SB 1127 - New Changes in Arizona Family Law Statutes ~ Custody is now Legal Decision-Making

more+
less-

As an Arizona Divorce-Family law attorney I would like to make you aware of some changes to the rules of family court. As of January 1, 2013, Arizona's laws regarding family law cases were modified under Senate Bill 1127. Many of the changes are inconsequential, but there are several changes worth noting. Being aware of the proper terminology is critical in presenting arguments to the Court or in making a final agreement. The major changes are as follows:

  1. "Custody" no longer exists. Parties will have "legal decision-making" (yes, they hyphenated it!) in place of the previous term "legal custody." However, the meaning is still the same, the ability of a parent to make decisions on behalf of their minor child, primarily in the areas of education, religion, and health care (although see the last point below for a new one). Thus, Courts could award joint legal decision-making (both parents have equal say) or sole legal decision-making (one parent decides). Some attorneys are abbreviating this as "LDM," but colloquially the term custody is probably here forever. Why the change? "Custody" was considered a confusing term because people would often assumed incorrectly it had something to do with "parenting time" – the amount of time a party spends with their child.
  2. A shift in the presumption regarding legal decision-making and parenting time. There is a strong trend toward the Courts awarding joint legal decision-making absent evidence to the contrary. The presumption, therefore, is one supporting joint legal decision-making. The new statute also provides that the Courts should provide for a parenting plan that maximizes each parent's time with their minor children. This doesn't necessarily mandate equal or 50/50 parenting time arrangements, but it creates a strong presumption favoring any plan that is logistically possible which gets close to 50/50. Of course, based on the circumstances of the parties and the best interest of the children this is always a case-by-case analysis.
  3. Best interest factors. Under A.R.S. §25-403, the Courts are still required to consider certain factors in determining "best interest" – a term which broadly applies to any case involving children. Some factors were removed and others were modified.
  4. Increased sanctions for misleading the Court. Both as a consideration in the "best interest" factors and in an additional statute the Courts can now sanction a parent who knowingly presented a false claim or "intentionally misled" the Court. Sanctions include paying the other party's fees, civil contempt, or an adverse decision regarding parenting time or legal decision-making.
  5. Remember that term decision-making? It now includes a fourth area – personal care. Unfortunately, the legislature did not bother taking the time to define this term, so it will likely be a source of some dispute. Most probably, personal care involves more than things like daily hygiene and hair-styles, and includes tattoos, piercings, body modifications, etc.

Although some of these changes are significant there are many more subtle changes buried within the statute. A knowledgeable Arizona divorce-family law attorney will have taken the time to dig into these new changes and use them to the client's advantage. If you have questions or need help please call us today. We can help you with how SB 1127 will affect your family.