Seeking full child custody after a divorce in Arizona begins with filing in your county court a “Petition to Establish Child Custody, Parenting Time, and Child Support.” A spouse’s history of domestic violence, negligent parenting, or drug abuse might cause you to file. The internet makes getting started easier. In Maricopa County, for example, you can find step-by-step instructions and forms for filing here. Before doing so, however, seek an attorney’s advice. Establishing full custody is routinely a hard, difficult to navigate process after a petition has been filed.
Decision-Making Authority And Parenting Time
Starting in 2013, Arizona family courts have stopped using “child custody” as a legal term. Instead, the issue is fine-tuned into two specific matters:
- Legal decision-making authority – Formerly called “legal custody,” this refers to a parent’s right to make decisions for the child (such as on healthcare, education, religious affiliations, and the like).
- Parenting time – This is time that a parent can spend in-person with the child. It is sometimes called “physical custody,” or, for a parent who is only granted visiting time, it is what we call “visitation.”
When we talk of “sole child custody” in Arizona, we’re referring to either the parent’s legal decision-making authority or their physical custody of the child. The parent who has full decision-making rights is the only one who can make decisions for raising the child. Meanwhile, the parent with sole physical custody is the one with whom the child stays, most or all of the time. Usually, though, the other parent is still granted some parenting time in the form of visitation.
It is possible for you to win both full legal custody and full physical custody. But realistically, this is very rare, and the next section tells us why.
When Does Arizona Grant Full Child Custody?
Whether you are seeking sole legal or physical custody (or both), know that the main goal of the court is ensuring the “best interests of the child.” Arizona family courts are guided by the view that the most ideal upbringing of the child involves both parents working together, that’s why judges prefer to grant joint custody to both parents whenever appropriate.
The judge, though, will always look at the specific factors in each custody case to determine the kind of arrangements that would be best for the child. If the judge sees that your spouse or ex-spouse is not suitable to raise your child, you are likely to be granted full custody.
The court does not make this decision lightly. You will have to prove a significant reason to be granted sole child custody. Such reasons may include:
- The other parent’s history of drug or alcohol abuse
- Incidents of child abuse inflicted by the other parent
- Incidents of domestic violence from the other parent, especially those that your child witnessed
- The other parent’s mental health problems that may affect their relationship with the child
- The other parent’s criminal history.
Even when these issues are present, the court will examine how they may affect custody scenarios. For example, if your spouse was an alcoholic but has stayed clean after rehabilitation, there’s a chance that they will still be granted supervised visitation. Or, if your ex has a criminal conviction but of an unrelated nature (such as, say, trespassing), the judge may not give much weight to this crime in the custody determination.
Increasing Your Chances For Full Custody
The best way any parent can strengthen their claim for custody is to be the better parent throughout their child’s life. Gather all evidence that shows you as the everyday caregiver of your child and shows the other parent as much less suitable. Your evidence may include criminal records, police records of reported incidents, bills and receipts, and family counseling or therapy records, if any.
If your child’s safety and welfare is at stake, please don’t hesitate to enlist a child custody attorney. At Goldman Law, we take each custody case seriously, helping deserving parents obtain the best arrangements for their little one. Talk to us by calling (602) 698-5520 to see how we can help you in your Arizona custody case.