As a parent in Arizona, getting divorced necessarily involves establishing a plan for child custody. While parents can – and should – consider their own personal needs when seeking custody or visitation rights, Arizona law requires that all custody decisions ultimately be made based upon the “best interests” of the children involved.
What are the Factors for Determining a Child’s “Best Interests” in an Arizona Divorce?
Of course, as a parent, you know what is best for your children. But, for purposes of establishing child custody, Arizona law requires divorcing parents (and the judges who preside over parents’ divorce proceedings) to consider a statutory list of “best interests” factors. These factors appear in Section 25-403 of Arizona Revised Statutes, which states:
“The court shall determine legal decision-making and parenting time, either originally or on the petition for modification, in accordance with the best interests of the child. The court shall consider all factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being . . . .”
The references in Section 25-403 to “legal decision-making” and “parenting time” refer to legal and physical custody, respectively. Following this introduction, Section 25-403 lists 11 specific factors that must be considered when establishing child custody during a divorce. Arizona’s “best interests” factors for establishing child custody are:
- “The past, present and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.”As a general rule, the Arizona courts consider parents’ past conduct to be indicative of how they will act in the future. Thus, the more time a parent has devoted to their child during the parents’ marriage, the more likely it is that spending time with that parent post-divorce will be deemed in the child’s best interests.
- “The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s . . . parents, the child’s siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.” When evaluating what is in a child’s best interests, the Arizona courts consider the importance of maintaining a relationship with each parent and other individuals who play a significant role in the child’s life.
- “The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community.” Maintaining stability is an important consideration when it comes to child custody. If one parent moves a significant distance away from the family home following the divorce, this could impact the best interests analysis.
- “If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the wishes of the child . . . .”In Arizona, the decision as to whether a child’s preferences should be considered is made on a case-by-case basis. In any case, when seeking a child’s input about where (and with which parent) he or she wants to live, it is important to do so very carefully with due consideration for the emotional and psychological implications involved.
- “The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.”The extent to which it is necessary to seek input from a psychologist or other specialist depends heavily on the specific circumstances involved. If both parents are willing to establish a child custody arrangement amicably, then no such input may be necessary.
- “Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other parent. . . .”The relevance of this factor is also highly dependent upon the specific circumstances involved. In many cases, both parents are committed to maintaining frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact. There is no concern that one parent will attempt to alienate their children from the other.
- “Whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause an unnecessary delay, to increase the cost of litigation or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or a parenting time preference to that parent.” This is another factor that is fairly specific to circumstances in which one parent refuses to act in good faith. If one parent submits false information in support of his or her request for custody, this can have the opposite effect of reducing the amount of parenting time he or she receives post-divorce.
- “Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse pursuant . . . .” Domestic violence and child abuse are serious issues that cannot be ignored. If your child’s other parent has been abusive in any way, this is a factor that could have a significant impact on the “best interests” analysis.
- “The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.”This factor only becomes an issue during the divorce process if it becomes clear that one parent has acted improperly in securing their desired custody rights.
- “Whether a parent has complied with chapter 3, article 5 of this title.”Chapter 3 of article 5 requires divorcing parents in Arizona to participate in court-adopted education plans focused on “the impact of divorce on adults and children.” If either parent refuses to participate as required, this can negatively impact his or her ability to secure custody rights.
- “Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect . . . .” Finally, just as child abuse is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, so is one parent falsely accusing another of child abuse or neglect. If your spouse has lodged false accusations against you, this could impact the determination of what is in your children’s “best interests” under Arizona law.
What are Your Options for Establishing Child Custody in Your Divorce?
When applying these factors during the divorce process, spouses have a significant amount of flexibility to develop a child custody plan that meets Arizona’s legal requirements while also suiting their personal desires and day-to-day needs. The more spouses are willing to work together, the more options they will have for developing a mutually agreeable (and legally compliant) custody plan.
From traditional custody and visitation arrangements to co-parenting, there are many options when it comes to establishing a child custody arrangement that satisfies Arizona’s “best interests” requirement. To discuss your options in confidence, schedule a free initial consultation with our divorce lawyer in Phoenix at Weingart Family Law today.
Schedule a Free Initial Consultation at Weingart Family Law
Do you have questions about establishing child custody during the divorce process in Arizona? If so, we encourage you to contact our child custody lawyer for a free initial consultation. To schedule an appointment in Phoenix or Tempe, please call 480-542-0099 or send us your contact information online today.