Whether you’re going through a divorce or a paternity action, the two biggest issues needing to be resolved are most often legal decision-making and parenting time. Under Arizona law, legal decision-making is the ability of a parent to make decisions for the child in regard to education, religion, healthcare, etc. This is sometimes referred to as child custody. Parenting time is what is commonly referred to as visitation–- the time the child spends with you. Thus, when handling child-related concerns from a divorce or a paternity action from two unwed parents, the two biggest issues are normally who gets to decide what best for the child or children, and how much time each parent gets to spend with the child or children. When negotiating or litigating decision-making and parenting time, choosing an inexperienced family law lawyer can be the difference between seeing your child two days per week and four days per week.
At Cohen Family Law, we pride ourselves on our relentless dedication to our clients, which has resulted in successful negotiations and dispute resolution relating to parental decision-making and parenting time. Due to our dedicated family law practice and love for what we do, we understand the unique pressure and stress that comes with divorce and paternity issues. We understand that managing this stress is as important as the passionate legal advocacy we conduct on your behalf. And, we understand that your children are the most important part of your life. We are honored to have helped thousands of families resolve family-related legal issues. If you have questions relating to decision making and parenting time, or any other matter related to divorce or paternity, please contact our offices for a free consultation.
Three Degrees of Decision-Making Authority
Legal decision-making authority is the ability of one or both parents to make decisions for the children that relate to education, healthcare, religion, and personal care. Under Arizona law, there are three variations of decision-making authority that may be ordered by the court. The first arrangement is a joint decision-making authority, where both parents have joint decision-making authority. Under this joint legal decision-making arrangement, the parents must come to a mutual agreement on a decision. Failure for the parents to agree to a decision will require court intervention. This is sometimes referred to as joint child custody.
The second arrangement is a joint decision-making authority with one parent having final authority. Under this arrangement, both parents must try to come to an agreement on a decision, although only one parent has the ultimate authority to make the decision. While it may seem that the parent with final decision-making authority is solely in control, that parent must make a good faith effort to accommodate the wishes and concerns of the other parent. Failure by the parent with final decision-making authority to act in good faith can result in court intervention.
The third arrangement is the sole decision-making authority. Under this arrangement, only one parent has legal authority to make decisions for the children and the other parent does not have any authority. This is often referred to as sole custody.
Courts Consider the Best Interests of the Children When Determining Custody
When determining decision-making and parenting time allocations, the judge must consider what is in the best interest of the child. Per Arizona law, there is a presumption that meaningful and ongoing contact with both parents is in the best interest of the child. Starting from this presumption, each party may introduce evidence to rebut the presumption.
Based on the presumption that meaningful and ongoing interaction with both parents is in the best interests of the children, courts will most often award joint decision-making authority (joint custody) to the parents. Courts will only grant joint decision-making authority with one parent having final authority or sole decision-making authority when decision-making authority being asymmetrically granted is in the best interests of the children.
When considering the best interests of the children, courts will look to factors including:
- the child’s past, present and future relationship with his parents;
- the interaction and interrelationship between the child, his siblings and extended family members;
- the child’s adjustment to his home, school, and community;
- the child’s wishes (if age appropriate);
- the physical and mental health of the child, parents and any other individuals involved;
- which parent is more likely to encourage and promote a meaningful relationship with the other parent;
- evidence to suggest one parent has intentionally lied to the court in order to cause unnecessary delays;
- history of domestic violence or child abuse;
- evidence of coercion or duress imposed by one parent in order to get the other to consent to a legal decision-
- making or parenting time agreement;
- whether either parent has complied with parenting class requirements; and
- whether either parent has made a false report of child abuse or neglect.
Similar to granting decision-making authority, the court will assume that the children should equally spend time between the two parents unless it’s in the best interests of the children. Thus, if you’re going through a divorce or paternity action, and decision-making authority and parenting time is being decided, having an experienced family law attorney ensures that not only your children are protected, but that you are as well.
Contact Our Phoenix Child Custody Attorney
For more than 30 years, the attorneys at Cohen Family Law have successfully resolved family disputes involving decision-making authority and parenting time in Chandler, Glendale, Mesa, and the greater Phoenix area. By working in a transparent and dedicated manner, we ensure that you are informed every step of the way. If you are facing a divorce or paternity action that involves children, please contact our offices as soon as possible so that we can protect your decision-making authority and parenting time.