Family Law Evolves in Arizona

What are parents’ rights and responsibilities in Arizona?

Arizona’s family law statutes were overhauled back in 2013 and the term child custody was replaced with the phrase “legal decision-making authority” while visitation was rewritten as “parenting time.” While these changes may seem like mere semantics, words have meaning and this less adversarial language has changed the landscape of family law in Arizona.

This evolution is partially the result of the fathers’ rights movement and state’s recognition of the importance of fathers in the lives of their children. In determining what is in the best interest of the children, the courts acknowledge the importance of fathers and treats mothers and fathers equally in determining questions of decision-making and parenting time.

Despite the progress in this regard, divorcing spouses continue to engage in bitter disputes over their children. While courts are more inclined to grant joint legal decision-making and equal parenting time, contentious litigation still has the potential to cause long-lasting damage to families, especially to children who get caught up in a parental tug-of-war. In fact, years of research demonstrate that conflict between spouses impedes children’s ability to accept and process the divorce and results in long-term emotional problems.

Ultimately, bitterness between divorcing spouses also undermines the possibilities of healthy co-parenting, and falls short of the intent of Arizona law: advancing the best interest of the children. There is, however, an alternative to engaging in ongoing adversarial litigation: divorce mediation. In this form of dispute resolution, the spouses select a divorce mediator who works with them to resolve legal disputes as amicably as possible.

A successful mediation can reduce the tension, take less time than litigation and be far less expensive.

Mediation can enable parents to agree on a parenting plan, as well as to resolve issues of property division and spousal maintenance. By relying on divorce mediation to resolve fundamental issues involved in a divorce, both parents are more likely to have better relationships with their children.

In sum, current Arizona divorce law as it relates to children fosters the success of mediation, and the courts are encouraging the process. By minimizing the conflict typically associated with divorce, parents have more control over the process and are more likely to reach agreements that are in the best interest of the children. If you are considering divorce mediation, you should engage the service of an experienced family law attorney.