Court Forms

Using the Form Petition to Modify Child Custody

Self-represented parents can use their county’s specific form petition to modify child custody to change their existing orders for legal decision-making and/or parenting time. The form petition includes several other documents that usually must be filed to begin the modification and filing instructions. Whenever you use any court forms, you should follow the instructions very carefully. Procedural mistakes not only can cause your petition to be dismissed, but also can expose you to financial sanctions such as being ordered to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees. If you have any questions about this form or your case more generally, please contact us for a free consultation with one of our experienced child custody attorneys.

Below you will find links to download the forms for Maricopa County and Pima County. Because our practice concentrates primarily in Maricopa County, we will use this form for the tips we provide below. Many of the inputs will be similar to forms used in Pima and other counties throughout Arizona.

Maricopa County Pima County

Petition to Modify Legal Decision-Making (Legal Custody), Parenting Time and Child Support

The form petition begins after about fifteen pages of instructions. Although we will try to summarize much of the same information, you always should read all of the instructions before you use any court forms.

This particular form can be used when parents want to modify legal decision-making and parenting time. Pursuant to Arizona law, whenever parenting time is modified, family courts must recalculate child support even if neither parent asks for it to be changed. So this form includes modification of child support.

The top half of the first page should look familiar if you used any other court forms. Starting at the top left you will provide your full name as it appears on your court records, your address unless you requested a protected address, your telephone number and email address, and your ATLAS number if you have one. The term “ATLAS” stands for Arizona’s Tracking and Location Automated System and it is used by the state to identify child support cases. You will also check the box to indicate that you are representing yourself if you do not have an attorney.

The middle section requires some of the same information, though the caption can be counterintuitive. Here, the term “Petitioner” refers to the party who filed your initial family law case, not necessarily the party who is filing this petition. If you are unsure you can check the docket or review any of the documents previously filed in your case. This also may be necessary to locate your case number. In Maricopa County, most family court case numbers begin with “FC” or “FN” and then a number corresponding to the year the case was opened. You will print your name (again) and check the box to indicate whether you are “Party A” (the Petitioner) or “Party B” (the Respondent).

General Information

Item No. 1 requires the same information you already provided in the caption. You will re-enter your name and address (unless protected) and check the box again to indicate if you are Party A or Party B. You will do the same thing for the other parent in Item No. 2.

Item No. 3 requires you to list the names, dates of birth, and ages for all minor children subject to this child custody order. If this is more than four children, you can attach this information to your form and indicate in this section to see attached.

Item No. 4 asks you to check a box to indicate if the minor children subject to this custody order lived continuously in Arizona since the current orders were entered. If the answer is yes, you check the first box. If the answer is no, you check the second box and you will complete and attach another form titled Affidavit Regarding Minor Children. The purpose of this information is to confirm that Arizona retains jurisdiction over the custody issues.

Item No. 5 asks for some information about your current custody orders. If you do not have a copy of your current orders, you can request a copy from your local superior court or view the document online via ECR. Specifically, you need the date your current orders were issued, the name of the court (Superior Court, if issued in Arizona), and the county and state where the orders were issued.

Check the first box if the children subject to this custody order lived in Arizona for at least six months prior to filing this petition. Check the second box if your current orders were issued by a court outside of Maricopa County and you already transferred the case to Maricopa County. Registration of court orders entered in other jurisdictions is a separate process that must be completed before the orders can be modified in Maricopa County.

The next part requires you to list the specific order(s) you want to change. You should indicate the page number and paragraph number and the text of the current order in the spaces provided. If there is insufficient space, you can attach a separate document and indicate in this section to see attached.

You will want to repeat this process for each distinct order you want to be changed. So if you want to change orders regarding legal decision-making, regular parenting time, holiday parenting time, parenting time exchanges, and coparenting communication, you should separately refer to each one of these provisions in your current orders.

Item No. 6 asks if “significant” domestic violence has occurred. The term significant is quoted because it is the description our legislature used in A.R.S. § 25-403.03. Family courts cannot award joint legal decision-making to a parent who committed significant acts of domestic violence against the other parent. Determining whether incidents of domestic violence are statutorily “significant” depends on the severity, frequency, and timing. If you believe domestic violence in your case is significant, check the appropriate box and briefly describe the incident(s).

Item No. 7 asks you to list your reasons to modify child custody. Parents often ask how much detail is required and there is no perfect answer. Pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-411(A), you must include enough information to show that the current orders endanger the child or that substantial and continuing changes have occurred since entry of the current orders. Procedural mistakes in this section may cause the court to dismiss your petition, so you want to make sure you include enough information to prove the appropriate standard for modification.

Requests I Make to the Court

Under this heading you will tell the family court what you want it to do for each issue in your case. The first subheading, Item A, asks what parenting time you want for the other parent. The first three checkboxes ask you to choose between unsupervised parenting time, supervised parenting time, and no parenting time. If you choose supervised or no parenting time, you need to explain why this would be in your children’s best interest. Really think about this because if your the parenting time arrangement you request is deemed unreasonable, you could be ordered to pay the other parent’s attorney’s fees and costs.

Supervised parenting time is appropriate when the other parent cannot care for the children. This may be due to drug or alcohol abuse, violent or abusive behavior, flight risk, or the lack of parenting skills necessary to ensure the children’s safety and welfare. Parenting time can be supervised at a court-approved facility, but this can be very expensive so family courts often prefer to “appoint” another adult such as a trustworthy family member or friend to supervise.

If supervised parenting time is best for your children, you can suggest the name of a supervisor (or facility) and propose how the costs should be allocated. Family courts often order equal division of the costs for two reasons. First, supervision is not meant to punish the supervised parent. It is meant only to protect the children. The second reason is that it encourages the parents to more reasonably consider less expensive (or free) supervisors.

No parenting time should be reserved for the most severe situations where just seeing the other parent will be detrimental to the children. Examples may include situations where the other parent severely harmed or abused the children.

No. 3 provides a few lines to request additional restrictions. If you suspect the other parent abuses drugs or alcohol, you may request random testing and/or an alcohol monitoring service like Soberlink. Soberlink is a service that monitors sobriety in real time according to the parameters of the court-ordered plan. Parents can be ordered to take a breathalyzer test a certain number of times on a preset or random schedule.

Alcohol monitoring is a great service, far more useful than random urinalyses in our opinion, but it can have a significant “unintended” consequence. Since it constantly monitors a parent’s sobriety, it may eliminate any reason for the court to limit that parent’s parenting time if alcohol consumption is the only fitness concern.

Under Item B, you will indicate whether you seek sole or joint legal decision-making. Sole legal decision-making entitles one parent to make all non-emergency legal decisions for the children without input from the other parent. Joint legal decision-making requires the parents to agree before either parent can make a non-emergency legal decision for the children. This form limits your options to those two choices but a third option exists where parents share joint legal decision-making but one parent is authorized to have “final say” if the parents cannot agree. If you believe either parent should be awarded final say, you can write in that option and indicate which parent should make the final decisions.

Item C asks you to calculate child support based on the proposed parenting time. You should use the Arizona child support calculator and attach the worksheet to your petition to modify. Check the appropriate boxes to indicate the parent who owes child support and the monthly obligation based on the child support worksheet. You will need to complete Item D to calculate child support accurately.

Item D asks which parent should be required to provide medical, dental, and vision insurance for the children subject to this order. The parent who provides insurance for the children is credited for the costs of their monthly premiums on the child support worksheet. While this will lower that parent’s monthly child support obligation, it really just means that parents split the insurance costs proportionately based on their gross incomes. Only the premium costs to insure the children subject to this order should be included on the child support worksheet. If the insurance plan covers other people, the parent will need to request an itemized breakdown from the insurer or will need to prorate the total monthly premium to calculate the costs to insure just the children.

Item D also asks you to propose how unreimbursed or uncovered medical expenses should be divided between the parents. The default division is to split the expenses proportionately according to the parents’ gross incomes. This means if Parent A makes $40,000 per year and Parent B makes $60,000 per year, Parent A should pay 40% of the uncovered expenses and Parent B should pay 60%.

The same default rule applies to Item E. Tax credits are assigned to parents based on their relative gross incomes. This can be somewhat complicated when there are an odd number of children. Using our hypothetical incomes from Item D, Parent A should claim 2 out of every 5 (40%) of tax credits while Parent B should claim 3 out of every 5 (60%).

This can be really frustrating for parents who exercise the majority of parenting time. However, in those situations, increased child support should offset the extra parenting time so there is no financial advantage to the parent who exercises less parenting time. The ability to claim the tax credits also requires the parent to pay all court-ordered child support for that calendar year, including any payments toward arrears.

Item F provides space to request all additional orders that you want to be included in the new parenting plan that you did not list under the previous categories. There are so many different provisions that may be appropriate for your parenting plan that we cannot list everything. You may want specific guidelines for coparenting, maybe to limit the volume or method of communications; or maybe you want to designate a neutral location for exchanges. It may be helpful to scroll down and review the “Parenting Plan” form to see all of the options it already includes.

Item G requires you to sign your petition to modify before a notary public. If it is inconvenient to notarize the petition, you can sign it when you file. Just be sure to inform the clerk at the filing counter and ask for their signature.

Affidavit Regarding Minor Children

We will skip the caption here since it is identical to the petition to modify. This form is shorter (thankfully) and a little more straightforward. It requires you to list the minor children subject to this court order, their address history for the past five years, and indicate if there are any other court cases that involved legal decision-making or parenting time for these children. The purpose of this information is to ensure that multiple jurisdictions do not enter conflicting orders for the same issues.

Parenting Plan

The next document asks you to propose a comprehensive parenting plan. In the caption, after you re-enter all of your personal information and the case information, you will check the box again to indicate whether you seek sole legal decision-making or joint legal decision-making.

General Information

Part 1 requires you to list the names of the minor children subject to this parenting plan and check yet another box to indicate whether you seek sole or joint decision-making. Different from the previous checkboxes, this form also asks you to indicate whether you and the other parent agree. If you have an agreement, you will use Boxes 1 or 3. If you do not have an agreement, you will use Boxes 2 or 4.

Physical Custody and Parenting Time

Part 2 gives you an opportunity to propose many of the most important provisions in a parenting plan.

Starting with Subsection A, you will propose the basic parenting schedule for weekdays and weekends. If you follow the form rigidly, this will be the parenting schedule to be followed at all times except for summers, extended school breaks, and holidays. Though the form only provides one partial line for each parent’s parenting time, you have flexibility to propose the exact schedule that is best for your children. You should indicate which days the children will spend with each parent, the exchange times, and which parent is responsible for transportation.

Subsection B allows you to propose a different parenting schedule for summers and school breaks that last longer than four days. If you want to follow the regular parenting time schedule you can check the first box. The last check box in this section also allows you to propose terms for summer vacations with the children. Typically, when both parents are fit, courts will provide each parent with an extended period of parenting time during summers to enable vacations and summer trips. Each judge is a little different, but two weeks is probably the “standard” rule. Court orders usually require parents to inform the other parent of their summer plans by a certain date and give each parent priority in alternate years in case their preferred vacation schedules conflict. This form omits this altogether, but it is something you can write in to avoid future conflict.

Subsection C defines each parent’s right to travel out of state with the children. The first check box requires the traveling parent to provide to the other parent a complete itinerary of travel plans, including addresses and telephone numbers of hotels or lodging. The second box restricts the right to travel for specified periods without the other parent’s consent. Parents generally are free to travel out of state with the children when they provide the itinerary. However, court orders commonly restrict international travel to require the other parent’s consent.

In the next subsection you can create a schedule for observed holidays and birthdays. You can use even and odd years to alternate holidays or check both boxes to assign holidays to the same parent every year. Holidays are generally divided evenly, unless the parents agree to a different schedule, though Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are usually assigned to the respective parent every year.

For no apparent reason, this section also includes a check box for telephone contact. This option provides a right for a parent to call/text/FaceTime the children during the other parent’s parenting time. To avoid conflict, we strongly encourage you to propose a specific time and duration for telephone calls. We often see cases where a parent calls the child constantly during the other parent’s parenting time and it can lead to additional litigation.

Subsection E explains that both parents have equal right to certain types of records maintained for the child pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-403.06 even if one parent has sole legal decision-making authority.

Subsections F, G, and H give you the opportunity to propose how specific categories of legal decisions will be made. The options may be confusing because the form is pretty awkwardly written. There actually is no checkbox that corresponds to sole legal decision-making authority. If that is your proposed legal decision-making arrangement, you will need to modify the form. The second checkbox in each subsection closely resembles joint legal decision-making. We really cannot explain why the second and third options are functionally identical.

Subsection I provides some of the most common miscellaneous provisions included in basically every parenting plan. The form presents these provisions as optional though each are virtually certain to be included in every contested parenting plan so you might as well propose any specific conditions that you want for any of these provisions.

Your signature is required under Parts 2, 3, 4, 5 (also needs to be notarized). If the other parent agrees to all of the terms in your proposed parenting plan, they must sign each of these sections too. If you are seeking joint legal decision-making or joint legal decision-making with final say, you need to check the appropriate box in Part 4(A) and 4(B).

Order to Appear

The next document is titled Order to Appear for Resolution Management Conference re: Post Decree (Rule 91). It functions as the summons that will be completed by the court. You do not need to try to fill in those blanks. After you file your petition to modify, you must serve the other party or the other party’s attorney with a copy of the Petition, Parenting Plan, Child Support Worksheet, Affidavit Regarding Minor Children (if applicable), and Order to Appear. Service must be accomplished pursuant to Rule 41 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure. This means that if you want to serve by mail, it needs to be restricted delivery with return receipt required (certified mail). Otherwise, you need to hire a process server to personally deliver the documents.

This is a lot of information to take in, so if you have any questions about this or any other family law form, contact us for a free consultation.