When going through a divorce or separation as a parent, establishing child custody is one of the most critical aspects of the process. While you must devise an arrangement that works for you (and your spouse or partner), you must ultimately focus on your children’s best interests. Under Arizona law, all child custody arrangements must reflect the best interests of the children involved, and the parents’ wishes take a back seat to their children’s needs.
That said, thinking carefully about what you want from your post-divorce or post-separation custody arrangement is essential. There are many options; even when focusing on your children’s best interests, there isn’t necessarily a single “right” answer. Instead, what is best depends on the circumstances, and it is essential to try to choose a custody arrangement that will satisfy everyone’s needs long-term.
Types of Custody vs. Child Custody Options
Before we get too far into our discussion, it is important to clarify an important distinction. Technically, there are two types of child custody in Arizona. The first type is physical custody, which refers to each parent’s right to spend time with and provide a home for their children. The second type is legal custody, which refers to the parents’ decision-making rights after a separation or divorce.
While there are two main types of custody, parents in Arizona have lots of options when it comes to developing a post-separation or post-divorce parenting plan. When considering your options, you must consider both physical and legal custody—and while these often go hand-in-hand, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. The key is to focus on your family and do your best to develop a custody arrangement that makes sense for your family’s unique circumstances.
5 Child Custody Options for Divorcing and Separating Parents in Arizona
So, what are your options for addressing physical and legal custody during your divorce or separation? Here are five options for parents in Arizona:
1. Primary Custody and Visitation
One of the most common options is for one parent to serve as the children’s primary custodian while the other has designated visitation time. With this arrangement, the parents may share joint legal custody, or one parent may have the final say. Visitation schedules can vary, with common examples including visitation every other weekend or on certain days.
With this type of custody-and-visitation schedule, the parents will typically address birthdays and holidays separately. For example, they may agree that the parent with visitation rights will spend part of the day with their children, or they may agree to alternate holidays or years. The key is to take the time to develop a comprehensive plan that doesn’t leave any questions unanswered.
2. Joint Custody
In a joint custody arrangement (or joint physical custody arrangement), the parents spend equal time with their children after separation or divorce. They may also share equal legal custody rights—though, here, too, they may agree that one parent will have the final say to avoid disputes. Joint custody arrangements are becoming increasingly common, as studies have found that joint custody arrangements can produce better outcomes for children in many cases.
With joint custody, the parents can decide which days of the week their children will spend at each parent’s home. However, consistency is crucial, as it helps provide certainty for parents and children. As a result, parents need to focus on the long-term and try to develop a plan that will work for both of them well into the future.
Co-parenting is a relatively new child custody option that involves both parents continuing to play an active role in their children’s lives. While the parents don’t live together, they still spend time with their children—from celebrating holidays and birthdays to attending games and recitals. Usually, one parent’s home will serve as the children’s “home base,” but both parents will have relatively equal physical custody time.
Of course, the right circumstances are necessary to make co-parenting work. If you and your spouse or partner are ready to go your separate ways, then co-parenting is likelyn’t the right option for you. But if you are both interested in co-parenting, this could be the best option for everyone involved.
4. Bird’s Nest Custody
Another option for parents who are interested in maintaining their relationship after their separation or divorce is bird’s nest custody. With bird’s nest custody, rather than one of the parents’ homes serving as the children’s “home base,” the parents maintain a central residence where their children live full-time. The parents spend roughly equal time at this “bird’s nest,” including time together, and they live at their own respective second homes when they aren’t there.
Similar to co-parenting, bird’s nest custody isn’t suitable for everyone. It requires financial resources, cooperation, and compromise. But, when it makes sense, it can provide maximum stability for the children while the parents shoulder the burden of traveling between homes.
5. Sole Custody
Sole custody is only an option in limited circumstances. For a court in Arizona to award sole custody, it must be clear that spending time with the non-custodial parent is not in the children’s best interests. Usually, this means that the non-custodial parent has a history of violence or abuse, alcohol or drug dependence, or incarceration. If you think seeking sole custody might be in your children’s best interests, you will want to talk to a lawyer about the process involved.
Learn More About Your Child Custody Options in a Free and Confidential Consultation
No matter which child custody option (or options) you are considering, talking to an experienced family lawyer is the first step toward making an informed decision. To get started with a free and confidential consultation at Weingart Family Law, please call 480-385-7610 or request an appointment online today.