How is Child Custody Determined in Arizona?

In Arizona, the Courts are required to determine whether parents are to have joint custody or sole custody when the parents file for an Arizona divorce or file a paternity action (where the parents were never married).  The Court also has to make these determinations when a parent has asked the Court to modify the custody or parenting time orders.

Joint custody in Arizona means that the parents jointly make important decisions about such things as education, health and religion.  Sole custody means one parent makes these decisions on his/her own.  Parental access (how much each parent sees the children) is a different matter.  However, both the custody and the parental access orders have to be based on what is in the best interests of the children.

The Court looks at a number of factors in determining the best interests of the children.  The law (A.R.S. § 25-403) sets forth some of those factors.  They include:

    *The wishes of the children and the parents

    *Which parent has been the primary caretaker
    *Which parent is more likely to allow “frequent and meaningful”
    contact with the other parent
    *The health (mental and physical) of all involved

The Court also has certain restrictions on awarding joint custody where there has been domestic violence and some drug related convictions.

Parents are encouraged to reach their own agreement through mediations for custody and parental access.  After all, who knows what is in the best interest of children better than their parents?  Further, parents who work together in crafting a custody and access plan generally create a framework for co-parenting that allows their children to have happier, calmer and more secure childhoods.  Battling parents, by contrast, often create problems for their children that last well into their children’s adulthood.

A great way to fashion a custody and access plan is through mediation.  Whereas litigation tends to make parents more adversarial and angry, mediation is a process that encourages a positive co-parenting relationship.  In mediation, a mediator, who is neutral, helps the parents reach agreements and jointly determine what is best for their children.   The parents can then simply submit their proposal to the Court, which almost always approves such agreements.  Everybody wins; especially the children.

Alona M. Gottfried is a mediator and attorney in Arizona.  If you have questions about mediation or family law, she can be reached at: 480-998-1500 or  This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be legal advice.  See a legal professional before making legal decisions.

Simmons & Gottfried, PLLC
a Professional Limited Liability Company
8160 E. Butherus Dr., Suite #7
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Phone: 480-998-1500
Fax:   480-998-6074

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