Arizona Child Custody Lawyers
Legal Decision Making Defined and Explained
When a couple with children plans to divorce, they have to understand how the law affects their children. There are new concepts, such as joint legal decision making, legal decision making and sole decision making. Each phrase has its own legal significance, and it’s important to understand how each one applies to a parent and their children.
Joint Legal Decision Making
Arizona supports parents who reach legal decision making (custody) and parenting time (visitation) agreements without the intervention of the courts. Under joint legal decision making, both parents have equal rights and responsibilities, and neither parent has superior rights, but this can be changed by terms of a divorce agreement. The court assumes that parents will agree about major life decisions such as:
- Personal Care;
- Schooling; and
- Health Care;
Parents will be required to meet on an annual basis to work out parenting time schedules. Both Parents should bring all documentation to this meeting: their work schedules, the children’s school, extracurricular and vacation schedules. The custodial parent should be diligent about sending school reports, medical records to the other parent; encourage the children to communicate with the other parent. Each parent should show respect for the other in front of the children—constant sniping or criticism of the absent parent might be construed as tampering with parental relations, and the courts don’t look kindly on that
The law presumes that divorcing parents will work as a team to raise their children. If either parent feels the joint legal decision making is not in the children’s best interests, they can petition the court to have the status of legal decision making changed to sole legal decision making.
Sole Legal Decision Making
Like many jurisdictions, Arizona tends to favor joint legal decision making over sole legal decision making. Sole legal decision making means one parent is granted the custody of the children as well as the power to make decisions for their benefit. It does not mean that the other parent loses all parental rights—they still are entitled to parenting time. A typical situation could be where the court has found evidence of domestic violence. In those cases, the courts may award sole decision making to the victimized parent, with supervised visits for the other parent.
Most jurisdictions refer to this as visitation-the time the non-custodial parent spends with their children. Arizona prefers to call this ‘parenting time”. When the children spent parenting time with the other parent, that parent has the right to make any routine decisions for the children, but must provide food, clothing and shelter. So, parenting time has responsibilities as well as rights. Transportation expenses for parenting time can be set by agreement.
A Few Words of Advice
Parents should try to reach a joint or legal decision making agreement, and provide for parenting time, rather than letting a judge make it for them. Judges don’t know the children involved, and judicial discretion might give the parents an agreement neither likes. Be reasonable, and let the lawyers negotiate an arrangement