How Child Custody is Decided in a Divorce
Written by Judy Morse

How Child Custody is Decided in a Divorce

Arizona courts use the term “legal decision making” to describe the parents’ rights and responsibilities for making significant decisions about their children. Legal decision making can be “joint” (parents make the decisions together) or “sole” (one parent makes the decisions.

“Parenting time,” previously called “visitation,” is the term for the schedule by which the parents share time with their children, including weekdays/weekends, school breaks, summer vacations, holidays, telephone contact, etc. Parents can share time equally under several different configurations, or the schedule can be arranged so that the child resides primarily with one parent. It is important to note that “joint legal decision making” does not automatically equate to “equal parenting time.”

Taken together, the terms “legal decision making” and “parenting time” are still often referred to conversationally as “child custody.”

There are two ways child custody can be decided in a divorce case:

  1. The parents can come to an agreement on their own; or
  2. The judge will make a decision based on consideration of a number of factors contained in the statutes.

Either way, the outcome may be different for every family because the court (and the parents) are required to make decisions that focus on the best interest of the child.

Collaborative Divorce Allows Child Custody to Be Decided by The Parents

Collaborative divorce is an option if you want to come to an agreement with your soon to be ex-spouse about important things like legal decision making and parenting time.

Advantages of parents deciding child custody issues between themselves include:

  • A more peaceful process than going to court
  • A team of professionals, including counselors, communication specialists, and collaborative lawyers to help you reach agreements
  • Reduced likelihood of post-divorce litigation
  • Healthier relationships after divorce for everyone involved

Learn more about Collaborative Divorce

How is Parenting Time Decided in a Contested Divorce?

If you choose a traditional/adversarial divorce process, you may be leaving the determinations of decision making and parenting time in the hands of the judge. The decisions are made based on a number of factors, but no matter how well-meaning they may be, the judge will not be fully informed about the needs and circumstances relevant to your child and your family.

In complicated cases, the judge can seek input from outside professionals such as Custody Evaluators, Court Appointed Advisors, and other qualified experts.

Collaborative Divorce Is Easier On Children

Divorce in court can be emotionally draining for you, your spouse, and your children. But it doesn’t have to be that way with collaborative divorce. Since the goal is to work together to come to mutually agreeable outcomes, you’ll have the opportunity to work through issues as quickly and amicably as possible. This process also gives you and your spouse the communication tools you need to navigate your divorce while maintaining strong relationships with your kids. This can continue to benefit you even after your divorce is final.

To learn more about the collaborative divorce process, contact one of the professionals at Best Legal Choices today. The collaborative process is often a great option for a divorce with children and can result in a less expensive, more efficient, and less harmful outcome for everyone involved. The legal, financial, and communication professionals with Best Legal Choices can help you navigate this difficult time in your life.


  1. Family and Children > Child Custody > Things You Should Know about Custody and Parenting Time,
  2. Camandona, Lindsay D. “How Child Custody Is Determined in a Divorce.” McKinley Irvin, 5 Apr. 2018,


The collaborative divorce process is designed to help people who are willing to work together to make an agreement that benefits the family. Resources that help parents communicate effectively during this process can help them model appropriate behavior for their kids. With a lot of love and support, children can more effectively deal with their parents’ divorce. Contact a professional with Best Legal Choices if you’re ready to take the first step toward starting your new life.