What Are A Child’s “Best Interests”?
In Arizona custody matters, it is common to hear discussion of a child’s best interests. All custody decisions, as well as other family law matters, will be made with a child’s best interests as the number one priority. At first glance, this statement may seem like common sense. But when put into action in real-life custody matters, a child’s best interests may not be so obvious. If parents can’t come to an agreement on an issue for themselves, the decision of what would be in a child’s best interests will ultimately be up to the judge. It will take persuasive arguments and evidence to show the judge why your suggested solution to the issue at hand will better serve the child’s needs. Our experienced Arizona family law lawyers can help you with just that. To schedule your free consultation by phone, call 480-680-9126.
A.R.S. § 25-403
Arizona law sets forth 11 factors for a child’s best interests in A.R.S. § 25-403. They are as follows:
- The past, present, and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.
- 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.
- The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community.
- If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the wishes of the child as to legal decision-making and parenting time.
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
- Which parent is more likely to allow frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact with the other parent:
- An exception applies to prevent a child from witnessing or becoming a victim of domestic violence.
- Whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause unnecessary delay, to increase the costs of litigation, or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or parenting time preference to that parent.
- Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse according to section 25-403.03.
- The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.
- Whether a parent has complied with chapter 3, article 5 of this title.
- Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect under section 13-2907.02.
Suitable Age & Maturity Level
Factor 4 of § 25-403 is the child’s own age and maturity level. In Arizona, this tends to be when the child is at least 12 years old. This isn’t a concrete number, and the child’s opinion will be given less weight if they seem to have a preference for one parent for immature purposes. For example, if a 14-year-old tells the judge they wish to be placed with one parent because they let them stay up late and eat candy for breakfast, it probably won’t be taken seriously. But if a 12-year-old tells the judge they wish to stay with one parent because their other parent constantly argues with their new partner, doesn’t get them to school on time, etc., the child’s opinion will be given more weight.
Legal Decision-Making vs. Parenting Time
Reading about Arizona family law and seeing the terms “legal decision-making” and “parenting time” come up for custody matters can be overwhelming. Arizona divides child custody into these two parts, which have fairly self-explanatory names. Legal decision-making is a parent’s right to have authority on a variety of important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. For example, a parent who has legal decision-making rights over the other parent can choose which school the child attends, which activities they attend after school, which church they attend, and which medical treatments they receive. Legal decision-making is also sometimes called legal custody. On the other hand, parenting time is the formal term for physical custody. The amount of parenting time a parent has is how much time the child spends with them.
There is a common misconception that there is a preference for the mother to be granted primary custody, including both physical and legal custody. However, Arizona courts actually have a preference to give the parents equal custody rights. A parent will need to prove that anything other than 50/50 isn’t in the child’s best interest.
It is a sad truth that a parent’s intentions behind seeking custody aren’t always pure. Physical custody is one of the main factors the court will use to determine child support obligations. That means that even if a parent doesn’t care about spending time with their child, they may fight for custody to reduce their child support obligations. The parents’ respective incomes and overall financial situations are also considered when calculating child support in Arizona.
When physical custody orders are issued, they will be part of a court-ordered parenting plan. Parenting plans are meant to clarify when each parent is supposed to have the child, how custody exchanges will be handled, and more. While the courts prefer to allow the child to have an equal relationship with both parents, this might not be feasible in earlier years. Arizona provides several examples of parenting plan guidelines, offering options for families with different needs that can be changed as the child ages. For example, if an infant is nursing, it may be more feasible for the father to have several visitations throughout the week rather than two or three-night weekends, which could be more useful for establishing a meaningful relationship once the child has gotten a little bit older.
Parenting plans aren’t just suggestions. Failure to comply with a parenting plan can have extremely serious consequences. Repeatedly showing up late to custody exchanges, missing visitations, not returning the child when promised, etc., can all show that the parent may not be overly concerned with acting in the child’s best interests. During the next custody modification hearing, the other parent can use evidence of failure to comply with the parenting plan as a reason for why they should be awarded more custody. In extreme cases, a parent who egregiously violates the parenting plan could even face kidnapping charges.
The Arizona Family Law Team You Can Trust With Custody Matters & More
Any type of family law matter can be stressful, as your relationship with your child, finances, and more can all be on the line. If parties from other states are involved, you could be forced to educate yourself not just about Arizona’s family laws but the family laws of other states as well. Countless other factors could make your case more complex than a “standard” custody proceeding when the parents are amicable. Or, you simply may want to make sure that your out-of-court agreement is executed properly to avoid problems in the future. Whatever your family law needs may be, AZ Family Law Lawyers has experience dealing with a situation just like yours or very similar. Our family law attorneys pride themselves on prompt, compassionate 3service with persistent negotiation and dedicated trial experience. We can help you achieve a custody arrangement that is in your child’s best interests, even in complicated circumstances. To get started with your free consultation, call 480-680-9126.
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