Arizona Teenager Rights in a Divorce

by Beverly Bird
A judge may note your teenager's feelings, but he's not obligated to act on them.

A judge may note your teenager's feelings, but he's not obligated to act on them.

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Although most kids don't want to hear it, they have very few rights when their parents divorce – particularly the right to a voice in the proceedings. They're entitled to support and care, just as all children are, and Arizona law makes provisions for this when their parents break up. Teens can't call their own shots, however -- at least unless they emancipate themselves.

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Parenting Time

Arizona is one of a handful of states that has done away with the term "custody." In its place, divorcing parents have legal decision-making authority – the right to contribute to or solely make important decisions regarding their child's upbringing. This is the equivalent of legal custody in other states. Physical custody is called parenting time. Under Arizona law, both are based on the best interests of the child. One of the factors Arizona judges must weigh when determining custody is your child's preference. If your child is a teenager, his preference will carry more weight than that of a younger child. You can ask that your child be permitted to speak with the judge, other court personnel or even a custody evaluator so she can make her feelings known. Unless the court feels that such placement is her best interests, however, the judge won't comply with her wishes.

Parental Influence

Another of Arizona's best interests factors involves the coercing, manipulating or bribing a child into voicing a certain preference for custody. If the judge finds that you've involved your child in your custody battle in that way, he can, and probably will, overrule your teenager's decision. For example, if your daughter says she wants to live with you because she you've promised her a new car for her birthday, that won't fly.

Changing Schools

Like many states, Arizona courts are reluctant to uproot kids, forcing them to leave their friends and school districts because their parents are divorcing. This can be particularly true if your child is in high school and nearing graduation -- switching her to a new school at this juncture would be unnecessarily difficult, and courts typically will not force such a change if there's any other option. Even if your teenager doesn't voice an opinion as to which parent she wants to live with, courts will consider this factor on their own. The judge probably will not make her move to accommodate a custody decision that places her with a parent who no longer lives in the school district.

Child Support

A child has a right to financial support, regardless of whether her parents remain together or part ways. Your teenager is entitled to child support until the last day of the month in which she turns 18 in Arizona, and this may be extended if she's still in high school. If she's still in school, support extends to her 19th birthday or her high school graduation. Arizona courts cannot order child support past this age just because your child chooses to attend college – she does not have an automatic right to continued support because she elects to further her education. You and your spouse can agree to this provision in a marital settlement agreement, however.

Legal Emancipation

An exception exists to the usual rules if your child legally emancipates herself before her 18th birthday. In this case, the court cannot tell her where she must live, and she makes major decisions for herself. She's no longer entitled to your financial support either, however. Arizona allows teenagers to file for emancipation with the court after they reach the age of 16. They must prove that they're able to support themselves – and that they're not going to apply for public assistance. If you object to your child's emancipation, the court can order all of you to attend mediation.