Phoenix Child Custody, Visitation, and Support Lawyer
At Stratton Family Law, our Phoenix child custody, visitation, and support lawyers work to find solutions that are in the best interests of the children while fighting for our client.
Child Custody in Maricopa County
Arizona child custody law has changed along with the environment. For example, most Phoenix child custody lawyers no longer use terms like custodial and non-custodial parent. Instead, terms like residential parent and non-residential parent more accurately reflect the spirit of the co-parenting law.
To reflect this new reality, child custody factors have changed as well , at least to an extent. Some new factors include:
- Parental Preference: Some parents express residential/non-residential preference directly. Many parents are perfectly content being weekend parents. Other parents express preferences indirectly. If a parent showed little interest in music recitals and other child-centered events during the marriage, this leopard usually does not change its spots.
- Step-Sibling Relationships: In many states, these emotional dynamics are largely irrelevant. But in Arizona, a child’s relationship with step-siblings could be a factor. These relationships could factor into modifications as well. More on that below.
- Co-Parenting Ability: During a divorce, some parents hire overly-aggressive bulldog lawyers who contest every inch of legal ground. This strategy often backfires. Most judges assume, based on prior experience, that parents who are difficult during a court-supervised divorce also refuse to compromise later.
In a nutshell, “co-parenting” means that Maricopa County family law judges expect both parents to take an active role in the child development process, even if the children “live” with the other parent.
Financial Support for Children
Like most other jurisdictions, Arizona is an income share child support state. Judges use a complex formula to ascertain the monthly child support obligation. The guidelines take a wide variety of factors into consideration, such as the income of both parents, child-related expenses, such as daycare costs, and the parenting time division.
The guidelines are complex because the underlying goal is rather complex as well. In Arizona, child support is designed to give the children the same standard of living they would have had if their parents were married.
Arizona’s child support guidelines are presumptively reasonable, but there is no one-size-fits-all. Maricopa County judges can deviate from the guidelines, either up or down, in various situations. Some common ones include the age of the children and the parenting time division. Older children are generally more expensive to raise than younger children. Additionally, the parenting time division might affect the expense sharing arrangements.
Fundamentally, child support is based on financial and emotional factors. These factors usually change frequently. So, as a rule of thumb, a Phoenix child support attorney should legally modify child support provisions at least once every four years.
Child Visitation Lawyers in Phoenix
Part of the aforementioned co-parenting law is a presumption that children benefit from frequent, consistent, and meaningful contact with both parents. This presumption usually guides child visitation provisions. Many Phoenix child custody lawyers talk about the parenting time division as opposed to a visitation schedule.
Frequently, the traditional every other weekend/every other holiday division works well for families. But the resulting division is usually around 70-30. Some alternative models offer a more even division. Some examples include:
- Block Scheduling: The children spend a week or two with Parent A, a week or two with Parent B, and the cycle repeats. For the most part, this schedule remains the same twelve months a year.
- Extended Weekend: Over time, the cumulative effect of small changes lead to major results. Starting weekends on Thursday and ending them on Monday greatly evens the parenting time division.
- Empty Nest: This model does little to even out the parenting time division, but it’s usually very good for the children. Instead of the children shuffling back and forth between houses, the children always stay in the same place, and the parents rotate residences.
Frequent visitation is not always in the best interests of the children. That’s especially true if there are verified instances of physical, emotional, verbal, or other abuse. Maricopa County judges often order limited or supervised visitation in these situations.
Modifying Family Law Orders in Arizona
When one parent seeks to modify visitation, support, or custody orders, the requested changes must be in the best interests of the children. There is a difference between the best interests of the children and the best interests of the parents. There’s also a difference between the children’s preferences and the children’s best interests.
It is always important to legally modify these orders. Informal side agreements, even if they are written, are usually unenforceable in family court. Additionally, as far as the state Attorney General is concerned, the only child support obligation that matters is the one in the official record.
Furthermore, it’s usually best to present an agreed modification order. Most judges sign such orders without requiring hearings. Pre-filing mediation often helps parents iron out disagreements, so they can present an uncontested motion to the court.
Custody, support, and visitation orders are the backbone of most divorce and other orders. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Phoenix, contact Stratton Family Law. Convenient payment plans are available.