Children and Custody (Parenting Time and Legal Decision-Making)

Children and Custody (Parenting Time and Legal Decision-Making)

Child custody is now referred to as “legal decision-making and parenting time.” “Legal decision-making” refers to who makes decisions regarding the children and “parenting time” refers to where the kids live and how much time they spend with each parents. Do not be confused by some of the court forms; “legal decision-making” and “parenting time” are two separate concepts. Decisions regarding legal decision-making and parenting time will both need to be addressed.  Overall, you will need to determine how you and your spouse share decision-making, where the kids live at what times, how to split holidays, and who pays what for the children.

These details are in Chapter 4, but rest assured, they can be worked out with parenting plans and honest discussions between the parents, always keeping the needs of your children paramount in your negotiations. There are as many parenting plans as there are families; you can be creative about what works for your family, remembering that a good spirit and flexibility will ensure that your children do not become the collateral damage of your divorce.

In 2001, Maricopa County drafted Model Parenting Guidelines that are very useful (See

The court re-drafted new parenting guidelines, but they are not quite as helpful, because they omit all information about the developmental stages of children and how that interplays with their parenting schedules (see Chapter 4 and Resource Guide).

Joint Legal Custody (Joint Legal Decision-Making)

First, who makes major decisions for the children regarding their health, religion and education? Arizona law reads: “Joint legal decision-making means the condition under which both parents share legal decision-making and neither parent’s rights are superior, except with respect to specified decisions as set forth by the court or the parents in the final judgment or order.”

Sole Legal Custody (Sole Legal Decision-Making)

Sole legal decision-making means that one parent can make all the legal decisions for the child without the consent of the other parent. Some legal decision-making arrangements require the sole legal parent to consult with the other parent before decisions are made, but the sole legal parent can ultimately do what he or she thinks is in the best interest of the children.

Courts generally will consider awarding sole legal decision-making to one parent if the other parent is deemed unfit – for example, because of alcohol or drug dependency, a new partner who is unfit, or charges of child abuse or neglect. If this is your situation, you should consider seeking the advice of an attorney.

Physical Custody (Parenting Time)

Parenting time is the scheduled time the parents are with their child. A variety of parenting time schedules can be set up by a family, and the schedules can be as different as the families who use them. Some popular parenting time schedules include alternating weeks or spending weekends and holidays with one parent and weekdays with the other.

Joint Physical Custody and Primary Physical Custody (Joint Parenting Time and Primary Parenting Time)

Joint Parenting Time means that the physical residence of the child is shared by the parents in a manner that assures that the child has substantially equal contact with both parents. The actual schedules that carry out this plan can vary with each family. Primary residential parent means that a parent has the child more than 50 percent of the time.

When the child already lives primarily with one parent and has parenting time with the other, generally the parent with whom the child primarily lives will have primary parenting tme, with alternative parenting time for the other parent. Equal parenting time is not always a good idea, especially when the child is an infant or toddler. You can also decide to have a graduated parenting schedule if you have very small children at the time of your divorce. That allows the schedule to take into consideration a growing child’s changing needs.

An equal parenting time plan works best if parents live near each other, as it lessens the stress on children and allows them to maintain a somewhat normal routine. Joint parenting time has the advantages of assuring the children continuing contact and involvement with both parents and it alleviates some of the burdens of parenting for each parent.

There are, of course, disadvantages, which include shuttling children around; serious negative effects on children if there is parental non-cooperation or ill will; and the expense of maintaining two homes for the children. Nonetheless, an equal parenting time plan might be the best option for children when both parents are in agreement and want to parent cooperatively.

Decision-making Thoughts

Do not let your children become your personal battleground! If you and your spouse are good parents, everything can be worked out. These admonishments do not apply to the parents who find themselves in the ugly predicament of dealing with domestic violence, child abuse, drug abuse or mental disorders. Those parents may need to fight to protect their children. This book and these comments are not directed to those tragic situations. Contact Best Law Firm or other experienced family law attorneys if you have any questions.

Next: Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance was formerly called alimony. There seem to be more misconceptions about spousal maintenance than almost any other area of divorce. You may have heard that you will get spousal maintenance because your spouse makes more money, but it is not that simple. Spousal maintenance can be highly discretionary, depending on the judge. In...

Read More >