Update on the new Arizona Child Custody Laws and how they are playing out.
Remember when I told you in January that big family law changes were coming in Arizona, but none of us knew exactly how the Judges would treat the new statutes? Well, it’s now almost May, and here is an update of how the new laws are playing out in family law courtrooms all over Arizona.
Let’s start with the statute on parenting time:
The court shall adopt a parenting plan that provides for both parents to share legal decision-making regarding their child and that maximizes their respective parenting time. The court shall not prefer a parent’s proposed plan because of the parent’s or child’s gender.
Just a heads up for all you parents; Courts in Arizona are overwhelmingly ordering JOINT LEGAL DECISION-MAKING. For example, just this month the Court ordered Joint Legal Decision-Making between a known methamphetamine addict and a clean law abiding parent. In another case, Joint Legal Decision-Making was ordered when one parent was in JAIL. In both of these cases, and most cases across the board, Courts will give one parent the final decision-making authority. My advice to you is focus on that final decision making authority and not on getting sole legal decision-making.
The Arizona statute on parenting plans continues by saying “if the parents cannot agree on legal decision-making or parenting plans, then each MUST submit a proposed parenting plan.
At the very least, Arizona requires that you include:
1) Each parents rights and responsibilities for the personal care, health care, education and religious training.
Personal care is a new term courtesy of the January 1, 2013 changes. We can surmise that personal care relates to hair cuts, clothing style, piercings, and hair dye. Now, with this fourth category of legal decision making, we can give final authority of certain categories to mom, and other final decision making authority to dads. If religion and education are important to you, why not let the other parent have the “final decision making authority” on health and personal care? It doesn’t have to be all or nothing anymore.
2) A schedule of parenting time including a holiday and school break schedule.
Many parents do not want a specific schedule. They are afraid if they make changes or do not exercise all parenting time that they may be subject to sanction, and would therefore prefer a plan that called for “reasonable” or “liberal” parenting time. This won’t really work under the statute. The Court wants a well though-out, specific plan. With that being said, there is nothing stopped parents from agreeing to modify the plan or be flexible with the plan.
3) A procedure for exchanges, including who provides transportation, where and when exchanges will take place.
Who, what, where and when are all important when figuring out exchanges. However, understand the spirit of the plan. Just because the plan says mom and dad are to exchange at McDonalds, doesn’t mean you can withhold the children when Aunt Alice comes on behalf of Dad. It’s his time, he get’s to choose who transports on her behalf as his agent, unless the Court has specified otherwise.
4) A procedure by which proposed changes, disputes and alleged breaches may be mediated or resolved, which may include the use of conciliation services or private counseling.
This is typically a generic provision requiring mediation prior to bringing an action for modification.
5) A procedure for periodic review of the plan’s terms by the parents.
This is a great idea. It encourages the parents to talk about what’s working for their children and them and what isn’t. It encourages the parents to be cooperative and flexible, which is what the court wants!
6) A procedure for communicating with each other about the child, including methods and frequency.
More and more Judges are ordering parents to communicate prior to each exchange, either with an email, a notebook that goes back and forth or a worksheet similar to what a day care might provide after a day with a child.
The theme here is that courts want parents CO-PARENTING. They want both parents fully engaged in the daily activities of their children’s lives and they are moving away from the old stereotypical Disney dads and business moms. Instead of deciding where a kindergartener should attend school, Florence with dad or Gilbert with mom, the Court is telling parents to send the child to school in Queen Creek! The Court wants each parent to have time with a child during the week and on weekends.
If you have questions, concerns or just want to keep us in the loop, don’t hesitate to contact us at 480-649-2905.