Legal decision-making, often called legal custody in other jurisdictions, refers to the parents’ authority to make certain types of important decisions for their children. Categories of major legal decisions include:
• Educational decisions
• Religious decisions
• Non-emergency medical decisions
The non-emergency qualifier is important because parents ordinarily are allowed to make all emergency decisions during their parenting time.
Best Interest Factors
Like parenting time, legal decision-making is determined by the statutory factors contained in A.R.S. § 25-403. Additionally, the family court must consider whether there has been a history of significant domestic violence between the parents, pursuant to A.R.S. 25-403.03, and whether either parent abuses drugs or alcohol, pursuant to A.R.S. 25-403.04. Either finding may create a rebuttable presumption against joint legal decision-making.
Joint Legal Decision-Making
Joint decision-making is the most common custody arrangement in Arizona. It gives the parents equal say and requires the parents to confer and agree before making major legal decisions for their children. Obviously, agreement is not always possible, so this can sometimes lead to additional litigation. When the parents cannot agree regarding a particular decision, they may have to ask the judge to decide.
Sometimes the judge will give one parent final say in the event that parents who share joint legal decision-making cannot agree. Though this arrangement allows one parent to make the final decision, it is not sole custody and should not be treated that way. It still requires the parents to confer and discuss the decision(s) in good faith before any decision is made. If a parent with final say is making the decisions before consulting with the other parent, it may be grounds to modify the decision-making arrangement.
Commonly referred to as sole custody, this gives a parent the authority to make major legal decisions without consulting the other parent. This type of decision-making is increasingly rare, but may be appropriate when there is a history of significant domestic violence or substance abuse. It may also be awarded if when a parent is unreasonable or uncooperative.
Modification of Decision-Making
Like most Arizona family law orders, decision-making can be modified when material circumstances change. Ordinarily, parents must wait for at least one year from their previous order to modify legal decision-making, though orders are sometimes modifiable earlier when the other parent is significantly non-compliant with the court order.
Contact us for a free consultation with an experienced child custody lawyer to discuss establishment, modification, or enforcement of child custody or any other Arizona family law issue.