By Kelly Mendoza, Rose Law Group Family Law Attorney
The short answer to this question is, NO, it is not a mother’s state nor is it a father’s state when it comes to child custody; Arizona is a children’s state. I have had multiple conversations with potential clients and clients alike regarding custody of the children wherein that person makes the comment that “Arizona is a mother’s state.” What they mean by this is that they believe Arizona courts will almost always award legal and physical custody (or legal decision-making and primary residential parent as they are termed in Arizona) to the mother. This notion may have been true 15 years ago or more but it is simply no longer the case. In fact, Arizona statute clearly states that it is the public policy of the state that both parents participate in the decision-making for the child and both parents have substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing parenting time with the child, unless there is evidence that this would not be in the child’s best interests. (A.R.S. §25-103(B)(1 and 2)).
Most judges I have spoken to about this public policy have indicated that their interpretation is to begin with the presumption of joint legal-decision making and equal parenting time access with the children for both parents. Keep in mind however that the statute does state that evidence can be presented to argue against this public policy. In addition, the Court must consider all relevant factors in determining the best interests of the child, including the 15 factors specifically stated in the statute, so this public policy is not a guarantee that the parents will be awarded joint legal decision-making and equal parenting time with the children as the circumstances of each case are unique but it is a good starting point.
There are also provisions in Arizona statute that specify a presumption against awarding legal decision-making (joint or sole) to a parent who has committed domestic violence; who has a substance abuse problem; or who has been convicted of certain crimes against children. As you can see by these examples though, these are situations that involve extreme circumstances that will not be applicable to most cases. If you have a case that involves children and you are concerned about the ability of the other parent to share in the legal decision-making or what parenting time arrangement would be best for the children, you should consult an experienced attorney to discuss your specific matter in detail.
Without some evidence that joint legal decision-making and an essentially equal access parenting time schedule would not be in the children’s best interests then you should be prepared to be required by the court to co-parent with your children’s other parent as that is likely what will happen in your case.
To further discuss family law issues, please contact Kelly at email@example.com