It some cases, it may be best for one parent to have sole custody of their child, especially if the other parent has been involved in serious domestic issues such as child abuse or neglect. If you are seeking sole child custody in Arizona, you’ll want to understand our state’s child custody laws and how to best proceed with the custody process. Here’s what you need to know.
What Does Sole Child Custody Mean In Arizona?
There are two types of child custody: legal custody, which pertains to a parent’s legal power to make decisions for the child, and physical custody, which refers to the parent with whom the child physically stays. In Arizona, legal custody is now termed “legal decision-making authority,” and physical custody is now called “parenting time.”
Having full custody means either having sole legal decision-making authority or having sole physical custody of your child. It is also possible to get both.
If you have sole legal decision-making authority, you alone can legally decide for your child’s education, healthcare, religious upbringing, spending, and the like.
If you have been granted sole physical custody, your child gets to live with you full-time. The court, however, may still grant visitation rights to the other parent if deemed appropriate. Arizona law also refers to visitation as “parenting time.”
How Can I Get Sole Child Custody of My Kids In Arizona?
Whether you want full legal custody or full physical custody (or both), there are two paths to getting a child custody order.
One is by formally agreeing with the other parent. If both of you are able to come to an agreement, you can write a parenting plan together that clearly establishes who gets full custody. This document is then submitted for court approval. Bear in mind that the court’s main standard is the child’s “best interests” – the best conditions for the child’s welfare and growth. Use this standard as a guide for crafting your parenting plan.
Once the court approves your agreed plan, it will then become the official child custody arrangement.
In the majority of cases, however, parents are unable to fully agree with each other regarding child custody. If this is your situation, you can choose to go to court yourself and request sole custody.
The procedure may vary from county to county. Here in Maricopa County, these are the steps to file for child custody:
- Go to the Clerk of Superior Court and ask to file a “Petition to Establish Legal Decision-Making (legal custody), Parenting Time and Child Support.” They will give you a packet of forms which you need to fill out. (This packet is also downloadable online.) File your completed paperwork and pay the required filing fees.
- Serve the papers to the other parent. “Service” means delivering the documents to the other party to notify them of your petition. You must follow a certain procedure to properly serve the papers (you can find instructions here).
- Await the response from the other parent. They have 20 days to respond if they were served within the state, or 30 if they were out of state. If there is no response, you can ask the court for a “default judgment,” which will likely grant everything you asked for in your child custody petition.
- If the other parent does respond in time and disputes your petition, the court will schedule a hearing. Here, you may present evidence supporting your child custody claim. If this satisfies the judge, you may be granted the child support court order you have been seeking.
Increasing Your Chances Of Getting Sole Child Custody
Family courts prefer that a child grow up with both parents. This is why a vast majority of child custody cases result in joint custody between parents, not sole custody. Parents who want full custody must have a significant reason to present to the court, backed with solid evidence. Examples of significant reasons are:
- Domestic violence from the other parent (the incident could be experienced or simply witnessed by the child)
- Child abuse inflicted by the other parent
- The other parent’s drug or alcohol abuse
- The other parent’s criminal history
- The other parent’s mental health issues that may harm their relationship with the child.
Note that the judge will examine the many factors and scenarios around each custody case, so the issues above may not necessarily give you full custody. For example, if the other parent was convicted of a crime but one that is not likely to affect child upbringing (maybe a ‘light’ crime like trespassing), the court may still give this parent some parenting time rights.
To help ensure your claim for full custody, make sure to build a very convincing case to present in court. Gather all evidence showing you as the primary caregiver and the better parent throughout your child’s life – evidence such as your child’s school records, medical records, daily schedules, and even photographs.
You can also compile evidence that shows the other parent as a much less suitable guardian. This may include police reports of domestic incidents, criminal records, bills and receipts of the parent’s spending, and family counseling records if you have sought professional help for domestic problems your ex has caused.
Consult with an Experienced Lawyer
Child custody law and especially attempting to get sole custody of a child is very complex. It is best to have a good child custody attorney on your side, especially if your child’s welfare and safety is at stake. We at Goldman Law are experienced in complicated family law issues, call us at (602) 698-5520 to see how we can help you.