A paternity case is initiated by a mother against the father and involves child custody issues unlike when the parents are married. A maternity case is when the father initiates the child custody case against the mother. Most of the same considerations occur as in a dissolution of marriage child custody case. However, there are a few unique circumstances. Unlike when the parties were married, a father in a paternity or maternity case must establish legal rights to the child to obtain custody and parenting time rights. The mother will have to prove the man was the father to obtain child support. DNA testing may be required. An attorney experienced in paternity cases can help prepare for these issues.

Child Custody

Child custody is often thought to refer to the issue of which parent the child or children live with. In actuality, legal custody relates to which parent or parents make major life decisions about the child, such as medical, educational and religious issues. Legal custody does not affect when each parent spends time with the child or children. The court is obligated to order custody based on the best interest of the child. Many factors must be considered in deciding what is in a child’s best interest, such as who has been the primary caregiver, which parent is more likely to allow the other regular and frequent contact with the other, and where the child has historically attended school. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.

Sole Custody – only one parent makes decisions about the child. Sole custody may be appropriate in certain circumstances, as for example, if one parent has a drug or alcohol abuse issue, or is incarcerated or because there has been significant domestic violence between the parents.

Joint Custody – the parents are required to attempt to communicate and together make decisions about the child.

Custody decisions can be very difficult, especially if one party believes the other to be an unfit parent. There are several options to help in addressing concerns that one or both parents have about the other parent. (1) Custody evaluations by a mental health provider, usually a psychologist, who evaluates the parties and may meet with the children. The evaluator then writes a report to the court. (2) A parenting conference where the parties will meet with a counselor who has been trained in family law issues to discuss disagreements and areas of concern. The counselor may write a report to the court. (3) Mediation or negotiation of some type is very common in family law cases. The idea is that no one knows the children better than their parents and, ideally, the parents will put aside their negative feelings toward each other and focus on what is truly in their child’s best interest. Negotiated settlements are encouraged.

Custody cases can be emotional and turn nasty. It is important, that as a parent trying to negotiate custodial issues in your child’s best interest, or defending against accusations from your spouse, you do not involve your child in the process. Children should not have to hear about the other parent’s faults or shortcomings.

Each family is different and each case has its own unique set of circumstances. Call to schedule a consultation so that we may discuss the particulars of your situation.


Parenting Time

Parenting time (also referred to as physical custody or visitation) is the designation of time of when the child will be with each parent. Generally, a specific schedule or parenting plan is appropriate so that each parent knows when parenting time starts and stops and allows for consistency for the child. There is no presumption that one parenting plan is better than another. There is no presumption that a mother is better able to care for young children. There is no presumption that a father should have parenting time only every other weekend and for a mid-week dinner, just as there is no presumption that equal parenting time is in the child’s best interest. The parents, or the court if the parents can’t agree, must decide the details of the plan. Again, the best interests of the child is paramount. Logistical considerations can be involved: for example, if the parents live on opposites sides of the Valley, an equal access parenting plan is going to be very difficult to accomplish.

Parenting plans should include specific holidays and vacation schedule for the child as well. Any special time for one or the other parents should be included in the parenting plan, to eliminate problems in the future. As difficult as it may be to think about spending some holidays without your child, it is much better to resolve these questions in advance than to fight with the other parent about a particular day that is a special day between you or the other parent and your child.

Parenting plans should be very detailed. What works for one family is not necessarily going to work for another family. It is important to discuss with your attorney your specific concerns so that a workable parenting plan can be created. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, ultimately the court will decide what the parenting plan will be. You may or may not like the specific determinations made by the court.

Parents must be careful to not involve the child in the dissolution of marriage matters. The issues the other parent has should not be discussed with the child. If you believe your child is becoming negatively affected because of what is going with your spouse or the process, talk with your attorney. Going through this process is emotional and you should always try to put the children’s needs first.

Often, as the dissolution process continues, the communication between the parents worsens. There are options to deal with a difficult communicator or to try to improve the communication process, such as creating email guidelines. Oftentimes, a parenting coordinator, which is a neutral third party appointed by the court to assist with dispute resolution, will help with this. If communication is very poor between the parties, the court might require the parents to attend co-parenting counseling. Not everyone requires such communication intervention, but for those who need it, it can be extremely beneficial in refocusing the parties’ communication.

During the case you may feel that everything you do is being scrutinized by the other parent to show you are not a good parent. Schedule a consultation today to discuss the concerns you have about the other parent and the concerns the other parent may have about you, and the best way to protect yourself against what the other parent is saying about you.


Child Support

Child support is calculated in Arizona using the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. It is an income-based model, which means that incomes for both parents are included. Even if one parent is not working, the court may attribute income to that parent, such as minimum wage or some other amount.

Generally, debts such as mortgage or rent or car payments are not included in determining child support. There are certain expenses for the children that will be included in the calculation. Health insurance is one such cost. Sometimes child care costs will be included or the cost of a private school tuition or counseling. The amount of parenting time both parents have will affect child support.

Apportionment of non-covered medical, dental and vision expenses must occur, as well as division of the child tax dependency exemption. How are you going to divide extracurricular expenses and responsibilities? What happens if someone is not current on child support? What if one person is self-employed and there are concerns of hiding money? It is always important to know what you may be entitled to and what you may be responsible for when it comes to your children. Child support is also modifiable in cases where one parent’s income changes, or one parent has another child or there is a change in parenting time. Please call to schedule a consultation to discuss child support.





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