Divorcing or separating parents may not be in love with each other anymore, but they both love their children deeply. Often, each parent believes that they are the better choice to have the primary care of the child. However, going to court frequently can be costly, complicated, and time-consuming. Many parents choose to use mediation and arbitration as a way to negotiate their parenting issues while keeping the details out of the public eye.
The experienced family lawyers at Scottsdale Family Law are ready to fight to ensure that your children’s best interests are looked after. We have over 60 years of combined experience with Arizona Child Custody cases. Just give us a call at 602-279-1900 to schedule an appointment.
You may not need to go to court in order to resolve your child custody issues. Other options are available, such as mediation or arbitration. The purpose of both mediation and arbitration is the same: to resolve disputes and reach a settlement. The difference between the two is in how that is accomplished.
In mediation, a neutral professional (known as a mediator) will help parties come to an agreement without the need for a trial. The job of a mediator is not to take sides in the dispute or make a ruling. They evaluate the situation, present settlement options, act as a go-between, and help the parties reach a compromise that is in the best interests of the children. It is important to choose a mediator who is an expert in divorce and family law issues.
Parents often use mediation as an alternative to having their issues resolved in court. Mediation allows parents the ability to control both how quickly the issues can be resolved, as well as how the issues are resolved, all while keeping sensitive details out of the public record. In contrast, taking these issues to trial is usually a far lengthier process, with relatively little control over the outcome. All control over the situation is lost as the family law judge will make all rulings without direct input from the parents. Mediation is confidential and far less adversarial. Parents are able to minimize conflict through compromise in resolving their parenting issues. Mediation is almost always going to be a better result than having the family law judge decide these issues. Parents should always know what is in the children’s best interests.
If parents are unable to reach agreements concerning their parenting issues, the family law judge may order a comprehensive child custody evaluation. Either party may request an Arizona child custody evaluation be performed, or the court may order the evaluation on its own.
The evaluator must investigate all of the child custody factors set forth in A.R.S. § 25-403. In performing the evaluation, the evaluator will conduct interviews of both parents, the children, and any other person who may have contact with the children on a regular basis or has information relevant to the custody evaluation. The evaluator will review any documentation provided by the parties, including school and medical records, police and medical reports, and any communications between the parents that may be relevant to the evaluation. An evaluation will often include home visits of both parents’ homes, and observations of each parent interacting with the children. An evaluation typically includes each parent taking a series of psychological tests. These tests help to determine if either parent has any psychological concerns that may impact their ability to parent the children, or to co-parent the children with the other parent.
When the evaluation has concluded, the evaluator will issue a written report that includes summaries of the evaluator’s interviews of persons, a list of all documents reviewed during the evaluation, and summaries of the results of the psychological testing. The report will include the evaluator’s opinion as to what orders the family law judge should consider, custody, and parenting time recommendations. All of which will be considered by the family law judge at trial.
Completing the comprehensive family evaluation will give the court a clearer picture of your family’s dynamics. After reviewing the results of this in-depth evaluation, the judge can make an informed decision regarding parenting decisions.
If there are potential threats to your child’s safety or specific issues that need to be investigated, the court may request a focused assessment. A focused assessment is tailored to be a more cost-effective way to answer a specific and limited number of issues. Psychological testing may or may not be performed. Issues that often prompt a focused assessment include parental fitness, substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence, claims of parental alienation, children’s educational needs, or child abuse or neglect.
Some parents worry that issues with mental illness may bias the court against them, but that is not always the case. Under most circumstances, the court finds that children will benefit from spending significant time with both parents, regardless of one parent’s mental illness.
However, if the parent’s mental illness causes a substantial threat to the child’s health and safety, the court could choose to limit or restrict parenting time.
A parent’s ongoing problem with substance abuse (alcohol or drugs) could also cause parenting time to be significantly limited or restricted. If either parent has a known substance abuse problem, the court could order regular testing. A positive test result, or a failure to test, could lead to changes of the parenting time orders. The family law judge may order the parent that tested positive for drugs or alcohol to only have supervised parenting time until that parent can produce negative tests for a period of time.
Parents who face these mental health and substance abuse challenges may still be given access to their children. The Court may impose a requirement that their time together must be supervised. The Court may also impose supervised parenting time if there are allegations of physical or sexual abuse. If the court orders supervised parenting time, an approved third party (often a mental health professional or social worker, but can be a family member) must be present to monitor the interactions between the parent and the children during all parenting time visits. The purpose of supervised parenting time is to protect the children.
If you need to talk to a lawyer about parenting issues, contact the Scottsdale family law experts via telephone at 602-279-1900.