Child Custody in Arizona

Child Custody Law Firm in Scottsdale and Phoenix, AZ

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Child Custody is the most emotional and stressful aspect of Arizona family law. Understanding the laws and knowing how the court determines custody will help you throughout the custody process and beyond. Our attorneys have handled hundreds of custody cases and we have the experience to help you protect your children and get the outcome you want.

Arizona’s child custody laws and the legal terminology can be confusing. This page outlines some important aspects of Arizona’s custody laws and familiarizes you with the terminology so you can better understand the child custody laws and how they pertain to you and your children

Arizona Child Custody Laws

What You Should Know

About Parenting Plans

  • Legal Decision Making
  • Parenting Time
  • What Else?

Child Custody

What you need to know.

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Current Updates Regarding Coronavirus and Divorce and Custody in Arizona

Best Law Firm has seen new challenges while assisting families with divorce and child custody during the pandemic. Courts are open and law firms have been deemed essential services, so we are also open and exercising all safety precautions. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an attorney consultation by video or phone, please call us at 480-219-2433.

Child Custody Legal Terminology


Custody is essential everything included with raising a child. It includes: Physical Custody – “Parenting Time” authority Legal Custody – “Legal Decision-Making”

Best Interests Of A Child

The Best Interests of a Child is a standard by which a court determines what arrangements would be to a child’s greatest benefit, often used in deciding decision-making and parenting time matters and in deciding whether to approve an adoption or a guardianship.

Parenting Time

Parenting time means the schedule of time during which each parent has access to a child at specified times. Each parent during their scheduled parenting time is responsible for providing the child with food, clothing and shelter and may make routine decisions concerning the child’s care.


Visitation means a schedule of time that occurs with a child by someone other than a legal parent.

Legal Decision-Making

Legal decision-making means the legal right and responsibility to make all non-emergency legal decisions for a child including those regarding education, health care, religious training and personal care decisions. Legal decision-making means legal custody.

Sole Legal Decision-Making

Sole legal decision-making means one parent has the legal right and responsibility to make major decisions for a child.

Joint Legal Decision-Making

Both parents have the legal right and share the responsibility to make all non-emergency legal decisions for a child including education, health care, religion and personal care.

Legal Parent

Legal parent means a biological or adoptive parent whose parental rights have not been terminated. Legal parent does not include a person whose paternity has not been established pursuant to section 25-812 or 25-814.

Frequently Asked Questions About Child Custody

How long does a custody case typically last?

It depends on whether an agreement can be reached. If an agreement can be reached, it may only last a few weeks. If a case goes to trial, it typically takes nine months, and some high-conflict cases have been known to last several years.

What does ‘Child Custody’ mean in Arizona?

The term ‘custody’ refers to both parenting time and legal-decision making. Parenting time is the schedule when each parent has the children. Legal-decision making is who makes the decisions about the children. (eg. religion, school, medical, etc.)

What are the typical plans for parents who have equal parenting time?

The most common plans are week-on, week-off or a 5-2-2-5 schedule. In a 5-2-2-5 schedule, one parent has every Monday and Tuesday, the other parent has every Wednesday and Thursday, and the parents take turns having the child(ren) on the weekends (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

What is the most common outcome in a custody case?

The most common parenting plan is for the parents to share legal decision-making (each parent having an equal say) and to have equal parenting time. Arizona’s declared public policy is that each parent is to have as much time with the child as possible.

When will a judge order something other than equal parenting time and joint legal decision-making?

A judge may order something other than equal parenting time and joint legal decision-making when the judge finds such orders are in the child’s best interests. The most common reasons for a judge not doing equal parenting time and joint legal decision-making are (1) when the child’s safety is at risk, (2) a parent is abusing drugs or alcohol, (3) a parent has committed domestic violence or child abuse, (4) a parent has a history of violence, (5) a parent is emotionally abusing the child or other parent, and (6) it is not logistically possible to do 50-50 because of the distance between the parties or a parent’s work schedule.

I am not allowed to see my child right now, and I am worried about how long the case might take. What can I do?

You may want to consider filing for temporary orders. Temporary orders allow the Court to put a temporary parenting plan in place while the case is pending. Temporary orders are usually in place within six weeks of a party requesting them.

How soon can I modify a legal decision-making or parenting time order?

You have to wait at least one year from the Court’s ruling. You will also need to show the Court “a material change of circumstance affecting the child’s best interest” to qualify for a modification. That means you must show the Court the something important changed after the last time you were in court.

I find it really difficult to even speak with the other parent. It seems every conversation we have turns into a big fight. What can I do?

This is a situation we encounter frequently. Family courts and attorneys have developed many tools to help reduce the conflict between parents. This can include restricting communication to be only through email and only regarding the children. In some cases, it may even be advisable to use Propercomm (a service that reviews emails between parents for appropriate content) or Our Family Wizard (an app that includes many tools aimed at helping reduce conflict between parents). It may also be useful to order co-parenting counseling, individual counseling, or have the parents take a high-conflict parenting class.

I am concerned that the other parent is abusing drugs or alcohol. What can I do?

You can request the Court order them to test. You will need to convince the judge that there is a need for testing. There are a variety of testing options that we can discuss with you.

The other parent and I have joint legal decision-making and cannot reach an agreement on the child’s school. What should we do?

This issue comes up frequently each summer. By then, it may be too late to get the Court to make a ruling in time for the school year (The Court would not decide which school the child attends. Rather, the Court would assign one parent legal decision-making). If you’re dealing with this issue in the summertime, your best option is probably to mediate and try to come to an agreement.

The other parent just notified they plan to move out of state with our child. What should I do and what will happen?

You should file a Petition to Prevent Relocation with the Court. Most judges are reluctant to let one parent move out of state with the child, and most relocation requests are denied for that reason. But the Court will look at the facts of each situation, and we have seen many cases where a Court felt relocation was in a child’s best interests.

What happens when stepparents get involved?

Frequently, we see conflict over the stepparent’s role in the child’s life. Co-parenting and good communication between the parents can lessen that conflict. Certainly, we have seen cases where it would be inappropriate or unsafe for a child to be around a stepparent. In those cases, it is necessary to act to keep them away from a child. But, in our experience, most stepparents are a positive influence in a child’s life. If you are concerned about a stepparent’s role, we are happy to meet with you to discuss your options.

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“Ms. Best resolved my spousal maintenance issue with my husband and his attorney in two hours. She accomplished what the lawyers could not do in 9 months of litigation. I am very grateful for her help.”

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“We hired this law firm to represent our son in trying to get joint custody. They did a fabulous job keeping us informed as to their plan each week.  I have to say I do not think my son would be enjoying his daughter right now with his 50/50 custody if it was not for this law firm.”

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9383 E Bahia Dr STE 100, Scottsdale, AZ 85260