Everybody has heard about “visitation” with children.
However, that term is not used in regard to parents. After all, parents don’t “visit” their children as much as they parent them. In Arizona, time with your children is called “parenting time.” The purpose of such time is exactly as stated, namely, to parent your children. Effective on January 1, 2013, the new Arizona statute regarding Parenting Time is A.R.S. §25-403.02. That statute requires that parenting time for each parent be maximized while remaining within the child’s best interest. Always remember that the first consideration is going to be what is best for the child.
What should parenting time be? Many parents are choosing to equally share time with their children after a divorce or paternity action (if the parties were never married). That plan certainly maximizes each parent’s time with the children but will only be in the child’s best interest if it is logistically feasible. What does that mean? Consider the parents that, after they have separated, live within a mile of each other. Either of those parents will likely be able to get the child to school each morning because it will usually be in the neighborhood. Therefore the transportation will be “logistically feasible.” Now consider the same parents, one living in Tucson and one in Phoenix. Obviously, we aren’t going to have the child attending two different schools and it isn’t in the child’s best interest to drive over an hour each way half of the time. Under those circumstances, equal time won’t likely work. There is an exception that, if the child is only going to daycare, the parents can equally share time until the child is enrolled in school. You will be required to take a class through the court called the “domestic relations class regarding children’s issues.” That class will discuss different parenting time plans and give you a good idea of the different ways of dividing time. If you can describe the time division, you can have it ordered. The parents are always free to enter agreements and we encourage you to think about agreement. If the judge is forced to enter the orders, there can be no guarantees because judges are people too. In fact, there is no fixed, guaranteed parenting time under our laws. Whatever is ordered will merely have to be in the child’s best interest and maximizing each parent’s time as is logistically feasible. That is a pretty wide latitude for the judges and may not be a chance you want to take. Agreements are better also because they are faster, less expensive and more likely to be adhered to (because each party had input in making the agreement).
Parenting time is something that will likely change over time. Infants may not have the same time with each parent as toddlers and grade school kids may have different time with each parent than high school kids. If you have an old parenting time order, it is worth re-evaluating it at least every two years if not sooner. You can ask for mediation on the issue of parenting time through the court at no cost. Prior to going to court on parenting time, you will need to at least try mediation or the judge won’t let you proceed. We can help you to file the request for mediation as part of an action to modify parenting time. You children are likely the single most important thing in your life. It is important to “get it right” when you are in court on issues concerning your children. We encourage you to obtain legal counsel to pursue parenting time modifications even if you aren’t retaining our firm. In a wider sense, all of us at the Thrush Law Group want to see the children in our community treated with respect and protected through proper parenting time orders. Too many things can go wrong in parenting time litigation to go without an attorney, so consider retaining an attorney prior to going to court.