FAQs About Children, Divorce, and Parenting Coordination

header-faq

As of November-December 2020, this page and several others on the website are under construction for a new website  roll-out.   If you find missing information or sections here, sorry!   They are being re-written now and will be back up soon.

COVID UPDATE  2020.     Yes, you can still file for divorce, or for modification of support or parenting time during the COVID pandemic and shut down.   Courts in Maricopa County, Arizona are operating, sometimes still with limited services, but new filings are being accepted and hearings will continue.   Right now, hearings and status conferences are most likely to proceed either by telephone or through the Court’s GoToMeeting portal.    Cases and trials needing several hours or longer will either proceed by virtual (GoToMeeting or teams) hearings or may be postponed until in-person hearings can be held.   For more details about the court’s operations right now, see the court’s family court page.

Parenting coordination appointments are going on as usual, and PC meetings can be helpful to resolve misunderstandings and disagreements that arise due to Covid concerns and the changes taking place with school districts almost every week.

You can schedule telephonic or Zoom consultations with me by calling 602-230-9118 and we will get back to you about setting up the consult.

The Divorce Process.

If you’re going through or have completed a divorce, you’ve found how traumatic it is.  It’s also traumatic for your children, and you can help reduce that trauma and stress on your children by resolving parenting disputes without acrimony and more litigation.   This document discusses some of the parenting areas that may be of concern to you and what the court system and professionals, including parenting coordinators, might be able to offer as assistance.   The things covered in this document are the most frequently asked questions I’ve encountered over the years.

In this document, I refer to your “divorce,” although the term in Arizona is actually “dissolution” or “dissolution of marriage.” And when we’re talking about parenting disputes, all of these systems apply to parents who were never married (paternity actions).    Many of the documents, laws, and procedures discussed here apply ONLY in Arizona, and possibly only in  Maricopa County Family Court proceedings, as other Arizona counties sometimes have their own procedures.  If you are involved in a Family Court case in another State or county, you should check with your county to see if a particular procedure or document applies to you.

Children and Divorce or Paternity Proceedings

Custody (“legal decision-making”), Parent Information Class, Visitation (“parenting time”), Child Support, Affidavit of Financial Information Form, Children & the Divorce

 

Children and Divorce or Paternity 

Custody is called “Legal Decision-Making” in Arizona.

There is no legal presumption in Arizona favoring either parent for legal decision-making rights (custody) of the children. There is no legal presumption in favor of joint decision-making or sole decision-making to only one parent.    The Arizona statutory definitions of legal decision-making and parenting time are found here.

Joint legal decision-making (“LDM”) means that the parents have equal say in major decisions for the children.    Those major decisions are defined as “all nonemergency legal decisions for a child, including education, health care, religious training and personal care decisions.”   Parenting time (not “visitation”)  is the amount of time that each parent has residential care of the children.  Parenting time can be relatively equal (such as an alternating weeks’ schedule, or a schedule known as “5-2-2-5”), or one parent may have the majority of parenting time and the other parent has the children on certain days or weekends.    Whether the parents have joint LDM or one parent has sole LDM,  in general the parents are expected to communicate about major decisions for the children, such as education, child care, medical and religious decisions.  This communication is generally known as “coparenting”.

Disagreements over decision-making and parenting time are almost guaranteed to put you in the middle of a bitterly contested and expensive divorce or post-divorce court proceedings.   For this reason, the Court requires both parents to attend mediation at Court, either with or without attorneys, to discuss the settlement of all decision-making and parenting time disagreements before those issues can be heard by a judge.

Parent Information Class

In any divorce involving minor children, even if you and your spouse agree on parenting time and decision-making, both parents must attend a Parent Information Class. A list of court-approved classes, including locations and telephone numbers, should be provided to you at the time you file for divorce, and the list of Maricopa County approved providers is here.   Most classes (especially since Covid) are online and can be completed in a few hours.   You may choose to attend any class you wish, but you need to complete the class early in your case (usually  within sixty (60) days after the dissolution is filed.   After you complete a class approved by the court, that class files a certificate of attendance for you so the court knows you attended.   

The Parent Information Program (PIP) also prepared a resource guide for parents with lots of important websites, and that resource guide is here.  

Visitation is called “Parenting Time”.   If you and your spouse can agree to the details of a parenting time schedule, the court will usually approve the plan you have worked out.     A parenting time plan must state specific schedules including days and times, and cannot simply say that someone’s time is “reasonable,” “unlimited”, “by agreement” or something vague like that.  Visitation in Arizona is called “parenting time”.

If the two parents can’t agree to the parenting time details, the court will set a parenting time plan for them, after listening to information about the parents and the child’s needs.   All the factors the court takes into account in making that decision are listed here

The wishes of the child are one factor the court will consider, if the child is old enough and mature enough to express wishes.  In Arizona, there is no specific age at which a child can make the decision about who s/he lives with.   The child’s wishes are one of the several issues the court needs to consider, and until a child is 18 years old the child’s issues don’t “rule”.

Typical parenting time plans are offered by the Supreme Court of Arizona for many different child age groups.  When you’re looking for ideas about a schedule that might work for your family, you should look at those schedules as they’re very complete, and they also talk about plans for very young children, for holidays, and for a parent who lives out of state.

Child Support

Child Support Guidelines have been prepared for the State of Arizona which apportion child support based on the gross incomes of both parents, the time each parent has physical custody of the children, and some other factors. Typically, the debts, house payments and car payments of each parent are NOT considered in awarding child support, although support paid for other children not of this marriage is considered.

Arizona’s current Child Support Guidelines are here (link also in the Resources Section).  They are generally reviewed and updated every few years.  

Affidavit of Financial Information Form

Your attorney, or the Court, may ask you to complete a form called an Affidavit of Financial Information to help determine what the child support award might be. This document is also required by the Court before you appear at any hearings involving child support or spousal maintenance.  That form is available here afi (1), or through the Resources section of this Website, or from the Maricopa County Superior Court Self-Service Center.

Children & Divorce

Divorce proceedings are very emotional and often one (or both) parties will be seeking revenge. Sometimes one parent will use the children to try and hurt the other parent. Try to prepare your children for the divorce without poisoning their minds about the other parent. Most often, the parent who “talks down” the other parent is the one the children will resent most. Try to cooperate with your spouse where the children are concerned, if at all possible.

I can’t emphasize how important it is to try to keep the children insulated from the nastiness of a divorce and from the divorce process in general. Obtain professional advice about how to handle the situation with your children, if necessary. I can help you find suitable counselors for your children, if you think they need help coping with the process, and there are numerous books and articles published to help you help your children with this very difficult time.

The Parent Information Class which is required in all dissolution proceedings involving children is a good source of information about how the divorce process will affect your children, and about things you can do to help them.  There are other, more advanced classes about the effects of parent conflict on children, and how to reduce that conflict.

Will my child be interviewed about her wishes for who she wants to live with and the parenting schedule?

Parenting Coordination.    

Parenting coordination involves the court appointment of a person (either a mental health professional or an attorney) to hear from the parties if they have disputes, disagreements about, or different interpretations of their parenting plan.    Parenting coordinators are appointed only after the parents have a written Parenting Plan/ court order for parenting time. 

I’ve written several articles about parenting coordination on my blog.  In general, the parenting coordinator finds out what issues or disputes the parties are having about their parenting plan, makes sure the parties communicate and exchange information about the dispute (including what each parent thinks should be done about the dispute), and tries to resolve the dispute without the necessity of going to court.   The parenting coordinator first uses a mediation-like function to see if the parties can agree on their own.   If the parties can’t agree, an Arizona parenting coordinator makes a recommendation to the court about the dispute.   A party may object to the recommendation and ask their assigned judge to do something differently.

Parenting coordinators can tweak provisions of a Plan to make them more understandable or to fit the circumstances, or can add additional provisions to the Plan which were left out.   Tweaks and additions can be on issues like parent communication, notification of travel or medical items, child caretakers, child extracurricular activities, specifying the time and location of exchanges, what happens when a child is sick or when there’s no school, and many other areas.   PCs can also be of help when children have specific special needs such as IEPs, therapies, or medical issues, or when one or both parents are court-ordered to attend therapy or have substance/ drug/ alcohol testing.  

Use of Experts

In some cases, outside experts need to be employed to determine specific issues. One example is the use of a psychologist to perform a “custody study” or family study in a custody dispute. Another case is the use of a CPA or business appraiser to determine the value of a family-owned business, a professional practice, or shares of a larger business. Real estate appraisers are often employed where the value of real estate is not agreed on by the parties.

Mediation and Resolving Things

 

How Can We Settle This?

You don’t have to go to court to get everything settled and resolved in your case.   Most people manage to settle custody, parenting time, support and property and debt division issues without going in front of a judge.  Even if your case seems hostile and difficult, it can be settled.   Your lawyer may talk to you about ADR, which is Alternative Dispute Resolution.   ADR includes mediation, but also includes things like hiring a Special Master.  A Special Master is like your own private judge, who meets with the parties and their attorneys in a less formal setting than a courtroom, hears the issues, and makes a decision.   The upside is that you have more of an opportunity to present your case, more input about scheduling your hearings or meeting, more privacy in the proceedings (because they are not held in open court).   Because you choose your Special Master, you can choose someone with special expertise about your issues.  The downside is that you have to pay the Special Master.   You and your attorney can discuss and decide if a Special Master offers you a good opportunity for your case.  Currently in Arizona, Special Masters cannot be appointed or hear issues involving parenting time or legal decision-making for children — they hear only financial and property issues.

Mediation is an excellent opportunity to settle the outstanding issues, with the help of a skilled mediator along with your own lawyer.   Mediation can also be held without lawyers, if the clients prefer.    In many mediations, the parties stay in different rooms, with the mediator moving back and forth between rooms with settlement proposals and ideas.   The separate-room mediation is called “caucusing”, and it is preferred by many people who don’t feel comfortable spending a stress-filled day with their ex-spouse in one room.

General Suggestions

Well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) friends, work associates and family will offer advice about your custody or divorce case. In many instances, the advice is not accurate or does not apply to a particular situation. The facts surrounding a marriage and a divorce are unique, and trying to compare one divorce to another is as useless as trying to compare marriages.

Read books on the subject of divorce, whether or not children are involved. Try to keep the lines of communication with your spouse open, but do not discuss specifics of your needs or wants with your spouse if you are both represented by attorneys. If your spouse insists on talking with you about those matters, listen to everything he/she has to say but do not argue, agree or offer substantive input.

Other Sources & Book Recommendations

Please see my Resources Section for some recommended reading and other sources of information.