When a divorce involves minor children, legal decision-making may very well be one of the biggest issues to resolve. Legal decision-making refers to each parent’s authority to make significant, non-emergency decisions on behalf of a minor child. The concept itself may be more commonly recognized as legal custody. Up until January 2013, the term “legal custody” described this concept. In 2013, new Arizona legislation changed the language to today’s term.
Joint vs. Sole Legal Decision-Making
- Do the parents agree to joint legal decision-making?
- Is any lack of agreement to joint decision-making unreasonable? Is it influenced by issues unrelated to the child’s best interest?
- How well are the parents able to cooperate in decision-making?
- Is joint legal decision-making logistically possible?
The parents must be able to effectively co-parent for joint legal decision-making to realistically work. As a result, judges will carefully consider these factors determining what to order. When a judge orders that the parties have joint legal decision-making, they may also order that one of the parties or a neutral third-party has final decision-making authority over particular subject matter when the parties disagree. A court may grant final decision-making authority for education, religion, health care, and personal care decisions, among other subjects.
In Relation to Parenting Time
Many people confuse the concepts of legal decision-making and parenting time. In fact, the Arizona legislature foresaw this confusion and worked to address it. They did this by enacting a law regarding both decision-making and parenting time. It states that in general, both parties exercise parenting time even when one is the sole legal decision-maker. The legislature explicitly prohibited a sole legal decision-maker from denying the other parent his or her court-ordered parenting time. In this way, the legislature tries to prevent a parent with sole decision-making authority from abusing it. Arizona law also provides that orders of joint decision-making authority do not necessarily mean that parents exercise equal parenting time. Specifically, both parents have equal authority to make decisions on behalf of their child without having equal parenting time.
At Phelps & Moore, our attorneys can assist you in establishing legal decision-making and parenting time for your minor children. Call (602) 788-2089 to schedule a free 30-minute initial consultation today.
The information and views contained in this posting are not legal advice, nor do they form an attorney-client relationship.