What is legal decision making?
Legal decision making refers to the right to make decisions regarding how a child will be raised. For example, it includes such things as choices about school, religion, or medical choices. (Note that many jurisdictions call this “legal custody”).
Determining legal decision making
If the parties can reach an agreement on legal decision making and parenting time, the court will almost always adopt that agreement. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the court will decide for them. When the court determines legal decision making, the court must consider the “best interests” of each child. As a general rule, courts recognize that it’s important to have both parents involved in a child’s life. Thus in an ideal world, legal decision-making would be split equally between the two. However, there are a range of reasons for which a court might deviate from a purely equal decision-making arrangement. When looking at what is in the “best interests” of a child, the court considers a number of factors set forth in Arizona Revised Statute 28-403, including:
- The past, present and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s parent or parents, the child’s siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.
- The child’s adjustment to home, school and community.
- If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the wishes of the child as to legal decision-making and parenting time.
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other parent. This paragraph does not apply if the court determines that a parent is acting in good faith to protect the child from witnessing an act of domestic violence or being a victim of domestic violence or child abuse.
- Whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause an unnecessary delay, to increase the cost of litigation or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or a parenting time preference to that parent.
- Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse.
- The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.
- Whether a parent has completed a program for the purpose of educating persons about the impact of divorce on adults and children.
- Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect.
The outcome of cases involving legal decision making and parenting time issues depends largely on the specific facts of the case. If you are facing these issues, we can schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys to discuss your specific circumstances.