Before I jump into the material, first — take a deep breath. Whether you’re facing a divorce with kids or you were never married but have kids in common and your relationship has come to an end, breaking up isn’t easy, especially when it involves a complicated legal process.
To be honest, the child custody laws aren’t that complex, but it’s the emotional nature of the situation, the fact that children and money are involved and that the outcome can have lasting impacts, well all of that can make a custody case dramatic, stressful, and sometimes heartbreaking.
Although the law demands that parents take reasonable case positions, that doesn’t always happen. I remember representing “Lisa,” a mother that had to fight against nasty, false accusations made by her co-parent to CPS because he was trying to gain an edge in their custody case. I worked with “Lisa,” teaching her effective ways to communicate with CPS to protect her and her family. Ultimately, she gained full custody of her daughter.
I remember representing “Paul,” a father that just wanted to spend time with his young daughters, yet their mother constantly took steps to keep him out of his daughters’ lives. “Paul” was sad and frustrated as he knew that he couldn’t get this precious time back with his kids — they are only little once and there’s no repeat button available. I helped “Paul” take effective steps with his case that got him court-ordered time with his daughters. Having a court order makes a huge difference as the other side is aware that they are expected to abide by the terms of the order and there are enforcement remedies available to address any violations.
Despite the emotional aspects of divorce and custody cases, at the end of the day, parents face just 3 main legal issues:
1. Legal Decision-Making: Parents have the option of sharing joint legal decision-making or that one parent have sole decision-making authority. The law favors parents sharing joint legal decision-making, meaning the parents work together to make decisions regarding their children’s non-emergency education, health care, religious training, and personal care decisions.
2. Parenting Time: Parents need to create a year-long child-sharing schedule that includes a plan for the holidays (most parents evenly divide and alternate the holidays) as well as a plan for the school breaks (parents often agree to 2-4 weeks of parenting time to allow for summer vacations and extended time with their kids). Scheduling options will be different depending on how close or far apart the parents live from each other.
3. Child Support: If parents have a child in common, then a parent generally has a duty to begin paying child support once the parents begin living separately. Arizona provides an on-line child support calculator to standardize what parents pay in child support. Simply do a search for “Arizona on-line child support calculator,” select the most recent edition of the calculator and begin filling it out.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the court process, a starting point can be to create a case strategy, meaning to figure out your legal decision-making, parenting time and child support requests. Creating a case strategy can help you feel more confident with your case as well as help you learn ways to re-direct your discussions with your co-parent from irrelevant and emotional issues to discussing ways to agree upon and resolve decision-making, your child-sharing schedule and the monthly amount of child support.
And finally, keep in mind that the standard before the court is the best interests of the child. Be sure to think about your case strategy in terms of what is best for your child, rather than focusing on what is best for the parents. Now you have a basic framework for getting started with a divorce/custody case.
To learn more about divorce and child custody as well as to begin receiving invitations to free on-line trainings I’ve created in an effort to help parents across Arizona have more confidence and less stress with their divorce and custody cases, simply click here.
Julie LaBenz has been licensed to practice law in Arizona since 2006. Julie seeks to simply common legal processes parents often face by offering affordable packages of legal services and information.