Is it possible to modify a child custody order in Arizona?

When Arizona couples go through the arduous process of divorce, they are often so focused on resolving current issues that the last thing on many of their minds is how things will be different several years down the road. Nevertheless, as with most things in life, circumstances almost inevitably change as people move on from divorce.

While many of these changes can often be a good thing, they can sometimes prove difficult if the changes require the couple to modify the agreements they made when they finalized their divorce. This is especially true in circumstances involving modifications to Legal Decision-Making (Custody) agreements in Arizona, as changes to these decrees can easily impact the emotional well-being of the couple's children.

Procedural issues when modifying Arizona child custody orders

Ultimately, when making any child custody determination in Arizona, the best interests of the child is of the utmost importance. However, when it comes to modifying existing child custody orders in Arizona - otherwise known as modifying legal decision-making or parenting time - there are many procedural hurdles that parents should also be made aware of when involved in custody disputes.

For instance, Arizona law dictates that unless there is reason to believe a child's physical, mental or emotional health is in danger, a parent cannot make a motion to modify an existing Arizona child custody decree for at least a year after it is entered. Consequently, if there is evidence of child abuse or other domestic violence, this one-year waiting period may be completely disregarded. Alternatively, the one-year waiting period may also be reduced to six months if the parents have joint custody and there is evidence that one of the parents is failing to comply with the original child custody order.

However, regardless of when the motion to modify child custody is made, the parent seeking modification must file with the court an affidavit setting forth the facts for why a change in custody is required. And, unless the affidavit shows "adequate cause" for a hearing, the court will outright deny the request for modification.

If a hearing is eventually granted, the court must still focus on what is in the best interests of the child before modifying a child custody order. For example, Arizona courts typically consider evidence of domestic violence as contrary to a child's best interests. Furthermore, if an Arizona court discovers that a parent has abused alcohol or drugs or has been convicted of any drug crime within 12 months of the motion to modify, there is a rebuttable presumption that sole or joint custody by that parent is not in the child's best interests.

In the end, modifying Arizona child custody orders is a complex process fraught with procedural obstacles and important statutory details. Accordingly, if you are currently involved in a child custody dispute, it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced family law attorney. An experienced attorney can review the facts of your case and help determine your best options given your circumstances.