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Legal Decision Making (Child Custody) and Parenting Time

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How does Arizona define custody?

In Arizona "Custody" is referred to as "Legal Decision Making." It allows the parents either jointly or solely to make important decision for their children. Legal Decision making does not determine where the child lives, or parenting (visitation) time with either parent. In cases where there is domestic violence, generally the courts will award sole legal decision making.  A.R.S 24-401 defines various terms regarding child custody, parenting time, and legal decision making. 

What's the difference between Sole and Joint legal decision making?

Sole Legal Decision Making (sole child custody) gives one parent the right and responsibility

to make all major, non-emergency legal decisions including education,

health care, religious training and personal care decisions. Technically,

the parent is not required to discuss or consult with the other parent.

However, even if a parent has Sole Legal Decision Making, it is always

best to discuss and obtain the input of the other parent if possible.


Joint Legal Decision-Making means both parents share decision making

and neither parent’s rights or responsibilities are superior. In some cases,

although the parties may have Joint Legal Decision Making, the Court

order may grant one party final Decision Making over specific issues.

How does the court decide between sole and joint legal decision making?

In Arizona there is a presumption that it is in the child's best interest for the parents to have joint legal decision making. Thus, both Father's rights and Mother's rights are presumed to be equally important for both child custody and visitation rights. There are several statutes that help guide the court in deciding between sole and join legal decision making.


A.R.S. 25-403.01  discusses the logistical aspect of joint legal decision making and whether the parent's are unreasonable or if there are factors that make it practical or impossible for the parents to make decisions together. 


 A.R.S. 25-403 outlines the best interest factors that the court must consider when determining legal decision making and parenting time. When the parties do not agree as to what is in the best interest of their children then the court must make specific findings on the record for each of the relevant factors and the reason the court's decision is in the best interest of the children. 



How much time will I get to spend with my children?

In Arizona "visitation" with your children is called "parenting time."  Regardless of whether you are going through a divorce or a child custody matter, if the parties do not agree on visitation rights, then the court will examine each parent's proposed parenting plan and make a determination based on the child's best interest. The best interest factors are outline in A.R.S. 25-403.


A.R.S. 25-403.02 Defines what a parenting plan is and what each parenting plan must cover. It is important when considering a parenting plan to consider education, transportation, religious preferences, and things like how the parties will approach changing the plan in the future. 

What are child custody rights if there has been domestic violence?

Domestic violence can affect both legal decision making (custody) and visitation. Generally, if the court determines that there has been significant domestic violence then the court cannot award joint legal decision making. It is presumed that evidence of domestic violence is contrary to the best interest of the child and the court must take into consideration the danger imposed to the child when determining legal decision making or parenting time. A.R.S. 25-403.03

The other parent abuses drugs and/or alcohol. How do I protect my child from this?

Drug and alcohol abuse can also affect child custody and visitation rights. Some drug and alcohol convictions create a rebuttable presumption that it is not in the child's best interests for the offending parent to have have joint custody or visitation rights. The parent with the conviction may have to submit to drug and alcohol testing and be clean for more than 6 months. A.R.S. 25-403.04 gives specific details about what the court must consider when there has been a conviction