When parents split, it has a profound impact on children. Many studies suggest that some children do very well after a breakup and some do very poorly. There is a huge amount of scientific research on this subject that tells us which children do best and why. I have served on several boards dedicated to the well-being of children of split families, including the National Board of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, the Arizona Board of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, the committee for Pima County Supervised Visitation and the first Arizona Supreme Court committee to develop Model Parenting Plans. Everyone wants and needs an aggressive and effective family law lawyer but it is also important to have a lawyer with the education and experience to help you protect your children so that they are part of the group that excels after the breakup. While conflict cannot always be avoided, you should learn to “pick your battles wisely” with your children’s well-being in mind at every stage of the process. And if there is an unsafe parent in the picture, you need to do everything you can to make sure that the children are protected and we can develop strategies to do that.
Child support orders are not permanent, in fact in many cases they change several times throughout the children’s lives. Changes in income, changes in the cost of daycare, changes in the parenting time schedule and one child turning 18 are just some of the reasons that child support can change.
Many of my clients get “sticker shock” when they find out how much child support can be with preschool children. That is because usually the court has the parents share, in proportion to their income, the cost of daycare. These days child care for just one child can be over $500 a month and a parent who is earning the higher amount can be forced to pay hundreds of dollars in addition to the regular child support amount. On the other hand, anyone who has raised young children and had to go to work knows that this is a very expensive time for the children.
Another important thing about child support is the term, “past care and support.” In the section on Paternity on this website this is discussed in detail, but in a nutshell the court can go back three years and enter a judgment against the father for thousands of dollars of past child support.
As your attorney, I will always urge you to focus on what is best for the children, using my background, education and experience to steer you in the direction that has the best chance of ensuring that your children get through the process emotionally healthy and happy. I have drafted hundreds of parenting plans and will use my years of experience to help you develop a plan that will minimize conflict and maximize certitude and predictability for your children. If you have a case where there is not an agreement and the court Hass has to decide, that means you have to go to trial. I will be on your side through the whole process in advising you about likely outcomes, preparing you for testimony and helping decide what are the important things we are going to present to the court.
What Type of Custody Options Are There?
A few years ago, Arizona made a significant change in their custody statutes. In fact, the word custody is no longer used. Instead, our law refers to legal decision-making and parenting time. Most cases have some sort of shared legal decision-making, sometimes with a tie-breaking vote. In other cases, one parent is granted sole legal decision-making and is allowed to make all of the important decisions for the children if there is no agreement. As far as day-to-day parenting time, formerly referred to as physical custody, there are many flavors. The main options are equal time, close to equal time, one parent having primary residence with the other parent having weekend visitation and lastly, restricted or supervised visitation because of a parent’s deficits such as a history of drug abuse, mental health history that harms the children or a history of violence.
What Is Important to the Court in Making Custody Decisions?
The court has to take many things into consideration. Our statutes list some of the most important things that the court has to consider, and most of them involve common sense. ARS 25-403 requires the court to consider 11 specific factors. The factors the court considers most often are the past, present and future relationship between the parent and children, the children’s relationship with significant others such as siblings and extended family, the children’s adjustment to their home and school, the wishes of an older child, the mental health of the parents, each parent’s attitude about supporting the other parent’s role in the children’s lives, whether either parent has engaged in domestic violence and whether either parent has a substance abuse problem.
Does the Court Always Order 50-50 Custody and Shared Legal Decision-Making?
The simple answer is no. In some cases, a parent’s schedule is just not conducive to equal time. The court also takes very seriously a history of bad poor parenting, especially when there has been violence, drug abuse or significant mental health issues that impair that parent’s ability to parent. The court also takes into account the wishes of the child, especially if they are older.
Is a Custody Order Easy to Change?
Arizona does require that most Legal Decision-Making/Parenting Time orders stay in place for at least a year before they are changed. In certain urgent circumstances they can be changed sooner but the law reflects a policy that constant litigation is to be discouraged and is not good for children. After one year, if there have been significant changes that warrant a change, it is fairly easy to get back into court.
Supreme Court Experience
I was honored to serve on the Supreme Court Committee to Modify the Arizona Child Support Guidelines several years ago. Arizona has a pretty strict formula for calculating child support. It takes into account the income of each parent, the cost of insurance, the cost of daycare and the amount of parenting time or custody that each parent has. There are other factors the court considers such as other children from other relationships. Often times in my initial consultation I can give my client a rough idea of what child support will look like.