I. The Best Interests Standard
In Arizona, whenever a family court makes a determination about legal decision-making (custody) or parenting time for a minor child, it is statutorily required to make orders that are in that minor child’s best interests. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-403(A). Arizona statute states that absent evidence to the contrary, it is in the best interests of a minor child “[t]o have substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing parenting time with both parents” and “[t]o have both parents participate in decision-making about the child.” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-103(B). “As a general rule equal or near–equal parenting time is presumed to be in a child’s best interests.” Woyton v. Ward, 453 P.3d 808 (App. 2019).
“The family court, however, has discretion to determine parenting time based on all the evidence before it.” Gonzalez-Gunter v. Gunter, 471 P.3d 1024, 1027 (Ariz. App. 2020). Arizona statute also states that “[i]n a contested legal decision-making or parenting time case, the court shall make specific findings on the record about all relevant factors and the reasons for which the decision is in the best interests of the child.” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-403(B) (emphasis added).
II. The Best Interests Factors
In making orders for legal decision-making (custody) and parenting time, an Arizona court must “consider all factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being . . . .” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-403(A). Arizona statute prescribes eleven (11) factors for the court to consider, including:
1. The past, present, and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.
2. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s parent or parents, the child’s siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.
3. The child’s adjustment to home, school and community.
4. If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the wishes of the child as to legal decision-making and parenting time.
5. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
6. Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other parent. (This factor does not apply if the court determines that a parent is acting in good faith to protect the child from witnessing an act of domestic violence or being a victim of domestic violence or child abuse.)
7. Whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause an unnecessary delay, to increase the cost of litigation or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or a parenting time preference to that parent.
8. Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse.
9. The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.
10.Whether a parent has complied with court’s prescribed educational program about the impact of divorce on adults and children.
11. Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect.
III. Domestic Violence & Legal Decision-Making (Custody)
In certain situations, Arizona courts might use legal presumptions to help guide the outcome of their orders. For example, “when a ‘court determines that a parent who is seeking custody has committed an act of domestic violence against the other parent, there is a rebuttable presumption that an award of custody to the parent who committed the act of domestic violence is contrary to the child’s best interests.’” Hurd v. Hurd, 219 P.3d 258, 261 (Ariz. App. 2009). “[W]hen the party that committed the act of violence has not rebutted the presumption that awarding custody to that person is contrary to the best interest of the child, the court need not consider all the other best-interest factors . . . .” Id.
If you are seeking to establish or modify court orders on parenting time or legal decision-making, Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC can help you with your case. Contact Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC to set up a consultation and to discuss your options.
Disclaimer: This publication is for educational and informational purposes only, and represents Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC’s understanding of the present state of Arizona law. This publication does not constitute legal advice or counsel, and should not be construed as a comment on the merits of any particular case. It should be noted that the laws and requirements of the State of Arizona may change at any time and that this information may not be complete or correct.