The term custody, when used in reference to children, means different things to different people. Most commonly, people think in terms of legal custody and physical custody. Many people hear misinformation regarding custody and the effects custody designations have on parental rights. In Arizona, legal custody refers to decision- making authority in certain areas. For example, when one parent has sole custody, it normally means the sole custodian has decision-making authority in three areas: major educational, major medical and major religious decisions. A sole custodian will not normally have unfettered decision-making authority in all areas, such as total control over the non-custodial parent’s access. Of course, it is possible that a judge will customize an Order to help avoid future problems.
If parents have joint custody, it means that the parents share decisions in the three areas listed above, not that the parents necessarily have equal time with the child. When parents with joint custody cannot reach an agreement, a mediator is often used to help develop a compromise.
Physical custody, or parenting time, refers to where a child actually spends time. A recent shift in legislative policy in Arizona favors the adoption of an equal time sharing schedule where both parents are fit, it is in the best interest of the child and it is geographically possible.
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