We are rounding out nearly 1 year since the passage of a new Arizona law that governed how much time divorcing parents are granted to spend with their children.
Senate Bill 1127, called the “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time” law, officially went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013.
Our Mesa child custody attorneys know that the new measure updated a number of old statutes pertaining to the way the courts approach the issue.
The law encourages parents to enter into joint parenting time agreements, as opposed to one parent being granted the majority of the time while the other is relegated to slots every other weekend.
It also specifically forbids the court from handing one parent a preference in custody matters solely on the basis of the parent’s or child’s gender. Of course, this remedy was specifically enacted as a means to address the court’s well-known practice of favoring the mother in matters of child custody, particularly custody disputes involving female children.
The law also goes out of its way to label custody terms in a way that more accurately reflects an equitable process.
For example, “physical custody” is no longer called “physical custody.” It is now referred to as “parenting time.” Further, “legal custody” is now referred to as “legal decision-making authority.” So a parent who has legal decision-making authority has the power to make decisions not just about the child’s education and health care, but also about personal care matters, such as ear piercing and hair cuts.
Additionally, there are sanctions for parents who are deceptive to the court or attempt to delay court proceedings. Primarily, those sanctions would be in the form of mandatory fines. Previously, those fines had been optional.
Additionally, any time a parent wishes to move a significant distance from his or her current residence, they must now abide by much stricter notification requirements.
While the state supreme court doesn’t keep track of how judges rule in child custody cases, we do know that outside groups have indicated that joint custody has been on the rise over the last decade-and-a-half. Researchers reported that in 2002, joint custody was awarded about 5 percent of the time. By 2007, it was awarded 15 percent of the time.
There are no further updated figures, but we anticipate the new law will prompt that figure to continue to rise. In our own experience anecdotally, we know that judges have been more inclined in recent years to award joint custody.
No longer can we say that mothers have the upper hand in custody cases. This is partially a reflection of a larger cultural shift, wherein fathers are taking a much more active role in parenting their children and being involved in their lives.
As such, many other states have passed similar measures in recent years. However, while many of those states have mandatory minimum parenting time requirements for each parent, Arizona gives judges a great deal of discretionary authority to determine parenting time arrangements.
Exceptions for parenting time are made for situations where abuse is reportedly involved.
The new law didn’t change much for those parents who already had an arrangement in place. However, those seeking a change in custody arrangements would have their cases considered under the new parenting time laws.
Contact our Mesa parenting time lawyers at (480) 833-1113.
New child custody law begins Jan. 1, Dec. 25, 2013, By Alia Beard Rau, The Republic