When a couple is divorcing, child custody battles can become fierce fast. Children, after all, go to the heart of the family and so much of our lives. Sometimes, co-parents are able to reach an agreement on all child custody issues and the agreement is ratified by the court without incident. This can be great for a number of reasons including the fact that the co-parents are able to have more control over the agreement, work together, and avoid what can be expensive, invasive, and time-consuming court intervention.
When co-parents cannot reach an agreement on custody issues, the courts will step in and make the decision instead. Courts will address legal custody, which is known as “legal decision-making,” now in Arizona, and physical custody, which is known as “parenting time.” Legal decision-making refers to the legal right and responsibility of a parent or guardian to make non-emergency legal decisions on behalf of a minor child. Legal decision-making may involve health care decisions, educational choices, and personal care, among other things. Parenting time, on the other hand, refers to the specified times that each parent will have access to the child and is also often referred to as “visitation.”
In order to render a decision as to both legal decision-making and parenting time, Arizona family court judges must look to the best interests of the child standard. This will involve the judge considering a number of statutorily prescribed factors intended to guide the judge in making decisions that will be in the child’s best interests. Here, we will take a look at those factors.
Best Interests of the Child Factors in Arizona
Arizona courts understand the importance and weight of custody decisions and do not take the responsibility lightly. When the courts need to step in to make custody determinations, they will evaluate several factors that go to the heart of considering what custody arrangements would be best to support and nurture a child’s healthy mental, physical, and emotional development as well as give them a sense of security and comfort.
The best interests of the child factors in Arizona, as set forth in Arizona Statutes Section 25-401 include:
- The past, present, and potential future relationships between the parent and the child.
- 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.
- The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community.
- If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the wishes of the child as to legal decision-making and parenting time.
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact with the other parent.
- 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.
- Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse pursuant to Section 25-403.03.
- The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.
This relevant portion of the statute also states that the court will render specific findings on all relevant factors and set forth the reasons for believing a particular custody decision is in the best interests of the child.