In Arizona, you do not have to have a trial to determine the issue of child custody. Parties to a dissolution action, a paternity action or a modification action can sit down with a mediator and just work it out.
First, this article will provide some basic information about custody in Arizona: Parents can have joint custody or sole custody in Arizona. With joint custody, the parties make major decisions together (education, medical and religion). With sole custody, one parent makes these decisions. The Court can also award the parties joint custody, but order that one party can make the final decision, if the parties cannot reach an agreement. Joint custody does not mean equal parenting time. The decision of an appropriate parenting schedule is different than the custody determination.
The Court may not be able to enter a joint custody order, despite the parties’ agreement, in some circumstances involving domestic violence, child support and drug convictions. Even when the parties agree to joint custody, they must avow that they can work together for the child(ren)’s best interests. A typical provision in a Joint Custody Agreement states:
Father and Mother acknowledge and agree that an award of joint legal custody is in the best interests of the minor child. Neither party, as a condition of granting or withholding agreement, was influenced by duress or coercion with respect to any factors before the Court. Further, both parties agree that they can sustain an ongoing commitment to the minor child and that joint legal custody is logistically possible. Father and Mother further understand that joint custody does not necessarily mean equal parenting time.
By addressing the issue peacefully in mediation, parents are able to bypass what is often the messiest part of a divorce/paternity action – the proverbial “custody battle.” When custody is disputed, parents are putting the future of their children in the hands of a third party (the Judge), who does not know your children and who may inadvertently make a bad decision. Further, when the issue of custody is litigated, it is not unusual to have some sort of evaluation that could be expensive and intrusive. Finally, custody disputes often are accompanied by a high level of mudslinging between the parents and their friends and family. It is hard to recover any semblance of a good relationship between parents after heated litigation. As discussed in other articles on this website, children with parents that cannot get along suffer long term consequences.
Alona M. Gottfried is a family law mediator and Attorney in Arizona. If you have questions about mediation, she can be reached at: 480-998-1500 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be legal advice. See a legal professional before making legal decisions.