Child Custody FAQs

Can we get a mediator to help us resolve our child custody dispute?

Yes. Mediation (a form of alternative dispute resolution) is available in every family law case involving an issue regarding “child custody or parenting time.” If you anticipate contentious custody or visitation issues in your divorce or break-up, then mediation may be a suitable way to resolve many disputes before trial. Mediation sessions may be scheduled through the court’s conciliation court, or through a private mediator.

Are Legal Custody and physical Custody the Same Thing?

No, they are not the same and here is the difference between the two. The parent who is awarded legal custody has the right to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, including religious affiliation, education, healthcare provider, and so on. When it comes to the child’s living arrangements, the parent who is awarded physical custody has the rights and responsibilities necessary to manage every aspect of the child’s day-to-day care.

Can a father get child custody in Arizona?

Yes.  Times have indeed changed, and for the better. Today, fathers are more likely to succeed in getting custody of their children than ever before. More divorced parents enjoy joint custody arrangements and more fathers are being designated the primary residential parent.

Best Interests of the Child.

When ordering custody, the court always looks to what is in the best interests of the child. Fathers and mothers have an equal opportunity for custody, although statistically more women are awarded primary custody. Fewer fathers are being discriminated against than in the past, however, at least with regard to their presumed lack of child-rearing capabilities. The somewhat antiquated perception that mothers are always better caregivers than fathers is slowing crumbling away and is being replaced with a new understanding: Fathers can handle the job, too.

There was a time when many, if not most, fathers worked outside the home. And when one parent works outside the home, the other often cares for the children in the home. With current relationships, there is nothing unusual about a couple sharing child-rearing responsibilities equally because both are employed outside the home. Our “new normal” has become the sharing of parental responsibilities — perhaps because of necessity, or perhaps because of a lifestyle choice. That means that contemporary fathers are much more knowledgeable about child care and have real life practical experience.

Can I get child custody and support during the divorce process?

You can file a motion with the court seeking temporary orders that provide for the custody and support of a child before any trial is even scheduled, that is to say during or even before the divorce process begins.  Temporary orders may address parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, access to personal items, and many other aspects of a family law case. This interim relief is not a permanent solution and only applies while the case is pending.

Can I get full custody of my child?

Yes, if sole legal custody is appropriate.  In Arizona, there is no legal presumption favoring one parent over the other.  Meaning that the Court starts with the presumption that parents should have joint custody.  With joint custody, both parents share the responsibility of major decision-making, as well as physical custody and control of the child.

However, if you believe joint custody is not appropriate, you can request sole custody, wherein one parent has final decision-making authority regarding medical, education and religious matters impacting the child.  If you have concerns with the other parent regarding drug or alcohol abuse, child abuse, criminal history, domestic violence or mental health problems, it is probably appropriate to request sole custody of your child.  The Court will then make a custody decision based on what is in the best interest of the child.

You can improve your chances of gaining custody by improving your parenting skills and your reliability. Begin making positive changes now and keep making improvements. More recent and more extensive involvement with your child can help balance out a past relationship with emotional distance or absenteeism. Remember that it is never too late to become a better parent.

Can I get help with an Arizona Parenting Plan?

Yes, in a high-conflict case there is a parenting coordinator to help you. Parents are required to implement a parenting plan, but sometimes their level of conflict is so intense and persistent that they cannot do their job. If conflict impedes the parents’ ability to make decisions in their child’s best interests, then Rule 74 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure allows involving a parenting coordinator in the case. By assisting with dispute resolution, the coordinator helps the parties put their parenting plan into action.

Can I leave Arizona and take my child with me?

When removing your child from the state violates the custody order, yes there is a problem with that. Parental kidnapping occurs when one parent violates the custody order and seizes the child — illegally depriving the other parent of custody or visitation. Whether the child is taken away to a location within the state, or whether the child is taken out-of-state, the result is the same. The other parent’s rights to custody or visitation are unlawfully obstructed.

Can I relocate my child to another state?

Yes, it is possible. A.R.S. § 25-408 requires that you seek the Arizona court’s permission before you relocate, which means you must also notify the other parent. As the custodial parent, you are under a custody order. You cannot simply decide to move away — the child remains under the continuing jurisdiction of the court until age 18 (or until emancipated). Furthermore, if you intend to relocate 100 miles away within the state of Arizona, then the other parent is entitled to 60 days advance notice. This is because your intended move directly affects the noncustodial parent’s access to the child.

Can I stop my spouse from telling my child bad things about me?

Yes.  Parental alienation occurs when a parent negatively influences the child toward the other parent. Child custody evaluators are trained to identify parental alienation as the negative manipulation of a child. Whether intentional or unintentional, the conduct can interfere with your child’s relationship with you. To deter alienation, you can include specific prohibitions in your parenting plan. Otherwise, seek court intervention to stop this activity by the other parent.

I recently moved to Arizona, can I file my child custody case here?

Maybe. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) specifically addresses Arizona’s jurisdiction over your child. Our Superior Courts can exercise jurisdiction when:

  • Arizona is the child’s “home state” when proceedings are initiated; or if the child is now absent, Arizona was the child’s home state for six months prior to filing the action and one or both parents (or person acting in loco parentis) lives here.
  • Another state lacks jurisdiction; or the home state’s court declined jurisdiction in the child’s best interests, and (1) the child and one or both parents (or person acting in loco parentis) have a “significant connection” with Arizona, and (2) information and evidence regarding the “care, protection, training and personal relationships” of the child is available here.
  • All other courts who could exercise jurisdiction have declined to do so and Arizona is the “more appropriate forum.”
  • No other state’s court has accepted or assumed jurisdiction and it is in the best interests of the child for Arizona to do so.

Can we make our own custody agreement?

Yes. Parents who are able to compromise on their custody arrangements, without turning the decision-making over to the judge, are strongly encouraged to do so. So long as your agreement is in the best interests of the children, you and the other parent may settle custody and access issues by private agreement.

Do I need to take a Parent Information Course?

Yes, the parent information course is mandatory in all cases in which the court is asked to determine matters of child custody, visitation, and child support. Furthermore, the court has discretion to order parental participation in the program in other cases, too, including a modification or enforcement of child support, custody or visitation.

Does my child decide which parent to live with?

No, your child does not have the right to decide which parent shall have custody. However, the child’s wishes may be considered by the court at any stage in the proceedings. The assigned judge does have discretion to interview the child, but this is not a common practice in our family courts. The judge may allow testimony from the parents on what they perceive their child’s wishes to be. More often than not, though, the judge will rely on the opinion of a mental health professional for guidance on what is in the child’s best interests.

How do I prepare my children for divorce?

Divorce can profoundly affect a child’s emotional development, so preparing the child for divorce is an important parenting issue. The child’s emotional well-being during and after the dissolution depends greatly on how the parents handle their divorce. To help ease the children’s transition into the new family relationship, read our helpful parenting suggestions for couples who are contemplating divorce.

Is an informal child custody agreement sufficient?

No, it really isn’t sufficient.  Although informal parenting arrangements can be helpful for some unmarried couples for a short while, such arrangements do nothing to resolve problems when there is a conflict. On the one hand, when paternity, custody, and parenting time have not yet been established, the instability and unpredictability of each parent’s access to the child can often be detrimental for everyone involved. On the other hand, a court-ordered parenting schedule benefits the mother, the father, and the child, and is enforceable. So the best approach is a parenting plan with a defined, predictable custody arrangement spelling out the terms of access both parents must abide by, which the court then orders and can enforce if necessary.

What is a parenting plan?

Arizona applies a co-parenting model over child custody. So when the parents seek joint custody, they are required by law to submit a written parenting plan to the court. The parenting plan provides a defined, predictable custody arrangement. It delineates the terms of access that both parents must abide by, and upon which the child will learn to depend. The plan is then made a part of the child custody orders issued by the court, rendering it fully enforceable by and against both parents.

Will a child custody evaluation be necessary in my divorce?

Maybe. Under Rule 68 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure, the judge assigned to the case may order a custody evaluation whenever the parents are unable to reach agreement on custody. If a custody evaluation is ordered in your case, then the family court’s conciliation services will arrange for an assessment of what is in the child’s best interests to be conducted by a professional child custody evaluator.

Will a parenting conference help with our child custody issues?

A parenting conferences helps the judge determine what is in the best interests of the child with regards to child custody.  The focus is on where the child will reside, how much time each parent will spend with the child, and how the important decisions and day-to-day decisions regarding the child will be made. In the conference, the court conciliator will identify the parties’ areas of agreement and disagreement over child custody and visitation issues. The conciliator may make recommendations believed to be in the child’s best interests.

Will my child have an appointed attorney in my divorce?

In some cases, yes. Rule 10(E) of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure allows for the appointment of attorneys for the child. The first is the “Best Interests Attorney” who represents the minor child’s best interests. The second is the “Child’s Attorney” who represents the child-client and is reasonably bound by the child’s directives and objectives.