How to File for Joint Custody

How to File for Joint Custody

Family courts in Arizona make all decisions with the best interests of children as their highest priority. In matters of child custody for divorced or unmarried parents, the courts begin with the rebuttable presumption that continued close contact with both parents is what is in a child’s best interest. Having both parents actively participate in all aspects of child-rearing, including making important decisions for medical care and education, and sharing in the day-to-day routine childcare is what’s best for children except in cases of one parent’s abuse, neglect, or chronic addiction.

When parents divorce or an unmarried co-parent seeks joint custody, it’s important to understand the options for determining a shared parenting time schedule and how the court resolves these matters when parents cannot agree.

Man holding sad child.

What Is Joint Custody in Arizona?

When parents divorce or are unmarried, they both have legal rights and obligations toward their children. Raising children from separate households presents significant challenges that would lead to frequent disputes without a legal structure in place for the children’s care, living arrangements, and decision-making. With joint custody, both parents participate in their child’s upbringing. A joint custody agreement requires parents to communicate effectively and cooperate on scheduling, drop-off and pick-up arrangements, and in making important decisions for their children on matters of education, medical care, and extra-curricular activities. Less commonly, the courts may appoint both parents joint physical custody but grant only one parent decision-making custody.

The best way to arrive at a workable joint custody plan for co-parenting after a divorce, or for unmarried parents, is to develop a parenting plan that’s mutually acceptable to both parents. Arizona judges prefer it when parents agree on a parenting plan outside of court in a settlement agreement rather than leaving it for the judge to determine in court. If parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, a judge reviews the situation, hears testimony from both sides, and makes an official determination before issuing final orders in the divorce decree.

Agreeing to a Parenting Plan

Arizona family courts describe a parenting plan in the following way:

“A parenting plan is a document that states when the children will be with each parent (parenting time) and how major decisions will be made (legal custody).”

When both parents can examine their work schedules and their children’s schedules, communicate effectively and respectfully, and compromise with each other, they can determine a schedule that’s appropriate for their family. It’s always best when parents agree on a schedule and include it in the settlement agreement for an uncontested divorce rather than disputing custody so an impartial judge must choose or create a schedule for them.

Arizona has several popular parenting plan schedules available for parents with joint custody to choose from.

Important Considerations in Choosing a Joint Custody Parenting Plan

Every family’s circumstances are unique, as are all children. Younger children may require a different type of shared parenting plan than older children who are better able to endure lengthier separations. Before choosing a parenting plan, consider the following:

  • The age and maturity of each child
  • Each child’s attachment level and typical daily routine with each parent
  • Any special needs of a child
  • Each parent’s ability and availability to meet the needs of the children
  • The distance between each parent’s home
  • Transportation method
  • The children’s ties to family, half-siblings, grandparents, and their community
  • Whether or not parent’s work schedules are flexible
  • Does one parent travel often for work?
  • What will be the drop-off and pickup locations?
  • Can both parents communicate well and maintain respect and civility during child exchanges?

Finally, parents should consider the practicalities involved, such as what items to pack for each child or whether or not they will keep separate wardrobes, toys, and belongings in each home.

Choosing a Parenting Plan for Equal Joint Custody

Arizona courts offer several common parenting plans that parents may use or use as a starting point when creating their individual plan for sharing equal or near-equal joint custody. Some examples include the following:

  • The alternating every two days schedule in which children spend two days with parent A and then two days with parent B on a repeating schedule which allows both parents an equal number of weekend days. This schedule works well for parents with infants and young children who have difficulty spending extended periods away from one parent.
  • The 3-4-4-3 schedule in which children spend three days with parent A then four days with parent B, 4 days with parent A, and then 3 days with parent B, on a repeating schedule. This works well for sharing equal time during the week and weekends with fewer transitions compared to the alternating two-day schedule.
  • The every-other-week schedule in which children spend a week with parent A, then a week with parent B, then back for a week with parent A, on a continued schedule. This works best for older children and teenagers who can spend longer periods apart from each parent and have busy school, homework, and extra-curricular activity schedules.

Common Schedules for Unequal Joint Custody

Equal or 50/50 custody isn’t always appropriate for every family, depending on work schedules, the children’s attachment to a caregiving parent, or extenuating circumstances. Parents or a judge may decide on a schedule giving one parent more residential (overnight) stays than the other. Common schedules for this type of joint custody in Arizona include the following:

  • The every-extended-weekend schedule, where parent A has the children from Monday to Friday morning every week, and parent B has the children from after school on Fridays until Monday morning. The downside of this schedule is that parent A doesn’t get any weekend days with the children.
  • The every-other-weekend plus one weeknight evening schedule: this is a time-honored classic schedule for shared custody with one parent as the residential parent in which the children spend only every other weekend with parent B, plus one weeknight from after school through dinner time (typically on Wednesdays)

When parents cannot agree on a parenting-time schedule for equal or unequal joint custody, a judge typically chooses from whichever of the above schedules they feel is most appropriate for the family’s schedule and other circumstances. In the event that this could affect child support payments, one of our child support lawyers in Scottsdale could help assess your case.

How Can a Child Custody Attorney Help?

No family court decision has a greater impact on a family’s life than child custody. When it comes to crafting or choosing a parenting-time schedule, negotiating or undergoing mediation with a divorcing spouse or other biological parent for joint custody, it’s critical to have skilled legal counsel. At Stewart Law Group, we understand the importance of this outcome in your case. Let us provide representation for you during your child custody case in Arizona.