My Spouse and I Just Separated, What About our Kids: A Legal Guide to Arizona’s Parenting Time & Legal Decision-Making Process
By Amanda Carrizales
In Arizona there is no "custody." What is known as "custody" is broken out into two parts: legal decision making and parenting time.
You may have heard people refer to the term “custody” or “visitation” when dealing with the scheduled amount of time each parent has physical time with the child(ren). In Arizona, what you may think of as "custody," (the physical, in-person time you spend with your child) is called “parenting time.”
TERM TIP: "PARENTING TIME" = physical, in person, time with the child(ren)
What does that mean?
Each parent during their scheduled parenting time has the responsibility of providing the child with food, clothing, and shelter and may make routine decisions concerning the care of the child.
What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is your plan to see your child(ren). Parenting plans should be detailed and should include (1) a schedule for when you have the child(ren) and when their other parent has the child(ren), (2) a time and location for exchanges to take place, (3) who is transporting the child(ren) (i.e. will they be dropped off? picked up?)
What are my options for a parenting schedule?
Your parenting schedule can be whatever you make it, whatever makes the most sense for you and your family. However, there are some regular parenting time schedules that families tend to use:
"Week On/Week Off" - Exactly how it sounds, a week on/week off schedule has the child(ren) spend one week with one parent, then the next week with the other parent. This schedule works best with older children, and is normally not recommended for infants/young children. For younger children, shorter, frequent, parenting time visits with each parent are preferable for their development.
“5-2-2-5” - A 5-2-2-5 plan is where one parent has Mondays and Tuesdays overnight, the other parent has Wednesdays and Thursdays overnight, then the parents alternate Friday-Saturday-Sunday overnights each week. This schedule is a two-week rotation.
"2-2-3" - A 2-2-3 parenting schedule means that the child(ren) are with one parent for two days, then the other parent for two days, before returning to the first parent for three days. A 2-2-3 schedule is considered an alternating schedule, which means that your parenting time days will alternate every week, meaning, one parent won't always have Mondays. A benefit to this schedule is that you get to have parenting time on various days. A downside to this schedule is that you will not always have parenting time on a set day, Monday for example, which can be harder for making plans.
I want to have "sole custody".
It is very difficult to get sole parenting time. Arizona family courts lean heavily towards child(ren) having access to both parents, on an equal parenting time basis. In fact, one of the factors courts look at when determining parenting time is which parent is more likely to encourage a frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact between the child(ren) and the other parent.
However, in specific instances of very serious endangerment, the court may limit or require supervision of one parent's parenting time.
What is Legal Decision Making?
The courts differentiate between the physical time you spend with your child and the major decisions a parent can make legally for the child, such as education, and health.
TERM TIP: "LEGAL DECISION MAKING" = major education and health decisions for the child(ren)
Joint Legal Decision Making
Joint Legal Decision Making is when both parents discuss and make decisions concerning the children's health and education together. Neither party has final say, or "veto power" over the other.
If two parents are incapable of reaching a decision as to the child(ren)'s education or health, you can ask for "joint legal decision making with final say." Both parents will still have to discuss decisions, and try to reach an agreement, but if no agreement can be reached, one parent gets to make the decision. Oftentimes, if a parent has final say, it is to only healthcare decisions or only educational decisions.
Can I get sole legal decision making?
Parents can always agree for one parent to have legal decision making, or to have sole legal decision making just for healthcare decisions or just for education decisions. Courts are not inclined to award one parent sole legal decision making unless it is absolutely necessary. Some circumstances that the Court may consider are:
Drug or alcohol abuse
Domestic violence involving the kids
Severe mental health issues
One parent's refusal to allow the child(ren) to receive medical treatment
Who decides the legal decision-making and parenting time?
You! Parents can always agree between themselves, and then have their agreement filed or put on record with the Court. If an agreement is not on the record or in writing, and signed by both parties, then it is not enforceable. If you have reached an agreement as to parenting time and legal decision making, write it down, and make sure you both sign it.
If you cannot reach an agreement, then the Court will decide. However, you know yourself and your family the best, so it is always preferable to reach an agreement as opposed to letting the Court decide.
Do I have to have the same schedule forever?
No. Over time, and with changing circumstances, you can modify parenting time and legal decision making. These modifications can either be made by agreement of both parents or by a Judge.
See A.R.S. § 25-401 for the definition of Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time.
See A.R.S. § 25-403 for the factors the Court considers when making a decision