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Phoenix AZ Family Law Blog

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Child Custody and the Potential Impact of Free Range Parenting

Q: Will free range parenting impact child custody and parental rights?

If you are getting divorced in Phoenix, Arizona, you’ll have to divide your marital assets and determine whether one spouse or the other will be entitled to alimony or spousal support.

But if you have minor children, you will also have to work out – – or have a judge determine – – items such as child support, child custody and visitation. When the court makes a determination, they consider is the gold standard of what is in “the best interest of the children”, generally preferring that both parents co-parent fairly equally wherever possible.

Interestingly, the question of what is in the “best interest of the child” has come up lately in terms of how parents nationally supervise their minor children. “Free-range parenting” is in the news with states passing or attempting to pass legislation legalizing the sometimes-controversial parenting practice.

Free-range parenting laws, like one recently enacted in Utah, hold that "it isn't neglectful to let well-cared-for children travel to school, explore a playground or stay in the car alone if they are mature enough to handle it".

It's been almost 40 years since the famous Etan Patz missing child case made national headlines and sparked generations of parents who hover over and micromanage their children in the name of safety. The free-range parenting movement may change all that and allow non-neglectful parents to decide whether their children are mature enough to navigate certain situations without parental oversight in the name of teaching self-reliance and independence. Critics feel the potential danger to the children is too great.

How will free-range parenting styles impact divorcing parents with children?

In Arizona, custody and physical placement is referred to as legal decision-making and parenting time, respectively. As the term implies, legal decision-making is a parent’s ability to make major decisions involving such things as education, health care, religious upbringing, and personal care about and on behalf of the child. Parenting time is the actual time children will be with a specific parent. During parenting time, that parent is responsible for the child's food, clothing, and housing needs and makes those routine decisions unilaterally without having to consult the other parent.

It remains to be seen whether free-range parenting will become the latest complaint that divorced parents will use when seeking to terminate parental rights of their former spouses on the theory that it could place the child in danger.

If you have questions regarding divorce, legal decision-making or parenting time, or any other family law matter, Cohen Family Law can help you. Contact us today to request a consultation.

From our office in Phoenix, Arizona, we've been helping families in transition throughout Arizona since 1982.


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