Major changes are coming to the custody statutes effective January 1, 2013. The new statutes will replace the term “custody” with the term “legal decision making” in the Arizona Revised Statutes title 25. Thus, we now have either a parent designated as the “sole legal decision maker”, or, the parties are designated to have “joint legal decision making” authority. Regardless of whether it is sole or joint 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, healthcare, religious training, and personal care decision. The addition of “personal care decisions” has not been defined and will need some refinement. Will this cover the issue of whether a child receives a tattoo? What type of hair cut the child will have? What type of cloths the child may or may not wear? These are issues that will have to be dealt with in the future. The scope and extent of this phrase is unknown, and it is unknown whether or not and to what extent a sole decision marker can dictate to the other parent for “personal care decision” regarding the child. It must also be noted that parenting time for the parent not awarded sole decision making authority, is defined as the right to have the child physically with that parent, and the right and responsibility to make during that placement, routine daily decisions regarding the child’s care, consistent with the major decisions made by the party, having sole legal decision making authority. The definition of what is “routine” verses what is “major” will also be something that needs to be addressed in the future.
Following a decision as to whether or not the Court is going to award sole decision making authority to one parent or award both parents joint decision making authority, the Court then addresses the parenting time for each parent. Regardless of whether a sole or joint legal decision making decision is made by the Court, the statutes provide that each parent is “entitled to reasonable parenting time to ensure that the minor child has substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the parent. The exception, of course, would be if the Court found that parenting time would endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional heath.
However, note the language used, i.e. substantial, frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact with the parent. Arguments could be made that what this means is that each parent should have equal parenting time, or something close to equal parenting time, in order to meet this definition. Again, this is an area that will have to be addressed through the courts in the future.
All of the above is a brief summary of coming changes. In the future, additional blogs will be dedicated to this major change in the Arizona custody statutes.
Should you find yourself currently in a divorce, paternity, child custody, or custody and parenting time modification proceeding before the Maricopa County Superior Court, or if you are have issues regarding any of those issues or any other family law issue, including the receipt or payment of child custody and/or spousal maintenance, please do not hesitate to contact our office and schedule a free 30 minute consultation to discuss same with the attorney.