You have questions about child custody, we have answers.

Not every child custody case requires an attorney. If the parents generally agree, but just have a few questions about the law or the process, we believe that information should be freely available without the hassle of talking to an attorney. Below we try to answer the most common questions about parenting time and legal decision-making (together "child custody" in Arizona). We also include some information about family court, the process, and some of the most important statutes. If you can't find your answer or need additional information, schedule a complimentary consultation with our Arizona child custody attorneys.

Parenting Time

Parenting time refers to the time the children spend with each parent. In other jurisdictions, this is sometimes called visitation or physical custody.
If the parents cannot agree to a parenting time schedule, the family court will decide. The judge must consider the factors in A.R.S. § 25-403.
“Best interest factors” refers to the following factors set forth in A.R.S. § 25-403(A):

1.  The past, present and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.

2.  The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s parent or parents, the child’s siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.

3.  The child’s adjustment to home, school and community.

4.  If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the wishes of the child as to legal decision-making and parenting time.

5.  The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.

6.  Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other parent. This paragraph does not apply if the court determines that a parent is acting in good faith to protect the child from witnessing an act of domestic violence or being a victim of domestic violence or child abuse.

7.  Whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause an unnecessary delay, to increase the cost of litigation or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or a parenting time preference to that parent.

8.  Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse pursuant to section 25-403.03.

9.  The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.

10.  Whether a parent has complied with chapter 3, article 5 of this title.

11.  Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect under section 13-2907.02.

Yes. Parenting time greatly affects the calculation of child support pursuant to the Arizona child support guidelines.

The child support calculator credits both parents with the time spent with the children. So, the more time a parent spends with the children, the lower that parent’s child support obligation will be.

Yes. Like most family law orders, parenting time can be modified.

Pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-411, a parent generally must wait at least one year from the previous child custody order before modifying parenting time. Then, depending on the exact nature of the desired modification, other requirements may need to be met.

Contact our child custody attorneys for a free consultation to discuss whether your circumstances warrant modification.

Yes, the judge may order supervised visitation when the family court has concerns about a parent’s parental fitness.

Supervised parenting time can occur with a designated third party, sometimes a trusted family member or mutual acquaintance, or it may be ordered to be professionally supervised by a court appointed supervisor or facility.

No. Though most family law judges seem to prefer equal parenting time whenever possible, Arizona law only prescribes that both parents shall have meaningful parenting time consistent with the best interests of the children.

This gives the judge considerable discretion to determine the parenting schedule in each Arizona child custody case.

A 5-2-2-5 schedule is an equal parenting time schedule popular in Arizona family courts, at least in Maricopa County.

Under this schedule, one parent would have parenting time every week on Mondays and Tuesdays, the other parent would have parenting time every week on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and the parents would alternate weekends.

It is called a 5-2-2-5 because the first week one parent will have five days of parenting time while the other has two. The next week the first parent will have two days while the other parent has five.

If the parents cannot agree to a division of holidays, the family court usually alternates major holidays on an even/odd year basis between the parents.

For example, in even years Parent A may receive Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day while Parent B receives Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

In odd years, the parents may flip schedules, where Parent A receives Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, while Parent B receives Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.

Yes, pursuant to Rule 47 and A.R.S. 25-404, either parent may request temporary parenting time orders.

Emergency orders, usually filed without notice to the other party, are also available pursuant to Rule 48. Emergency temporary orders are available when a parent can show that irreparable harm (physical, emotional, mental, or moral) will occur if the family court does not enter emergency orders.

This is a common misconception in Arizona child custody law. There is no age when a child can decide where he or she wants to live. However, pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-403(A)(4), the family court may consider the preferences of a child deemed to be a suitable age and maturity.

There is no bright line age for when a child is suitably mature, but for most judges that age starts around ten years old.

Legal paternity refers to a father’s legal relationship to his children. Child custody rights and child support obligations are not necessarily conferred based on a biological relationship.

Paternity can be established through family court or by executing an acknowledgment of paternity, pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-812.

Paternity does need to be established to confer legal rights and responsibilities. However, it can be legally established during an action to establish parenting time, legal decision-making, and/or child support.
No, parents are never required to hire child custody lawyers.

If your case is contested, however, it will benefit you and your children to hire a professional who can protect your rights.

Not all child custody lawyers are unaffordable. Our firm offers convenient flat fees to protect our child custody clients against the uncontrollable billable hour and minimize client costs.

Yes, a parent’s rights can be voluntarily relinquished or involuntarily terminated (severed) by a judge.

It is very important to note that a parent’s obligation to provide child support does not terminate even if the parent’s rights are terminated, unless the child is subsequently adopted by a third party.

It depends. When parents share joint legal decision-making and/or parenting time pursuant to court order or written agreement, a parent cannot relocate with the children more than 100 miles without a court order or the other parent’s consent pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-408.

We emphasize the underlined portion because a family court cannot prevent a parent from relocating. However, it can prevent the relocation of children subject to child custody orders or agreements.

If the non-moving parent opposes the relocation, the moving parent will need to petition the family court for an order to allow the children to relocate. These cases are extremely contentious and should be handled with special attention. Our experienced child custody attorneys have litigated for and against numerous custodial relocations. Contact us for a complimentary consultation to build the strongest case possible.

When one parent lives a significant distance away from the other parent, a long distance parenting plan may be required. These plans vary depending on the distance and schedules of the parents and children involved.

A long distance plan for a child who attends school may give the non-custodial parent several weeks of parenting time during the summer and portions of extended academic breaks, such as winter break or spring break.

Primary residence refers to where the children live for the majority of the time. There is no primary residence when the parents share equal parenting time.
Primary caretaker refers to a legal designation the family court can use to declare a parent eligible to apply for certain public assistance, pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-403.07.

Primary caretaker does not necessarily reflect the parenting time or legal decision-making arrangement and does not confer superior parental rights to either parent.

When a parent wrongfully withholds or interferes with the other parent’s court-ordered parenting time, the other parent may need to enforce the court order.

Enforcement actions can seek make up time and other sanctions, pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-414. Interference of parenting time may also be grounds for future modification.

If the parent uses illegal drugs or abuses alcohol, it may justify a restriction of his or her parenting time to protect the children.

Legal Decision-Making

Legal decision-making refers to a parent’s authority to make certain types of decisions for his or her children.

Examples of major legal decisions include educational, religious, and non-emergency medical decisions.

Though independent from parenting time, legal decision-making is controlled by the same statutory factors found in A.R.S. § 25-403.
Joint legal decision-making means the the parents must confer and make major legal decisions cooperatively. It also means that neither parent’s rights are superior to the other parent’s.
Final say authority can be awarded to a parent with joint legal-decision making. The parent’s obligation to confer and discuss major legal decisions with the other parent is unchanged, but if the parents cannot reach an agreement, the parent with final say has the authority to make the decision after discussing it, in good faith, with the other parent.
Sole legal decision-making entitles a parent to make major legal decisions independently, without consulting the other parent. This type of decision-making arrangement is usually reserved for cases where a parent has a significant history of domestic violence or substance abuse, but sole legal decision-making may also be awarded when a parent deprioritizes the children’s best interests or maliciously refuses to cooperate or comply with court orders.
No, even when a parent has sole legal decision-making, the other parent is entitled to access medical, prescription, and educational records, pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-403.06.
No, the two child custody concepts are considered and awarded independently.
Yes, pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-411, legal decision-making can be modified. Though it is controlled by the same statute, a parent seeking to modify decision-making may face a greater pleading burden than if they only wanted to modify a parenting schedule.

Contact our Arizona child custody attorneys for a complimentary consultation to discuss modification of legal decision-making or any other family law issue in greater detail.

Pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-403.03, a “significant history of domestic violence” creates a rebuttable presumption against joint legal decision-making and may support an award of sole decision-making.
Similar to domestic violence, a parent’s substance abuse can create a rebuttable presumption against joint legal decision-making, pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-403.04.
Unsurprisingly, this is a very real issue in Arizona child custody cases. Parents with joint legal decision-making frequently disagree about school placement, among other major legal decisions.

When the parents cannot agree, the order may direct the parties to attend mediation. If they still cannot reach an agreement, they may have to ask the family court to decide the issue.

Family law judges are increasingly reluctant to make coparenting decisions like this for the parents, so the parents may need to petition the court for modification of legal decision-making if they cannot agree.

Arizona Family Court

The timeline for a child custody case depends on the complexity of the issues and the reasonableness of the parents.

A simple establishment or modification may only take 4-6 months, while a vigorously contested custody case may take much longer.

The court costs depend on the nature of the action and whether any additional court services are required.

For example, the filing fee to establish paternity, legal decision-making, parenting time, and child support is currently $268.00.

The filing fee to modify an existing order is less expensive, currently $84.00.

Beyond the filing fee, the family court may order the parents to attend a parenting conference or appoint other professionals to aid the judge in child custody cases. A parenting conference costs each party $300.00, though payment plans are available. Other services, like a best interests attorney or a court appointed advisor may be cost the parents even more.

ECR refers to “electronic court records,” an online system used and maintained by the Clerk of the Superior Court in Maricopa County.
Family law judges are randomly assigned to new cases. This judge, unless recused, generally presides over your case for as long as he or she remains on the bench. Superior Court Judges may rotate to other divisions of the court, such as criminal, juvenile, civil, or probate. In that case, the judge’s successor would assume your case.

In larger areas where there are multiple courthouses, like Maricopa County, the specific court is determined by the address (zip code) of the filing party or the filing party’s attorney, if represented.

This is an especially common misconception. There is no gender bias in Arizona family law, even though it may sometimes seem that way. The family court’s primary responsibility is to protect the best interests of the children.

When fathers are disappointed with the results of their family law cases, it is usually because they were poorly represented or because their facts were truly worse than they believed.

Our child custody attorneys have a tremendous record of success representing fathers in child custody cases. View our case results or contact us for a complimentary child custody consultation.

View Results
Generally, the family law judge has up to sixty days to issue a ruling after a trial or evidentiary hearing.
Parents can request and family law judges can order interviews of minor children during contested child custody cases.

Child interviews may be conducted by conciliation services, a division of the family court, or by an appointed professional such as a parenting conference provider or a court appointed advisor.

It is important to remember that children’s wishes are not outcome determinative, but they may be an additional factor the family court may consider when deciding legal decision-making and/or parenting time, pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-403.

In child custody cases, either parent can request temporary orders for legal decision-making, parenting time, and/or child support. When issued, temporary orders are enforceable like any other court orders until modified by the court or superseded by final orders.

Parents may also request emergency orders, pursuant to Rule 48, if irreparable harm (physical, mental, emotional, or moral) to the child would occur if the family court did not issue emergency temporary orders.

No, parents are never required to hire an attorney in child custody cases. Whether you need an attorney really depends on the issues in your case. If the issues are complex and/or aggressively contested, you may want to retain an experienced child custody attorney. This is because unrepresented litigants are held to the same standard as attorneys when it comes to knowing Arizona law and family law procedure.

Our top rated child custody attorneys do everything we can to ensure that hiring an attorney is not cost-prohibitive. We offer affordable flat fees to all of our family law clients. Contact our attorneys for a complimentary consultation.

Yes, your local Superior Court and its website offer self-service centers that contain forms for some of the commonly used documents.
The family court has broad discretion to order a party to the pay all or portions of the opposing party’s attorney’s fees.

Awards of attorney’s fees usually occur when there is a significant disparity between the parties’ financial resources or when one party acts unreasonably during litigation, pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-324 and/or A.R.S. § 25-403.08.

The family court may also order sanctions, including attorney’s fees, for other types of misconduct during family law litigation.

“ARFLP” or “Ariz. R. Fam. Law P.” both refer to the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure.

These rules govern all types of family law cases in Arizona and all litigants are expected to know the rules, even when they are unrepresented by an attorney.

A parenting conference is a type of mediation or alternative dispute resolution that is becoming increasingly popular with family law judges.

The parents jointly meet with a third party neutral, appointed by the family court, for about three hours to discuss the contested issues and the parties positions. Ordinarily, the parenting conference provider will go through each of the factors in A.R.S. § 25-403 and prepare a formal report for the family law judge. The parenting conference provider will probably encourage the parties to settle and, if settlement cannot be reached, may make recommendations regarding legal decision-making and/or parenting time.

The judge does not have to accept the parenting conference report’s recommendations, but some evidentiary weight may be given.

A parenting coordinator is a third-party neutral appointed to a child custody case, through the mutual consent of the parents, to offer ongoing mediation services in high conflict cases.

The parenting coordinator may serve as a type of communications ‘referee’ while acting as an intermediary between the parents. The parenting coordinator can make recommendations that the family court can discretionarily adopt as orders.

A best interests attorney is an attorney who serves as the representative of the children in certain child custody cases.

The best interests attorney participates in the litigation just like the parents attorneys would, including examining witnesses and introducing evidence at trial, if one is required.

A court appointed advisor is an individual the family court can appoint to interview the parents and other individuals, including the parents’ significant others, or visit the parents’ homes or the children’s school in order to provide a report to the family court and/or testify as a witness at a child custody trial.
Early resolution conferences are preliminary conferences with family court administration. These conferences are ordinarily reserved for cases where neither party is represented by an attorney. The purpose is to encourage settlement before the case is referred to a judge.
A resolution management conference is a preliminary hearing before the family judge assigned to your child custody case.

Pursuant to Rule 76, the litigants are ordinarily required to file Proposed Resolution Statements detailing the issues in the case and desired resolutions.

Absent an agreement between the parties, the family court will not make any orders, including temporary orders, at a resolution management conference.

A return hearing is another type of preliminary hearing, usually set in regards to a petition or motion for temporary orders. The judge has discretion to allow the parties to present limited testimony and/or evidence at return hearings and may enter temporary orders.
A status conference is usually a hearing or telephonic hearing scheduled periodically so that the parties or their attorneys can update the family court on the status of certain issues in this case.
In most types of family law cases, including cases involving child support or requests for attorney’s fees, the parties will be required to exchange and file an affidavit of financial information or “AFI” as it is sometimes referred.

An AFI presents the party’s comprehensive financial picture by listing all income and monthly expenses the party incurs. Parties generally must attach tax returns and paystubs as part of the AFI.

Rule 49 contains the minimum disclosure requirements for certain types of family law cases in Arizona. Specifically for child custody cases, the parties must disclose:

1.  A copy of any past or current protective order and underlying petition involving a party or member of the party’s household.

2.  The name and address of each treatment provider and period of treatment involving any party for psychiatric or psychological issues, anger management, substance abuse or domestic violence, for the period beginning five years prior to the filing of the petition.

3.  The date, description, location and documentation of any criminal charge against or conviction of any party or member of the party’s household occurring within ten years of the filing of the petition.

4.  The date, description, location and documentation of any Department of Child Safety investigation or proceeding involving any party or member of the party’s household occurring within ten years of the filing of the petition.

If the case also involves child support, the parties must also disclose:

1.  a fully completed affidavit substantially similar to Form 2, Affidavit of Financial Information;

2.  proof of income of the party from all sources, specifically including complete tax returns, W-2 forms, 1099 forms, and K-1 forms, for the past two (2) completed calendar years, and year-to-date income information for the current calendar year, including, but not limited to, year-to-date pay stub, salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, capital gains, social security benefits, worker’s compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits, recurring gifts, prizes, and spousal maintenance;

3.  proof of court-ordered child support and spousal maintenance actually paid by the party in any case other than the one in which disclosure is being provided;

4.  proof of all medical, dental, and vision insurance premiums paid by the party for any child listed or referenced in the petition;

5.  proof of any child care expenses paid by the party for any child listed or referenced in the petition;

6.  proof of any expenses paid by the party for private or special schools or other particular education needs of a child listed or referenced in the petition; and

7.  proof of any expenses paid by the party for the special needs of a gifted or handicapped child listed or referenced in the petition.

In Maricopa County, you can:

(1) register for ECR to monitor your case and access nearly all of the documents filed in your case, or

(2) visit the online docket.

Arizona Child Custody Attorneys

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