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What happened to custody?

Sep 25, 2013

In the 1979 movie Kramer vs Kramer, the movie culminates in a court room scene with mother played by Meryl Streep facing off against father played by Dustin Hoffman. The court hears testimony and then makes it’s decision. Mom gets custody, Dad gets visitation. Mom was the winner and Dad was the loser and as a further humiliation, he was awarded the opportunity to visit his own child. The Arizona legislature in a change of law effective January 1, 2013, made the decision that nobody should be a winner or loser when it comes to their child.  The legislature also decided that the term visitation may be applicable when your mother-in-law shows up for a long weekend, but it is an inappropriate term when defining the time that a parent spends with his or her children.

The new law does away with the term” Custody” and instead substitutes two concepts, first is Decision-Making and second is Parenting Time. While the terms may seem simple enough, they can be more complicated in how they apply to a specific situation.  The legislature defined four areas of decision making for children. The areas are Health, Religion, Education and Personal Care.  In each area the court can designate one parent to make decisions or may decide that decisions in a particular area or in all areas be made jointly by the parties.  My experience has been that in the vast majority of cases, courts decide the decisions should be made jointly. The analysis is that each parent brings a unique viewpoint and set of experiences which will help guide the child through life. There are some important exceptions to this general rule. First in some cases, the level of conflict and the lack of communications between the parents is so problematic that the parents cannot make decisions together. In that type of case the court probably will designate one of the parties as decision-maker. The other important exception would be the existence of some limitations on one party’s ability to make decisions. These exceptions would include drug abuse, alcohol abuse, physical abuse or mental health issues.  If you are concerned about the other party’s ability to make good decisions regarding your child because of these serious limitations, you need an attorney that can flesh out the facts and present a compelling and reasoned argument that joint decision-making is not in your child’s best interest. The evidence presented may be positive drug tests, criminal convictions, testimony regarding physical abuse and mental health records.  If the safety of your child is at issue, you need to present the most compelling case possible.


Practice areas


High-Tech Industry Divorces

Post Decree Modification
Spousal Maintenance
Child Issues: Support/Decision Making/ Parenting Time
Business Valuations
Separate vs Community Property


“Mr. Miller has been fantastic to work with. He was recommended by a friend and I am very grateful! Mr. Miller has been very attentive on the case since day one. I would recommend him to anyone searching for a family attorney.”

– Jose R.

“Mr. Miller took over my custody case after I had a horrible experience with a truly incompetent attorney. In addition to correcting many errors made by the 1st attorney, Mr. Miller was able to accomplish exactly want I wanted from day 1.”

– Sarah S.

Law Office of Michael D. Miller jr.

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