Maricopa County Family CourtIf you’re currently going through a divorce (or planning on it) and you have kids, you need to know how the Arizona court system handles child custody and support. Here are four things you need to know about child custody and support in Maricopa County family court, and what to expect from the process.

Start by Learning the Legal Lingo

In Arizona, the courts divide child custody issues into two categories: legal decision making and parenting time.

Legal decision making refers to the right to make choices on the child’s behalf in non-emergency situations. Some of the types of decisions falling into this category include:

  • where the child will go to school
  • routine health care decisions, such as which pediatrician and dentist the child will see
  • whether or not the child will go to church or other religious services, and which religion (if any) they will be raised in
  • choices with regard to personal care such as when they need to get a haircut

Parenting time agreements will also need to be made so each parent knows when they will be in charge of taking care of their child. Whatever arrangement you agree on with your ex, it’s always best to formalize it with the courts so everyone is clear on the details.

How to Change a Child Custody Agreement

A child custody agreement can only be changed if more than a year has passed since it was made, and there is a good reason for the change. For example, sometimes a parent was unable to care for their child in the past and lost custody, but now things have changed and they want the courts to revisit the issue.

Exceptions to the one year rule can be made if there is reason to believe the child is in danger (e.g., emotionally, physically, or mentally). You can obtain the forms you need to file from the Arizona Supreme Court or your local county’s Superior Court.

How to Adjust a Child Support Agreement in Maricopa County Family Court

If a parent’s finances have significantly changed (and the change is expected to be long term), that may also be a good reason to file for a modification to the current child support arrangements. Factors that can justify a change include:

  • a change or addition to health insurance
  • a job loss
  • a change in income
  • a disability

The following documents need to be completed and submitted to the Arizona Division of Child Support Services: a Request for Modification Review, an Affidavit of Financial Information, an Agreement to Accept Service by Mail, and a Request for Modification Checklist.

Divorce and Child Custody

When filing for divorce in Maricopa County Family Court, there are different procedures for couples who have children and those who do not. The forms you need are the ones for “Dissolution of Marriage (with children)”. When filling out those forms, you’ll see that they already include everything required to finalize an agreement on child custody and support.

The first steps to filing for divorce include:

  • Fill out and submit your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage packet.
  • Your ex will fill out and submit their response to the Petition. (If your ex filed for divorce, you’ll be the one filling out the response.)

In cases where both you and your ex agree on the terms of the divorce, as well as the arrangements you’d like in place for parenting time, legal decision making, and child support, you can likely take care of all the paperwork without the expense of a lawyer.

A final thing you need to be aware of is that some people choose to get a legal separation instead of a divorce. If this is your preference, you’ll need to fill out and submit a Petition for Legal Separation with Minor Children instead of the petition for divorce.

Navigating the Child Custody and Support Maze Successfully

Don’t let the process of finalizing or changing child support and custody agreements overwhelm your time and other resources. If your situation is complicated, hiring a lawyer (while more expensive) may be the best route to take. However, particularly if you and your ex share the same goals and agree on how to reach them, you can save a lot of money by filling out the paperwork yourselves, provided you take it one step at a time. And if you don’t have the time or interest in doing it all on your own, remember that our legal document preparers can be a big help.