Arizona Child Custody Laws and Procedure
Single noncustodial parents who believe they deserve equal access to their children will hire a family law attorney to help them through the process, though questions and fears will certainly mount. If you’re contemplating child custody in Arizona, and are unfamiliar with how laws work, this brief tutorial will guide you through what one can expect.
Meeting with attorney
You’ll sit down with your attorney to go over any questions you may have legally, such as what percentage of time you’ll be allotted as the noncustodial parent, or if sole custody will be feasible. During this initial session, you’ll be advised of the parent-time calculation used by Arizona judges, will be asked if you’re ordered to pay support (although its separate from custody, support is still important) and what your work hours are like.
An arduous paperwork filing task will shortly follow this meeting, and while your attorney will file the motions and assist with any forms required by you, the filing fee for Maricopa County is $338, with $268 required to file a response.
Paperwork may include:
- Sensitive Data/Family Court sheet;
- Summons to Appear/Respond;
- Petitions to establish paternity (if not done), establish support (if not done) and child custody (sole or joint legal and physical); and
- Notice of Appearance.
Once the paperwork is filled out and filed, the other party will be served. They will either bring that paperwork to their attorney, or file their own response.
Not that Maricopa County judges thing you’re a poor parent, but parenting classes will be required within 45 days of the Respondent being served their papers. If in or around Phoenix, the cost is $50, with information on where to take the classes here.
Take this class seriously. It can only make you a better mother or father, and is required to proceed through the custody process.
Filing Consent Decree
If both you and the other parent agree to the conditions put in your motion, wait 60 days after signing off for that decree to take effect. You may still need to appear in court, but that depends on other factors which your attorney will notify you of. Be patient – judges are busy, and will often take up to 60 days to sign off themselves.
For out-of-state service, respondents have 30 days to answer the above notices; 20 days if in-state.
If the other party either fails to respond or appear, you can request the judge start default judgment proceedings which essentially grants you everything you wanted in the decree. Once filed, the other party has 10 days to respond to the motion; if no response, your attorney will file a final request for default judgment. This could take up to 90 days for the judge to sign off on.
Head to court
Most motions are done by your attorney, requiring your appearance only when absolutely necessary. Since the above steps assume you’ve waited to hire an attorney, now is probably the best time to hire one. Once in court, there are rules that must be followed which your attorney will know.
Even if your child’s other parent shows up in court, you’ll still need to appear to show cause.
Child custody is a process – a worthy one
Every child should have the benefit of both parents in their life, although sometimes it takes compelling the other party to get yourself involved as much as the child deserves.
Remember, most child custody cases aren’t “slam dunks”. They require timely filings, parenting classes, stable employment and living arrangements and an attorney who cares. If those components are in place, you’ll undoubtedly have equal yet unrestricted access to the beautiful children you brought into this world.
Click here for information on a parenting plan in a child custody case.