Arizona Child Custody Laws

By: Alex Lindvall

Many of our clients have questions about how the courts will determine child custody during a divorce proceeding.  This article is meant to give you a broad overview of Arizona’s approach to child custody.

Child Custody Generally: “The Best Interests of the Child” 

Arizona, like most States, determines child custody by looking to “the best interests of the child.”  A.R.S. § 25-403 gives the court a non-exhaustive list of factors for the judge to consider.  Those factors include:

  • The relationship between the child and each parent;
  • The ability of the child to adjust to a new home, school, or community;
  • The child’s preference; and
  • The availability of each parent.

Section 25-403, moreover, requires the judge to consider “all relevant factors,” meaning that the judge has very broad discretion in awarding child custody.  Child custody cases are very fact-specific, and the child’s “best interests” are often difficult to judge.

Joint Custody

Having both parents in a child’s life is often in his or her best interests; therefore, joint custody is preferred.  When determining whether joint custody is appropriate, the courts will look to the degree of conflict between the parents.  If the parents are unable to be civil around each other, then joint custody will likely not be in the child’s best interests.

Legal vs. Physical Custody 

There are two types of custody that may be awarded to a parent: legal custody and physical custody.  Legal custody gives the parent the ability to make important decisions on behalf of the child.  Physical custody refers to where the child lives and day-to-day parenting tasks.

Imagine the following scenario: Parent “A” is caring, available, and has a great relationship with the child.  Parent “B” is also a good parent but lives in a different school district and has a demanding job.  The court, accordingly, awards primary physical custody to Parent A.  Parent A, however, does not believe in modern medicine; Parent A thinks all doctors are “quacks” and that hospitals only make people more sick.  So, while Parent A might be suitable on a day-to-day basis, giving Parent A legal custody would likely not be in the child’s best interests.  This is an example of where one parent might have physical custody, while the other parent maintained legal custody.

This article is a very condensed synopsis of Arizona’s child custody laws.  Divorce and custody proceedings can often be stressful and complicated.  If you have further questions about Arizona Family Law, please contact the family law attorneys at Oracle Law Group today.