One of the most difficult changes for people to balance after a divorce is how to allocate parenting time and custody. In an ideal situation, the parents would be able to fairly divide up parenting time, so that each parent is able to spend quality time with their child, and continue to be an important part of the child's life. However, in many cases, one parent may resent the other for reasons unrelated to the child, and use that as their motivation to try and deprive the other parent of their parenting time rights.
Under Arizona law, the court shall determine custody in every custody order. A court-approved parenting time order will designate one parent as the custodial parent, or designate time periods where each parent is the custodial parent. The custodial parent is the parent who has custody of the child. This may affect the physical location of the child, residence of the child, and how parenting responsibilities are divided. However, a parent with sole custody of the child cannot unilaterally alter the parenting and visitation rights of the non-custodial parent.
The best interests of the child are taken very seriously in Arizona divorce cases. If the court believes that the best interests of the child are not adequately represented by the parents, they may appoint an attorney to represent the child. If a divorcing couple has a minor child together, they must both attend a mandatory education program about how divorce can impact children. Even if there is no dispute about custody and parenting time, both parents must attend.
The court begins with a set of general rules and assumptions about parenting time, with the assumption that both parents are fit, desire an ongoing relationship with the child, and are able to carry out a childcare plan. Generally, both parents are entitled to access information and records for the child's medical care and school records. The parents should share work and phone contact information, and parents should encourage phone or mail communication with the other parent on a regular basis. Parents should not discuss marital problems with the child, fight in front of the children, or try and turn the child against the other parent.
In determining how legal decision-making and parenting time is allocated between parents, the court hears testimony and evidence from both sides, as well as any other relevant information, to determine what plan would be in the best interests of the child.
There are number of factors that the court considers in making these decisions, including:
The relationship between the parent and child;
Parent’s willingness and ability to perform child care duties;
Level of hostility between the parents;
Parent’s work schedules;
The child’s age;
Interactions and relationships between the child and any siblings;
The wishes of the child; and
Mental and physical health of all individuals.
In determining how legal decision-making and parenting time is allocated between parents, the court hears testimony and evidence from both sides, as well as any other relevant information. The court may then issue orders that spell out the parenting time, legal decision-making and other responsibilities between the parents.
Guidelines for Parenting Time Plans
The courts may start with basic guidelines for parenting time, depending on the age of the child. For infants up to 6 months old, basic access includes brief but frequent visits during the week, with a recommended two hour visit, three times a week, later adding another four hour visit during the weekend. In Pima County, the Courts tend to get as close to 50/50 time sharing of children even at the youngest ages.
While in the past for children up to three-years-old, basic access may include a Saturday, increasing to alternate weekends, and a mid-week visit, now the courts often grant a 5-2-2-5 parenting time schedule. Under this plan, the children are with one parent for Monday and Tuesday, with the other parent Wednesday and Thursday, and then alternate weekends. In this way, the child is not away from either parent for more than 5 days at a time. However, as children enter junior high school and beyond, increased consideration should be given to the child's activities, and a more flexible parenting time schedule is recommended, oftentimes moving to a week on/week off schedule between parents.
Vacation time can be difficult to balance with parenting time plans. The court does not recommend keeping a child under the age of three away from the primary parent for more than a week at a time. After that, it is not recommended they are deprived of contact with the parent for more than two consecutive weeks. For children over the age of 6, vacation access may be extended up to 10 weeks, but should generally be in the range of two to four weeks long. Each parent should be afforded two weeks of uninterrupted out-of-town travel, with the other parent allowed equal access parenting time.
In cases of long-distance parenting access, parenting time plans may be more complicated. For school-age children, access during the summer is recommended, from four to 10 weeks, with consideration of the child's other activities. Additional access is recommended during the school year, especially during extended weekends.
Violating Parenting Time Orders
Violating court orders regarding parenting time and custody can result in criminal charges, or a modification of parenting time for the parent in violation. This may occur when one parent does not drop off the child at the predetermined time and place, or if the parent makes the child unavailable by going out of town.
Self-help remedies are not recommended when there are disputes between the parents. If the parents want to make any changes to custodial orders, they should go through the official legal channels to avoid contempt of court orders or criminal charges.
Making Changes to Court Custody Orders
Of course, parenting time may change over time as the child grows up and their individual needs change and evolve. Orders for decision-making and parenting time may be modified by the court based on the best interests of the child.
Tucson Parenting Time Attorneys
At West, Longenbaugh and Zickerman, our Tucson divorce attorneys are here to help individuals and families throughout Tucson. We will work with you and advise you on your options for custody and parenting time, in the best interests of you and your children. Our team of lawyers are committed to addressing the individual needs of each of our clients and their families and can assist you with all aspects of child custody.