Child Legal Decision Making
When parents in Arizona separate or divorce, a plan for sharing time with the children, and for deciding how important decisions impacting the children’s well-being, must be made. The parties may reach an agreement on their own, or with the assistance of the Court of Conciliation, or through the negotiation of their attorneys. If this is not possible, these matters may become an issue at trial. Agreements regarding children should be in writing and submitted to the court for approval. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the court will hear testimony at a hearing or trial and enter orders relating to who will make major decisions for the children, how much time the children will spend with each parent and other issues related to the well-being and care of the children. In rare instances, the court can award parenting time or legal decision-making to a person other than a parent.
Legal decision-making is defined as the authority to make major, non-emergency decisions for the children regarding for educational issues, healthcare, religious upbringing, and major personal care decisions. Legal decision-making may be shared between both parents, known as joint legal decision-making, or held by one parent alone, known as sole legal decision-making. If parents have joint legal decision-making, they must make major decisions together. If a parent has sole legal decision-making, that parent alone has the authority to determine these issues for the children. An order of joint legal decision-making does not necessarily mean that the parties have equal parenting time. Where there has been substantial domestic violence, a court may decline to award joint legal parenting.
Parenting time is defined as the amount of time the children spend with each parent on a day-to-day basis. Frequently, there will also be a schedule to address the division of important holidays, vacation time, school breaks, and a summer schedule. Sample parenting plans that can be very helpful and informative for parents can be found at: http://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/31/ParentingTime/PPWguidelines.pdf In certain circumstances, the court may order supervised parenting time between a parent and a child, and may place certain restrictions on the parenting time. If appropriate, the court can order drug or alcohol testing as a condition of continued parental contact with the children.
In Arizona, a parenting time order or legal decision-making order may be modified following its entry if certain factors are met. You should meet with an attorney to review your case if you believe a modification of legal decision-making or parenting time is appropriate.
Court actions can be filed if a parent is failing to comply with a parenting time or legal decision-making order and a parent needs the court’s assistance to have a parent adhere to the terms of the order.