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New law forces Arizona courts to hold first child custody hearing sooner

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Arizona recently passed into law a measure that will force family law judges to hold an initial hearing more quickly than is currently the case in some situations. After a parent's initial filing, a family judge must now hold the initial hearing within 60 days in most cases. Exceptions may occur if the filing party waives the 60 day requirement, a separate conference or court hearing has already established temporary orders by or if "extraordinary circumstances exist." If the latter is the reason the court does not hold a hearing within 60 days, it must make a written finding on the record as to the cause of the delay.

Currently, it can sometimes take months for initial custody hearings to take place in Arizona. State Senator Nancy Barto, the sponsor of the bill, told KSAZ Arizona that she introduced the legislation because delays in the initial hearing can deny the non-custodial parents their rights to parenting time and visitation until temporary orders become established.

A parent can also obtain a child custody hearing sooner in emergency situations such as situations involving abuse.

Establishing child custody

The court determines child custody matters according to what is in the best interests of the child. By state law, a family law judge must consider several factors when establishing the best interests of the child:

•· The relationship between the parents and the child

•· How best a child could adjust to home, school and community based on custody options being considered

•· The mental and physical health of the parents and child

•· Whether either parent falsely reported child abuse or neglect

The judge is not limited to this list but may take any relevant factor into consideration.

Custody options

Child custody involves both legal and physical custody. Legal custody allows a parent to make major life decisions for a minor child, such as schooling and religious upbringing. If parents share joint legal custody, the parents must reach these types of decisions according to what is outlined in the parenting plan.

Physical custody is where the child lives. Like legal custody, this too can be held jointly by the parents. If one parent has sole custody, courts will usually allow the non-custodial parent visitation rights, unless there is a reason such as a history of abuse that would make it unsafe for a child or custodial parent. Supervised visitation is also an option in some situations.

Parents seeking to establish child custody after a divorce or separation should contact an experienced family law attorney to understand their rights and obtain a fair parenting plan.