Custody Changes Could Cause Flood on New Court Filings Beginning January 1, 2013, new legislation goes into effect that could affect the number of child custody modifications filings, third party visitation cases and the outcomes of pending cases. The Arizona legislature has made changes to the child custody statutes that redefine terms, add and remove factors related to the best interest of the child, create sanctions for lying parties, and expands the rights of third parties with respect to visitation. When the statute goes into effect, we will no longer be using the term custody and will instead use the term “legal decision making.” In addition, the term visitation will now be replaced with the term “parenting time.” These are great changes that should help clarify the significance of the differences between physical custody and legal custody, which can be particularly confusing to the growing number of pro per litigants in family court. In addition, there is a strong preference for joint legal decision-making and ample and substantial parenting time for what we now call “non-custodial parents.” Absent a clear showing to the contrary, the old standard of “every other weekend” has been tossed out the window. This may lead to a flood of parents asking the Court to re-look at current parenting plans. Additionally, parents who cause delay in cases or present false evidence to the Court, will now be punished with sanctions and made to pay the other party’s attorneys fees. While the Court has always had the power to award fees, now the choice has been removed and a party found lying shall pay the other party’s fees. Another change is who may petition the court for visitation rights. Under the old statute an “in loco parentis” relationship (parent-like) was required for a third party, non-grandparent, to request visitation. Now, any third party has standing to request court ordered visitation with children. This too, may lead to a flood of new filings with the Court. While we do not yet know how Arizona Family Court Judges will treat these statutory changes, it is clear they could affect the lives and outcomes of thousands of family law cases filed annually. Attorney Billie Tarascio is the owner of Modern Law, a MartinDale-Hubbel rated attorney, mediator, national speaker, legal business consultant, a wife and mother of three boys. To schedule an appointment call 480-649-2905.
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