Divorce and the Best Interests of the Child

When going through a divorce with children, it is important for the parties to keep the best interests of the child in mind because that’s the standard that the court is going to use to determine legal decision making authority and parenting time schedules.

A.R.S. § 25-403 states: “The court shall determine custody…in accordance with the best interests of the child.” But what does “best interests” mean? How can this standard even be measured?

Fortunately, Arizona law gives guidelines for the court to consider, including the following:

  • The child’s preference
  • The parent’s relationship with the child
  • The nature of the relationships between the child and parents, and siblings
  • The child’s adjustment to surroundings at home, school and community
  • The mental and physical health of the child and parents

Let’s take a moment to explore one of the guidelines in more detail – “the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community” – as an example.

In the process of divorce, usually one, or sometimes both parents, move out of the former marital home and begin to live separately. Sometimes, those moves can take each parent far away from the other, especially in a spread-out area such as metropolitan Phoenix. The court will have to consider things such as travel time, meeting locations to exchange the child between parents, school location, and the parents and child’s schedules, when making determinations about legal decision making authority and parenting time. More often than not, the court or parties’ failure to consider these issues or give them the weight deserved can lead to real logistical nightmares and further litigation and fees to address later.

Most courts do not make these decisions lightly, but often are limited in time and ability to delve deep enough to really have a good sense of all aspects of a situation. It is important that the parties themselves consider and, if it proceeds to a trial, convey to the court such considerations when creating a parenting time schedule as these decisions can and do impact the child’s development, relationships between the parents, siblings, extended family, and friends – the “best interests” of the child in other words.

If you find yourself or a loved one in need of a divorce with children and you would like to work with one of our experienced Attorneys as you work through these challenging issues, please call OWENS & PERKINS at480.994.8824 to schedule your free 30 minute