Arizona Family Court is a branch of civil court, meaning that the court does not handle instances in which people break criminal laws. Instead, family court handles civil disputes between people who are related to one another. Family court must interpret family law to settle these disputes.
Family court applies family law to determine physical custody of children after a divorce, adoption and even cases of child abduction. Family court can also interpret family law to determine which legal rights or responsibilities a person has for another family member, as in legal decision making responsibilities for children after a divorce or even spousal support/alimony. These are only some of the ways family law can affect Arizona family dynamics.
As a result, Arizona Family Court deals with a number of case types, including:
- Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements
- Alimony/Spousal support
- Division of property in divorce
- Adoption and foster care
- Child custody and legal decision making responsibilities
- Child abuse and neglect
- Elder exploitation and abuse
Facets of Arizona Family Law
There are many aspects of family court that affect Arizona families. Here are some of the most important facets of family law.
The impacts of divorce on the family dynamic are significant, and they can have long-term effects on everyone involved—particularly the children of the couple. Often, too, a divorce is not only a divorce, but a mix of several areas of family law.
These can include visitation rights, child custody and legal decision making rights, alimony or spousal support, and child support.
- In 2019, the average rate of marriage in Arizona was 5.4 per 1,000 people and the divorce rate was 3 per every 1,000 people.
- The average Arizona divorce rate was 56% as of 2019.
- According to the 2016 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of people at the time of their first marriage increased by two years between 2008 and 2016.
- There were over half a million divorces in the U.S. in 2021, according to CDC data.
Termination of Parental Rights and Adoption
Termination of adoptions and termination of parental rights are actions that, together, work to sever legal ties between adopted persons and their adoptive families. This action is also referred to as “relinquishment.” This action can be brought to AZ family court by the adopted family member or the adoptive parents, and usually comes as a result of disagreements about biological family members. The case can also be the result of concerns about the manner in which the adopted child was raised by their adopted family, including concerns involving physical abuse. These concerns often relate to issues that would make it difficult for the child to form future relationships.
Though the parties bringing this case to family court may feel they have no other options, family law attorneys take care to request that all parties involved carefully consider the decision. Relinquishment is irreversible and there is no potential to reconcile at a later date if disagreements are resolved. if parental rights are terminated, all legal ties are severed and the adoption decree is void.
Domestic Violence and Restraining Orders
In family law, a restraining order—also known as a protective order—is utilized to keep people safe from physical or emotional harm at the hands of another person. If the danger is immediate, the person at risk should contact an Arizona family law attorney. An attorney can request an emergency protective order to prevent whoever is harming or threatening to harm a person from doing so.
A restraining order could entail many actions, including ordering the threatening party to stay away from the victim’s place of residence and job, or ordering them to refrain from contacting the person by phone or any other means. If the risk will continue into the foreseeable future, a family law attorney can seek a long-term protective order that will last until a trial can take place. This is often necessary if the situation will remain dangerous for the person even after a divorce or other family court matter is complete.
Child Custody and Visitation
Typically, parents create a parenting plan, including child custody and visitation decisions, and present it to the court for approval. If they are unable to do so, the court makes the final decision. The court determines legal decision making rights and physical custody according to the best interests of the child or children.
When a parent takes their custody case to family court, it’s generally with the end goal of gaining full and sole physical and legal custody, allowing the other parent only supervised visitation. Sometimes, the other parent desires full and sole physical and legal custody, as well. However, Arizona Family Court begins with the assumption of joint custody, and determines adjustments to custody according to the child’s best interests. A parent requesting sole custody must provide evidence parenting rights for their ex-partner are not in the child’s best interests, such as evidence of substance misuse or child abuse.
Arizona Family Court often determines the biological parentage of a child, usually for custody or child support purposes. Often, proof of paternity becomes necessary when the parents were not married at the time of conception or the child is conceived outside of a marriage.
However, paternity can be either presumed or biological in the eyes of Arizona Family Court. Presumed paternity refers to the idea that if a child is conceived during a marriage, the male partner is presumed to be the father. Evidence must be provided to prove this isn’t true. Legal presumptions also apply to family members who financially rely on one other as they work for financial freedom from their families.
Biological paternity in family law is determined as the result of a legal action, which seeks to determine the genetic father of the child. In Arizona, a party must provide evidence regarding why a biological paternity case should be issued. However, the way paternity laws function across state lines may be different. Be sure to speak with an experienced family law attorney if you intend to initiate a biological paternity case or are dealing with a paternity case across state lines.
Juvenile Law Matters
This refers to any family law matter that involves minors who have not reached the age of eighteen in Arizona. Juvenile matters include many facets of family law, such as child custody and visitation conflicts, as well as child abuse and neglect. Juvenile matters also include temporary guardianship, or dependency, which refers to a party needing support from someone until they are an adult. This can apply in cases where parents have lost rights to their children.
Juvenile matters can also involve truancy and juvenile delinquency. Juvenile probation, supervision, and even juvenile custody are handled by family court. Minors cannot be prosecuted by adult criminal court, except under exceptional circumstances. As a result, Arizona Family Court handles most juvenile cases.
Division of Property
Legal property division ties in with Arizona divorce. It’s a complex process that addresses a number of extenuating factors to best distribute marital debts and assets between two people who are separating. In most cases, a divorcing couple either determines property and debt division prior to the divorce hearing, or accepts the equal division of community property as prescribed by the state of Arizona.
If no such agreement is possible, Arizona family court makes decisions for the division of property based on the best interests of the family, according to community property guidelines. Typically, this means both parties receive roughly half of all assets and debts obtained during the marriage. This, of course, can be very difficult to do in a way that pleases all parties involved, as people often come out of a divorce feeling as if they deserve a larger portion of the assets. It can be helpful to have a family law attorney by your side to represent your interests and help you retain what you deserve.
Why Do I Need to Understand AZ Family Law?
Family law in Arizona provides a framework upon which Arizona Family Court makes just decisions regarding family disputes. In this way, family law protects mothers and fathers from unfair treatment in child custody disputes, advocates for the best interests of children in all matters, and ensures that the interests of all parties are considered in divorce, custody, support, and property division cases. Family law works to create safe home environments and protect the most vulnerable among us.
Jonathan Roeder is one of the founding partners of Reppucci & Roeder. He is an Arizona native who has dedicated his life and career to the service of others. After graduating salutatorian of his high school class, Jonathan attended beautiful and prestigious Pepperdine University, where he majored in Political Science. During his tenure at Pepperdine University, his passion for helping others grew after securing a clinical position with a residential treatment center for juveniles with substance addictions. Post-graduation, Jonathan returned to Arizona and served as a residential manager for mentally and physically disabled homes.