2013 Updates to Arizona Custody Statutes

The new year marked a number of sweeping changes to Arizona child custody laws as Senate Bill 1127 (2012) went into effect on January 1st, 2013. However, while some of these changes may seem to be major at first glance, the landscape of child custody may not have been as altered by the new laws as one would initially expect.

What happened to “custody”?
The word “custody” has been removed from the Arizona statutes that determine placement and decision-making of children during matters before the family court. Instead, “custody” has been replaced by the term “legal decision-making.” A.R.S. § 25-401 through 415; A.R.S. § 25-803.

How will this affect my family court issue?
Though the replacement of “custody” with “legal decision-making” is a fairly significant change, it is unlikely that this aspect of the January 1st changes will have much of an impact on your case.

Prior to the changes, the courts always distinguished between “legal custody” which refers to decision making authority, and “physical custody” which deals with where the child will reside (more commonly referred to as “parenting time”). Under the new statutory language, it is no longer necessary to draw this distinction; the ability to make decisions on behalf of the minor child is now referred to as “legal decision-making” and the physical placement of the minor child is now referred to as “parenting time.”

Though family law attorneys are already well-versed in these distinctions, it is easy for many non-attorneys to get these terms and concepts confused, and it was the intent of the legislature to clear up some of this confusion by changing how the laws were read.

The terminology may have changed, but Arizona still favors joint-custody; only now it’s referred to as “joint legal decision-making.”

What else has changed?
Along with the terminology changes discussed above, there have also been significant changes to the statutes that deal with visitation rights claimed by third parties, such as step-parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.

Under the new wording of A.R.S. §25-409, third parties, even those without a family or blood relationship to the minor child in question, have the ability to petition the court for visitation rights, even if the petitioner has not acted in a parental capacity. Though the chances of a third party succeeding in such a claim are most likely slim, the new wording of 25-409 does leave the door open for such matters to come before the court.

If you have questions about family law, or want to consult with an attorney about how some of these changes may impact your family law matter, please contact The Carroll Law Firm at (623)551-9366.

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