Arizona Divorce Guide

Child Custody

Custody is the legal responsibility for the care Child custodyand welfare of a child under the age of 18. Custody can be granted to one or both parents. If you have not been granted custody, you’re likely granted parenting time (visitation). You can share legal custody with the parent that has parenting time rights. In this case the child lives with one parent and spends time with the other parent.

There are two types of custody: Legal custody and physical custody
  • Legal decision-making – the right and obligation to make major decisions (healthcare, education, religion) about a child less than 18 years old
  • Parenting time –  defined as with whom and where a child lives on a day-to-day basis
  • Sole Legal Decision-making – One parent is granted sole legal custody, and is responsible for making major decisions about a child’s care, welfare and well being. One parent has the final say regardless of who provides input or guidance (like the other parent). Often referred to as the custodial parent
  • Sole parenting time – a ruling where only one parent (excluding the other) has physical custody of the child. This parent is solely responsible for the everyday care and decision-making for the child
  • Joint Decision-Making – Can mean joint physical or joint legal custody, or both. This is normally done by agreement, often by submitting a written parenting plan
  • Joint parenting time – Where the child lives is divided between the parents and often designed so that there is equal contact with each parent. Courts will grant joint physical custody when parents demonstrate a willingness to work together for the benefit of the child. In Arizona, one parent can have physical custody and the other visitation (parenting time), which makes this arrangement something other than joint physical custody.
Guidelines used by the Court to determine custody can include:
  • The wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to custody
  • The wishes of the child as to custody
  • 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 interestChild custody
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school and community
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
  • Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and meaningful continuing contact with the other parent
  • If one parent, both parents or neither parent has provided primary care of the child
  • The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining a child custody agreement
  • Whether a parent has complied with the educational program regarding children and divorce that is required by Arizona laws
  • The child custody agreement or lack of a one by the parents regarding joint custody
  • A parent’s lack of agreement is unreasonable or is influenced by an issue not related to the best interests of the child
  • The past, present and future abilities of the parents to cooperate in decision-making about the child to the extent required by the order of joint custody
  • Whether the joint custody agreement is logistically possible
If there is a chance your Ex will try to manipulate you or the kids with the visitation schedule, put an on-line Parenting Plan in place. Nothing stops the game-playing like a schedule in black and white. Simply tell your Ex that in order for the schedule to be changed, it must be discussed and agreed to; otherwise it is not changing.

Arizona courts, after examining the details, may award sole custody or joint custody if both parents agree and submit a written Parenting Plan and the court finds such an order is in the best interests of the child. The court may order joint legal custody without ordering joint physical custody. Custody laws do not create preferred manner of custody between two parents, and do not favor one gender over another (The truth is, is that in more than 85% of contested cases, women get awarded primary custody).

Agree on and submit a Parenting Plan and make life a whole lot easier

In many cases, a mother must be proven to be unfit for the courts to award the father primary custody. The court may award joint custody of a child if both parents agree and submit a written Parenting Plan and the court finds that joint custody is in the best interests of the child. The court can order joint legal custody without ordering joint physical custody. Should the court award joint custody over the objection of one parent, the court will issue a written finding as to it’s reasoning for such awards. Joint custody may not be awarded if the court makes a finding of the existence of significant domestic violence or if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that there has been a significant history of domestic violence. Child custody strategies The parents must submit a parenting plan setting out each parent’s rights and responsibilities for the following:

  • A designation of the legal decision-making as joint or sole
  • Each parent’s rights and responsibilities for the personal care of the child and for decisions in areas such as education, health care and religious training
  • A practical schedule of parenting time for the child, including holidays and school vacations
  • A procedure for the exchanges of the child, including location and responsibility for transportation
  • 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
  • A procedure for periodic review of the plan’s terms by the parents
  • A procedure for communicating with each other about the child, including methods and frequency
  • A statement that each party has read, understands and will abide by the notification requirements

If the parents are unable to agree on any element to be included in a parenting plan, the court will determine that element. The court may determine other factors that are necessary to promote and protect the emotional and physical health of the child.

You will get ONE shot at winning custody – Learn How Here

Shared legal decision-making does not necessarily mean equal parenting time

The court may consider evidence of domestic violence as being contrary to the best interests of the child. If the court determines that a parent who is seeking AZ child custody has committed an act of domestic violence against the other parent, there is a refutable presumption that a child custody award to the parent who committed the act of domestic violence is contrary to the best interests of the child. This presumption does not apply if both parents have committed an act of domestic violence. The court may place restrictions upon a parent who it finds has engaged in acts of domestic violence, if it finds that doing so is in the best interest of the child.

Details in the Parenting Agreement

Be careful not to agree to the standard reasonable parenting time without many details. Rather, you should be as specific as you can. You will want to make provisions for every situation your kids will be in currently or in the future. [We can tell you that wracking your brain to come up with scenarios is mind-numbing, and the process is made much easier by using an online plan (see the link above)].

Save yourself the hassle by downloading divorce forms here

Parental education

All parents with custody access disputes must attend an educational program focused on their children’s needs. These classes are 4-6 hours in length, and can be offered in a variety of ways (in-person, web-based, etc.), determined by your county. You are issued certificates of completion that must be submitted to the court in order for your divorce to be finalized.

Relocating the child or moving the child more than 100 miles from the non-custodian

If by written agreement or court order both parents are entitled to custody or parenting time and both parents reside in the state, at least sixty days’ advance written notice (by certified mail, return receipt requested) must be provided to the other parent before a parent may do either of the following:

  • Relocate the child outside the state
  • Relocate the child more than one hundred miles within the state

Within thirty days after notice is made the non-moving parent may petition the court to prevent relocation of the child. If this happens to you, you may find yourself wishing you had signed up for Child Custody Strategies. [§25-408]


[Based on Arizona Revised Statutes; §25-403, 403.01 and 408]

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