As the best child custody lawyers in Gilbert AZ we often get asked, “what is parenting time in Arizona?” Today, I want to talk to you about the topic of child custody and specifically about the issue of parenting time, or parenting plans. In Arizona, when a couple gets divorced, one of the issues that comes up inevitably, obviously, is: “what do we do with the kids? How much time do each of us get to spend with the child now that we’re going to be divorced and we’re going to have effectively two households?” Arizona law, fortunately, is very attuned to the fact that the courts favor both parents being equally involved in their children’s lives and really what the law requires family courts to do is adopt parenting plans that will maximize both parent’s time with the children. That’s really what the wording of the statute is.
Now, for a lot of years there wasn’t a really a definition as to what maximize both parents time with the children meant. Most family courts interpreted that as, “hey, we’ve got to adopt a 50/50 parenting plan, and that really is what I think the legislature intended when they put that language in there. Recently, some cases have come down from the court of appeals telling family court judges that they really do need to prefer equal parenting plans. So the good news, and I think this is specially true for fathers, that we are not a state that favors one parent over the other when it comes to spending time with the children. Courts are going to look for equal parenting plans in almost every case. Now, at the end of the day, whatever that parenting plan’s going to be, it still has to be in the best interest of the child and there’s a number of factors that the court has to go through to determine what’s in the best interests of the child. So you may have a parent who doesn’t want to do 50/50 for a variety of reasons, and in those cases it becomes the burden or the responsibility of the parent who wants to do something other than equal parenting time to provide evidence to the court to show why something other than equal parenting time is in that child’s best interest.
So what kind of evidence would would demonstrate that? Well, it’s probably the stuff that you can imagine. A lot of times it’s bad stuff. Alcohol abuse, drug abuse, obviously domestic violence, criminal behavior. All of those things can be factors that a court can look at, but there’s also some practical aspects to this discussion. So, for example, let’s say a couple is getting divorced. One parent is living in Mesa, the other parent moves out and they decide for whatever reason to move clear across town and live in Glendale. Well, the Phoenix valley is huge and if you have a school aged child going to school in Mesa, it becomes kind of impractical for that parent to now share equal parenting time, because the distance going to and from Glendale to Mesa, you know, a couple times a week to get the child to school becomes really difficult. So courts will look at things like distance between the parents homes. Sometimes they’ll look at work schedules. There’s a number of factors that the court can look at, but the important takeaway is that where every judge is going to start is from a 50/50 standpoint.
Now, let’s talk about this in practical terms. I recently had a case involving a father. His name was Carl, and Carl and his wife decided to get divorced and the mother, his soon to be ex-wife, decided that since she was a stay at home mom, it was her right to have the child with her most of the time. She felt that she needed to have the child during the school week and at best, Carl could see his daughter on weekends and maybe for dinner once a week. And candidly, that kind of used to be the default parenting plan for dads in divorces. Carl didn’t like the idea of not being able to see his daughter except for on weekends. He wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. He had a pretty normal work schedule, so there wasn’t anything in his work schedule that would prohibit him from sharing equal time with the child. He didn’t move far away from wife, and so we had to go to court over this issue. Mother was just convinced that, because she was the mom, she should get most of the time. So we went to court and after putting on the evidence, the court looked at the situation and said no.
This is a case where Carl should get equal time with the child. And I don’t think mother was particularly happy about that, and believe it or not, I’m sympathetic to that. I understand how hard it is for any parent, both mothers and fathers, to be faced with the prospect of not being able to spend as much time as they had been with their children. I think educating people to help them understand how Arizona law works when it comes to parenting time, hopefully it helps soften the blow. There are certainly cases where equal parenting time does not make sense. It really doesn’t. If there’s a parent who has a significant drug or alcohol issue, that’s not safe for the child and they shouldn’t be exercising equal parenting time. And in some cases, the judge can actually order supervised parenting time in those cases. Every case is different. I often tell clients or prospective clients that family law cases are like snowflakes. Every one’s a little bit different. The facts of your case are going to determine what a court might do. So, as attorneys who have done family law for more than a decade, we have a lot of experience handling these issues for both moms and dads. We can look at your case, look at the particular facts and give you advice on what we think a court might do in your particular instance, and we would invite you to come down to the law offices of Kevin Jensen and sit down with one of our experience attorneys to help understand what your rights are and what’s going to be best in your case.
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