In Arizona, parents are often confused about the differences between legal decision making authority and parenting time:

As described above Legal decision making authority is about decisions regarding school, religion and medical care for their children. Parenting time (formal known as visitation or access in Arizona) refers to where and with whom the child will live. Most of the time, children will split the time they spend living with one parent and the other, sometimes equally, sometimes unequally.

Why is parenting time important?

A child deserves to have a good relationship with both parents. When parents do not live together, the child should have the opportunity to spend time with each parent.

What parenting time rights does a parent have?

State law entitles a parent to reasonable rights of parenting time to ensure that a child has frequent and continuing contact with the parent. However, parenting time can be limited, or even denied, if the child's physical, mental, moral or emotional health would be seriously endangered by parenting time with a parent.

What amount of parenting time is right?

That depends on the child's age and stage of development. For example, it may not be appropriate to have lengthy periods of parenting time with a newborn child, although more frequent shorter visits may be appropriate. Some counties (Coconino, Maricopa, Mohave, Pima, Pinal and Yavapai) have established guidelines to help parents and the courts decide how much parenting time is important to the child. The Arizona Supreme Court has also published Model Parenting Time Plans to assist parents in establishing age-related parenting time schedules; however, it is important to remember that guidelines do not apply to all family situations or to all children. If the parents cannot agree on a schedule, the court decides parenting time on a case by case basis (see listing at the back of this booklet for information on obtaining a copy of the Model Parenting Time Plans).

What is reasonable parenting time?

The term "reasonable parenting time" means time spent with a child that is average for most cases. Although the term has sometimes been used in parenting plans and even in court orders, parenting time decisions depend on the circumstances of each family, considering the child's age and development. When parenting time is described only as "reasonable," it is difficult to predict when or for how long parenting time periods should occur.

When preparing an agreement or parenting plan, it is recommended that parents specifically decide when and for how long parenting time periods will be, including how to handle and allocate special occasions like vacations, school breaks, birthdays and holidays so that both parents are considered. Guidelines available in some counties and the Model Parenting Time Plans may be useful to parents in making these decisions. The parenting time order should be written specifically enough to enable the court to enforce the order if the order is not followed and one parent files a request for enforcement.

Are parenting time and legal decision making related?

Yes. Arizona law provides that in most cases a parent not granted legal decision making of the child is entitled to reasonable parenting time rights to ensure that the child has frequent and continuing contact with that parent. As a part of its legal decision making order, the court also will decide what amount of parenting time is appropriate. Even if parents share legal decision making, the child may live primarily with one parent or share residential time with both parents, making it important to decide what parenting time schedule should be ordered.

Do I have to start a court case to have parenting time?

Parents are free to agree on the best parenting time plan for their child. If parents cannot agree, or if their agreement is not working, court action may be necessary. Remember, only the Superior Court can decide parenting time matters and issue an order that can be enforced if disagreements arise or if one parent does not honor the parenting time schedule.

How do I obtain a legal order for parenting time?

As with legal decision making, the court may grant a parenting time order only in certain kinds of cases. Most frequently, parenting time is determined when the parents are seeking a legal separation or divorce, or when parents are asking the court to change a parenting time decision that was made in an earlier separation or divorce case. Parenting time may also be ordered when one parent starts a court case to decide paternity (or maternity) of a child or after a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity.

When a parent starts a court case for legal separation or divorce, child legal decision making and parenting time automatically become issues for the court to decide if the parents cannot agree. After a decree of legal separation or divorce has been granted, the court still has authority to change (modify) an earlier parenting time order. Either parent may request in writing that the court decide what parenting time should be. The request is filed with the Clerk of the Superior Court and a filing fee is charged.

How does the court make its decision about parenting time?

If there is a dispute about parenting time, the court sometimes refers the parents to court mediation services. This process gives the parents an opportunity to reach an agreement regarding parenting time and related issues. However, if the parties are unable to agree on parenting time, the court must decide for them. Sometimes the court seeks professional advice to evaluate the family situation or offer an opinion about parenting time. When making its decision, the court will consider many factors, for example, the age and health of the child, the time each parent has available from work or other obligations, the distance between the parents' homes, the child's school schedule and the suitability of living conditions in each parent's home.

What if a parent disobeys a court order for parenting time?

If one parent violates a parenting time order, the other parent cannot deny parenting time, stop paying support or take other self-created action to punish the violating parent (to do so also would violate the court order). Instead, the court should be asked for help. To do this, a parent must file a written request for enforcement with the Clerk of the Superior Court and pay a filing fee. A hearing before the court may be necessary if the matter cannot be resolved.

Can a person other than a parent have parenting time?

Yes. In certain circumstances, Arizona law permits grandparents and great-grandparents to have parenting time rights if it is in the best interests of the child. In order to request parenting time rights by a non-parent, the child's parents must have been divorced for at least three months, one parent must be deceased or missing for three months or the child must have been born out of wedlock (see section 25-409, Arizona Revised Statutes). The law also provides that a person who stands in loco parentis to a child may ask the court for parenting time. To be in loco parentis a person must have been treated as a parent by the child and have formed a meaningful parental relationship with the child for a substantial period of time. There are other requirements that must be met before this request may be made to the court (see section 25-415, Arizona Revised Statutes).

What is supervised parenting time?

Sometimes, to prevent harm to a child's health or emotional development, it is necessary for the court to order that a social service agency or a mental health professional be involved with a family to be sure parenting time (and even legal decision making) orders are followed. In this situation, the court may order the agency or another party to supervise or oversee the parenting time periods. In some cases, the exchange of the child is supervised by a third party to diminish the conflict between the parents to which the child would be exposed without supervised exchanges.

If the parents cannot agree in connection with any or all of these issues at the beginning of the case, one or both parents may file a request with the court for temporary orders. Temporary orders are short-term decisions made by the judge which remain in effect until a final court order is entered in the case. The Preliminary Injunction is the first temporary order issued in a suit for dissolution. In addition, either party may file a petition for temporary orders for child related issues such as child legal decision making, child support and parenting time. If no agreement is reached after proper request is made, a hearing must be requested and held before the court, including witness testimony and presentation of evidence.