The beginning of the New Year is a time when new laws take effect in many states. Some changes to Arizona’s child custody law that took effect January 1 are interesting in that the new child custody system in that state looks a lot like the one already in place in Colorado.
Under the new law in Arizona, physical custody will be referred to as parenting time and legal custody will be known as legal decision-making authority. A parent with decision-making authority will have the right to make basic decisions involving the child, including education and religious upbringing. Courts will fashion parenting plans which are required to give both parents as much time as possible with the child, and courts are not allowed to make a custody decision based on the gender of the child or parent.
Colorado courts apply similar concepts. Custody is referred to as parenting responsibility and the parent with that responsibility has the authority to make the fundamental decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. Courts in Colorado also create parenting plans, which specify how much time each parent spends with the child.
Advocates for the change in Arizona’s laws stressed the importance of children having time with their fathers. One study concluded that children who have good relationships with their fathers after divorce were better adjusted later in life. Yet research also shows that 20 percent of children have little or no contact with their fathers within two or three years of the divorce.
The new Arizona legislation, like the laws already in effect in Colorado, looks to the best interests of the child as the ultimate consideration in any custody decision. The reasons given in support of the change in Arizona can be seen as validation of some aspects of Colorado’s existing law. Any change in a state’s law that will reduce the stress of divorce on a child is something to be applauded.