As you divide your assets during the divorce process, you also face the reality of dividing time with the children. Will you win custody of the children? Will you be able to see them at all? These can be scary questions for parents who want to continue raising their kids and strengthening relationships with them. Here is an overview of what you can do and what you can expect from custody proceedings:
New term for child custody
You may hear "child custody" referred to as "legal decision-making authority" instead. While this is technically the correct term in Arizona, most people know and understand what "child custody" is. You may also hear "visitation" be called "parenting time."
Making your own custody arrangements
Before court has a say in child custody, you and your divorcing spouse have the option of creating a parenting plan. This is basically your own plan for child custody and who is spending time with the kids on what days. If you are able to discuss and negotiate your own plan, court may approve your agreement or at least consider its points when making a final custody decision. Make sure this agreement is in writing.
Even if you cannot agree on custody, a parenting plan is very important to avoid future conflicts and provide the kids stability after the divorce. Set up a plan for holidays, consistent household rules, communication in between visits (such as Skyping the other parent) and other relevant matters to your family.
How court decides custody
Custody is a delicate issue and you may find it impossible to reach a fair agreement with your spouse. When court is determining a custody arrangement, they will focus solely on the best interests of the child. This will include factors such as:
· Child's health and safety
· Parent's ability to provide necessities
· Physical or mental needs of child
· Whether child must move homes and/or schools
· Bond with each parent and siblings
· History of abuse or domestic violence
Depending on age and maturity, court may also consider a child's preferences. The child's wishes will not override other factors but a judge will take them into account.
Sole custody is sometimes still granted but courts recognize that spending time with both parents is healthy and beneficial for children. Except in rare cases, you will likely have visitation rights even if you do not have custody. If you have concerns or questions about how to proceed in your divorce, a family law attorney can help guide you.