Arizona is one of many states that has taken steps in recent years to change and update child custody and divorce laws. In fact, the updated code that directs the courts on how custody should get divided doesn't even use the word "custody."
Instead of appointing one parent to receive primary custody or ordering the parents to share joint custody, the courts now allocate legal decision-making power and parenting time.
This new language may seem silly, but it gets right to the heart of issues with custody. Children are not possessions to get squabbled over during divorce. They are living, loving and growing humans that require support and healthy relationships with their parents in order to thrive after a divorce.
The courts retain most of the power in contentious divorces
One of the things that has not changed is that the courts can decide how to divide those rights. Unless you have a prenuptial agreement or can come to a mutual agreement about parenting issues, the courts will make the decisions for you. Exceptions include cases with an incarcerated parent or situations that demand an order of protection.
One parent could receive legal decision-making power or require that both parents share it equally. In some cases, one parent may have the right to make medical decisions, while the other has authority to make social and educational decisions. Your divorce proceedings can have a direct impact on how your children get raised and the nature of your relationship with your children.
Judges must look at potential, not just current evidence
For many years, when deciding on custody arrangements, the courts typically considered who had the stronger relationship with the child. One parent very often carried more of the weight of child-rearing, potentially by staying home to care for the children. Courts would consider this as one of the most important factors when determining physical custody of a child.
The updated law requires that the courts and its judges consider more than just who has been providing most of the care for the children. The courts must also consider the past, the present and future potential for the relationship between children and parents.
One of the factors that the courts will look at closely in these cases will be evidence of physical, emotional and sexual abuse committed by either parent. They will also look at any documented history of substance abuse and similar criminal issues.
The courts tend to prefer shared parenting and decision-making
In general, the courts encourage shared parenting time, as well as shared decision-making powers between both parents. Shared parenting arrangements, called co-parenting, are often believed to be in the best interest of the children involved. The courts can become very specific when creating parenting plans for families going through divorce.
Your parenting plan could include a division of decision-making powers, parenting time and financial responsibilities to the children. Both parents, unless there is an issue, will likely be expected to contribute to educational, medical and social decisions.