Parenting time, also known as visitation, means the condition under which a parent has the right to have a child physically placed with the parent and the right and responsibility to make, during that placement, routine daily decisions regarding the child’s care consistent with the major decisions made by a person having legal custody.
Visitation is an issue in a divorce or paternity matter and is a separate issue from legal custody, i.e., joint or sole. Under Arizona law, a parent who is not granted custody of the child is entitled to reasonable access rights to ensure that the child has frequent and continuing contact with the noncustodial parent unless the court finds, after a hearing, that the visitation time would endanger seriously the child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health.
Even if the parties agree to share joint legal custody of their child, Arizona law requires that before an award is made granting joint custody, the parents must submit a proposed parenting plan that includes at least the following:
1. Each parent’s rights and responsibilities for the personal care of the child and for decisions in areas such as education, health care and religious training.
2. A schedule of the physical residence of the child, including holidays and school vacations.
3. A procedure by which proposed changes, disputes and alleged breaches may be mediated or resolved, which may include the use of conciliation services or private counseling.
4. A procedure for periodic review of the plan’s terms by the parents.
5. A statement that the parties understand that joint custody does not necessarily mean equal parenting time.
If the parents are unable to agree on any element to be included in a parenting plan, then the court shall determine that element as well as any other factors that are necessary to promote and protect the emotional any physical health of the child.
Arizona does have Model Parenting Time Plans for parent/child access, which were developed by a statewide committee of judicial officers, mental health providers and attorneys after consulting with nationally known experts on child development and after reviewing current research and guidelines from other communities. Decisions about access depend on many circumstances, but the age of the child is very important. The Model Plans offer information about what children learn, feel, and need at different ages. It also provides suggested plans appropriate for each age group and language that may be included in court orders.
It is important to understand that the Model Plans are just that – models. The court is not required to use these plans, as each case is unique. For parents who wish to consult the these Plans, they can be accessed by clicking on the following link:
Model Parenting Time Plans
It is always important to consult with an experienced family law attorney, as they can also suggest visitation plans that have been successfully used by clients in the past. The experienced family law attorneys at Fruchtman, Wilenchik & Larson can also assist in explaining in layman’s terms the differences between legal custody and visitation, as different procedural rules apply when filing petitions/motions with the Court to address custody and/or parenting time.
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