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Child custody in Arizona divorce: A matter of the child’s best interest


Arizona law requires that the child’s best interest be the overarching concern in all child custody matters.

Fighting over the custody of your children when you are already filled with stress from the divorce process (and whatever led up to it on a personal level) is one of the toughest experiences anyone can go through. When you are already at a difficult place, you have to gather your strength and resolve to advocate for a custody arrangement that will be in your children’s best interests when all is said and done and the divorce is finally in the rear-view mirror.

The legal process

Custody matters will either be decided in an agreement between the parents after negotiation (or the use of alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation or collaboration) or, if the parents cannot agree, by the judge assigned to the marriage dissolution in Arizona state court. It is often better to resolve custody by agreement since you have input and control over its outcome – even with some compromise – and because you cannot predict with certainty what the judge would do.

If you face this process, it is smart to retain an experienced Arizona family law attorney as early as possible for guidance, education and strategic advice. Having a skilled legal negotiator on your side can help to protect your rights and promote a fair agreement with your soon-to-be ex. If you end up in court, a knowledgeable divorce lawyer will fight for your rights and the best interests of your children.

Family lawyer Michael A. Johnson of the Law Office of Michael A. Johnson, P.C., represents Tucson-area clients in child custody and related matters.

Arizona custody basics

Arizona, like other states, requires that issues of child custody in a dissolution of marriage or other appropriate proceeding be resolved in the child’s best interests. Specifically, Arizona law directs the judge to consider “all factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being,” including 11 specific things:

  • The parent-child relationship
  • The “interaction and interrelationship” between the child and the parents, siblings and other significant people
  • The child’s “adjustment to home, school and community”
  • The child’s wishes if he or she is “of suitable age and maturity”
  • Everyone’s mental and physical health
  • Each parent’s willingness to foster the child’s contact with the other parent
  • Whether a parent has misled the court
  • Domestic violence or child abuse
  • Whether a parent has used coercion or duress to exact a custody agreement
  • Whether a parent has not complied with required divorce and parenting classes
  • Whether a parent has a conviction for falsely reporting child abuse or neglect

Aspects of custody include:

  • Legal decision-making: also referred to as legal custody, legal decision-making is the power to make major life decisions for the child like those concerning education, religion, health and “personal care”; may be held jointly by both parents or solely by just one; if a parent gets no legal decision-making power, he or she is entitled to reasonable parenting time unless it would endanger the child’s “physical, mental, moral or emotional health”
  • Parenting time: the schedule of time when each parent has access to the child; this can vary widely from one parent providing the primary residence and the other seeing the child during some weekend, evening and holiday time to a more equal division

This article is a broad introduction to Arizona child custody. Your legal counsel can answer your specific questions and advise you about how to pursue your goals in divorce and child custody matters.

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