After a divorce or separation, the court will issue orders on how and when the parents will spend time with their children. In the best-case scenario, each parent will cooperate and share time with the children and parenting responsibilities equally.
However, even undisputed divorces, custody and parenting time can be a source of contention. Some parents may fail to comply with court orders, make parenting time complicated or even make false accusations to keep the other parent from spending time with the children.
Visitation And Parenting Time
Parenting time is generally determined by the parents, either on their own or with the help of the Conciliation Court, working with the court for approval of the parenting plan. Arizona no longer uses the term custody, using parenting time instead. While one parent may have sole or primary parenting time in rare situations, a parent with primary parenting time cannot unilaterally determine the parenting and visitation rights of the other parent.
In determining parenting time, the Arizona courts generally consider what they determine would be in the best interest of the child. This includes a general assumption that both parents are fit for caring for the child, both desire an ongoing relationship with the child, and both are able to carry out a child care plan. The court may hear testimony and evidence from both parents to determine what plan would be in the best interest of the child.
While the Arizona Supreme Court has basic guidelines for parenting time, based on children’s ages and the distance separating the children and noncustodial parent, the goal is for each parent to have equal time with the children, unless circumstances and safety prevent that.
Court-approved parenting plans differ according to the specific circumstances of each case, including making provisions for family vacations. Generally, the court does not recommend keeping a child under the age of 3 away from the primary parent for more than a week. As children get older, they should not be deprived of contact with a parent for more than two consecutive weeks. For children over the age of 6, vacations may be extended up to 10 weeks, but should generally be in the range of two to four weeks. Each parent should be afforded two weeks of uninterrupted out-of-town travel with the child.
Parenting time arrangements may be more complicated when a parent lives out of town. For school-age children, a parent may have summertime parenting time with the child, from four to 10 weeks, with consideration taken for the child’s other activities. Additional access is recommended during the school year, especially during extended weekends.
Enforcing Parenting Time
It can be extremely frustrating when a parent is making it difficult for the other parent to spend time with the child. It may start with last-minute changes to the plan, vacation schedules that conflict with parenting times or claims that the parent or child has come down with a cold. In some cases, a parent could pressure children into saying they don’t want to stay with the other parent or make up lies to cause conflict between the children and the other parent.
It may be tempting to fight fire with fire and engage in similar aggressive activities with the other parent. However, taking the law into your own hands is not only harmful to the interests of the child, it may also be illegal. If a parent is violating parenting and custody orders, the parent seeking to enforce visitation rights should take the issue to court. A judge can enforce visitation orders and impose penalties or sanctions against the parent for violating the visitation agreement.
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Do you have questions? Our lawyers at West, Longenbaugh and Zickerman P.L.L.C., are here for you. Our offices are located in Tucson, Arizona. Call our lawyers at 520-518-3781 or contact us online.
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