’s life. The experienced family law attorneys at Giordano & Heckele, PLLC, can help you in achieving a favorable outcome. CALL TODAY for a consultation: (520) 433-9031. Or email us at [email protected].