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When it comes to examining the best interests of a minor child or children in a divorce, legal separation or paternity matter, there are two (2) main factors the Courts in Arizona look at – parenting time and legal decision making.

Parenting time, as it is examined by the Courts in Arizona, is the actual physical time that a parent is exercising with their minor child or children, depending on the circumstances and the number of minor children, that can be subject of a divorce, legal separation or paternity proceeding.

Legal decision making is the second component of what the Courts in Arizona examine in determining the best interests of a minor child or children. Legal decision making (once called custody), is the authority of either one or both of a minor child or children’s parents to make decisions for a minor child or children regarding medical, education, religious, and some personal care and appearance decisions.

When looking at legal decision-making there are three (3) standard variations.  The first, and most common is joint legal decision making, which means that both parents are responsible for the medical, religious, education or personal care appearance decisions for the minor child or children.  Both parties have to actually communicate and reach agreement on those issues as they come up. If they cannot agree, they can utilize mediation in an effort to seek to resolve the issue(s) or ultimately have the judge consider evidence at a contested hearing or trial and then determine the best course of action specific to the issue(s) before the Court.

The second variation is joint legal decision-making with final say. This is different from joint legal decision-making in that one parent will ultimately be with veto power as it concerns these issue(s).  For example, after the parents engage in a good faith conversation about the necessity of orthodontia (medical decision) for a minor child, and the parent who does not have final say disagrees with the initiation of orthodontia, the parent with final say may initiate the orthodontia treatment for the minor child over the other parent’s objection.

The third variation is sole legal decision making authority.  Sole legal decision making authority provides one parent the exclusive authority to make all of these decisions independent of the other parent, and without the necessity of any good faith effort to reach an agreement prior. This doesn’t relieve the parent with sole legal decision-making authority of the obligation to notify the other parent about those decisions being made. But there’s no requirement for any type of a discussion or agreement to be reached before those decision are made. The parent with sole legal decision-making authority has that ultimate authority. Grants of sole legal decision-making authority while not common can be seen in those cases involving significant domestic violence or substance abuse issues committed by or seen in one parent

Part two of this article will address the options for resolving parenting time and legal decision making conflicts as they arise in a divorce, legal separation or paternity matter pending before a Court in Arizona.

Attorney Zac Spanier of the West. Longenbaugh and Zickerman Law Firm, represents clients in matters related to domestic relationships, family law,orders of protection, injunctions against harassment, criminal misdemeanors and domestic violence related matters.