What you need to know about legal custody in Arizona

Back in 2013, Arizona adopted new legislation that places an emphasis on both parents playing active roles in the development of their children. This represents a shift in the way that many family courts previously viewed many child custody arrangements. The language in the new law focuses on maximizing the amount of time each parent can spend with his or her children. The law also prevents family courts from considering the gender of either the parents or the children involved when making child custody determinations.

This development holds special significance if you are concerned about the legal custody of your child. Legal custody is really about the parent's ability to make certain legal decisions on behalf of their children. For example, decisions regarding whether a child will participate in certain religious observances or undergo certain medical procedures can only be decided by a parent with sole legal custody or by both parents with joint legal custody. With both parents now expected to receive nearly equal physical custody of a child, it may be more difficult for a court to determine legal custody disputes.

Typically, a family law court will grant joint legal decision-making authority to both parents. This means that neither parent holds a veto power over the other and the two must come to an agreement when making legal decisions for their children. However, a court may consider several factors when those parties can't agree. Generally, the court is going to do whatever is in the child's best interests.

One of the factors a court may consider is how a legal decision might affect the child's relationship with their other parent. The court may also consider how those decisions may affect the child's adjustment with regards to his or her school and community. In some cases where a child is of sufficient maturity and age, a court may actually ask the child for his or her own opinion regarding the matter.

This is why having legal representation during these disputes can sometimes prove helpful. Your attorney can advocate on your behalf as to why a certain decision is in your child's best interests. For example, your attorney might argue how your desire to enroll your child in a different school would not interfere with his or her current relationship with the other parent while also enhancing your child's educational development.

Source: Arizona State Legislature, "25-403. Legal decision-making; best interests of child," accessed May. 11, 2015

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