Many parents express confusion or misconceptions over how the family court decides legal decision-making (‘LDM’) and parenting time for children. In recent years, our Arizona Legislature has approved rules to guide judges through these difficult decisions. Since then, the Arizona Court of Appeals has clarified the law, too. This information below, while not meant as legal advice, explains these policies so you can decide how to best serve your children. As always, though, you should try to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney for good advice.
The State of Arizona values each parent’s involvement with their children. That includes the benefits of raising a son or daughter and all the hard work that comes with it! Unless someone has persuasive evidence suggesting differently, the family court will usually give both a mother and father the equal chance to make child-related decisions together, such as counseling, medical treatment, and education. The court also tries hard to create a child access schedule that fairly distributes parenting time. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 25-103(B) and 25-403.02(B); see also Barron v. Barron, 246 Ariz. 580, 585, 443 P.3d 977 (App. 2018); Woyton v. Ward, 247 Ariz. 529, 531, 453 P.3d 808 (App. 2019).
This even-handed outlook is preferred, but not absolute. Sometimes there are complications, such as mental illness, substance abuse, abandonment, physical neglect, family violence, undermining a child’s relationship with the other parent, controlling or psychologically abusive behavior, an inability to respectfully co-parent, demonstrated lack of interest in a child’s needs, or other criminal conduct. There may be other concerns, too. These issues can sometimes hinder a normal parenting time schedule or shared legal decision-making, and justify deviating from the normal practice. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 25-403(A) and 25-403.01(B); see also Gonzalez-Gunter v. Gunter, No. 1 CA-CV 19-0165-FC (Ariz. App. July 23, 2020). The family court is willing to consider these problems, but you should prepare your evidence carefully, with witnesses or exhibits, if you intend to make such a serious claim.
Above all else, you should make sure you place the children’s unique circumstances ahead of any adult’s personal wants or needs (including your own) when you speak to each other or the judge, or file papers in your family court case.