How does Arizona determine custody?

family law services, divorce

Arizona statute defines custody as legal decision-making, but what does that mean and how do courts determine who gets what legal decision-making? See also A.R.S. § 25-401.

What does legal decision-making mean?

What is traditionally considered custody in other states, the state of Arizona uses terms such as “legal decision-making” and “parenting time”. Legal decision-making is the legal right of a parent to make all non-emergency decisions for the child(ren). 

What does legal decision-making authority grant?

Essentially it grants authority to care for a minor child, It gives the parent the legal authority to make decisions that are in the best interests of the minor – including religious choice, educational choice, healthcare, personal care and extracurricular activities the child will be involved in.

What are the different types of legal decision making?

Joint Legal Decision-Making:  

Neither parents’ rights are superior to that of the other parent. Both parents have the authority to make decisions regarding the health, education, welfare and religious decisions together regarding the minor child(ren). 

Joint Legal Decision-Making with Final Say: 

This requires both parents to communicate regarding the best interests of the child(ren), but designates one parent with superior decision-making authority over the other parent. This means both parents collaborate to make decisions regarding the minor child(ren), however, in the event that the parents can’t come to an agreement, the parent with final decision-making authority has the ability to make the final decision in the event of a dispute. 

Sole Legal Decision-Making: 

This means one parent is designated with the Legal Decision-Making Authority to make major decisions within the best interests of the child(ren). This does not mean the parent with sole decision-making authority does not have to keep the other parent informed, can prevent them from attending medical appointments, school functions, religious functions, etc., it simply allows one parent to make decisions.

How do Arizona courts determine which parent should have Sole Legal Decision-Making Authority?

  • Domestic violence – if one of the parents has been convicted of domestic violence, they have the burden of compiling evidence and proving to the court they are not a physical, mental or emotional risk to the children
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Sex offenses
  • Murder or other violent crimes, especially against the other parent
  • Under Arizona law – at Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) § 25-403(A) – Arizona courts are required to award legal decision-making and parenting time “in accordance with the best interests of the child.” 

How are the Best Interests of the Child determined?

This is determined by factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being. A.R.S. § 25-403. These factors include, but are not limited to the following:

1. The past, present, and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.

2. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s parent or parents, the child’s siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest. 

3. The child’s adjustment to home, school and community. 

4. If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the wishes of the child as to legal decision-making and parenting time. 

5. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved. 

6. Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other parent. 

This factor does not apply if the court determines that a parent is acting in good faith to protect the child from witnessing an act of domestic violence or being a victim of domestic violence or child abuse.

7. 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. 

8. Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse.

9. The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time. 

10. Whether a parent has completed the required parent education class. 

11. Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect. When the parents of a minor child cannot agree on a plan for legal decision-making and/or parenting time, the court is required to make specific findings on the record about each of these factors – assuming they are relevant to the particular case – as well as the reasons why the judge’s decision is consistent with the child’s best interests. Any parent who proposes a parenting plan with the hope of being granted a particular legal decision-making and parenting time arrangement should remember that the legal standard that the court will use when it determines which parent(s) should make major decisions for the child and with which parent(s) the child should live is “the best interests of the child.”

Wrapping it all up

When contemplating a divorce with children, or a Paternity action, the Arizona courts will always focus on the child’s best interest, and how the adults in that child’s life impact that interest. Arizona law presumes that each parent should have equal right to visit with, and participate in the life of their children, unless there exists a reason that doing so would not be in the child’s best interest.

At Heins Law, P.C. we strive every day to ensure our clients and their children are protected, honored, and treated with respect. We fight for you with integrity, as if you were our mothers/fathers, brothers/sisters, wife/children — as if we were going through your life situation.

If you or someone you know is facing a Family Law matter, reach out to us today by registering for your Free Consultation here:


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