Understanding Recent Changes in Arizona Custody Laws
Some important changes were recently made to the Arizona child custody legislation that went into full effect January 1, 2013. Some terminology was modified and some amendments were made in order to clarify the purpose and procedures of the courts when determining custody arrangements for children of divorced parents. The new legislation aims to provide fair treatment for mothers and fathers in court conclusions about custody and further maximize the time both parents spend with their children.
Most significantly, the word "custody" is almost completely removed from the legislation in order to clarify the difference between legal and physical custody. "Legal custody" is now referred to as "legal decision-making" and encompasses the right a parent has to make necessary decisions for the child about education, health and personal care, and religious upbringing. A judge may grant joint legal decision-making, dividing these responsibilities between parents, or give one parent sole legal decision-making authority.
"Physical custody" is now referred to as "parenting time" and indicates the time a child is allotted with each parent. While previously, "visitation" was thought to refer to the allotment of time granted to the non-custodial parent, this is an incorrect interpretation. "Visitation", as far as the courts are concerned, is any time someone other than a legal parent spends with a child (such as grandparents). [For more information on visitation rights of grandparents, click here].
Arizona legislators are also making efforts to eliminate the biased designation of legal decision-making rights and parenting time based on gender. This gives fathers more of a fair fight in a custody battle, as historically women have been favored for sole guardianship of children or a majority of the parenting time. While the courts had already concluded that having both parents present in a child's life is in their best interest, the new Arizona custody legislation aims to give both parents equal and maximum time with their children.
A conditional factor was also added to give children more of a say in the division of parenting time, given the court deems the child old enough and mature enough to understand their circumstances. Ultimately, a judge still has the authority to decide how much parenting time each parent receives, but these new clauses will hopefully provide children with cohesive parental relationships, despite the dissolution of a marriage.
Additionally, the legislation used to decree that custody rights were determined based on which parent, if either, provided the majority of the child's primary care in the past. This process has been changed to take into consideration the past, present, and future potential of a parental relationship.
Fines are now being enforced on parents who intentionally delay court proceedings or are not forthcoming with pertinent information. Prior to the new legislation, these fines were optional based on the judge's discretion.
Unfortunately, these new decrees were not intended to be retroactive, nor do they guarantee that a new petition for custody changes will grant the family a different outcome. Parents who wish to petition for their custody agreement to be more in line with the new statutes must still provide adequate proof of change in circumstances. [See "Changing my Child Support" for more information].
For the best results in a custody case, it is important to work with a family law attorney who has experience with the legal process and is an expert on how these changes to Arizona custody laws can affect your family. Brad Crider is well qualified to help you through even the toughest custody arrangement or divorce settlement. To set up an initial consultation, contact Crider Law today.