How to Change Joint Custody When the Non-Custodial Parent Leaves the State in Arizona

By Wayne Thomas

Divorces represent an opportunity for couples to move on. For some, this process involves physically relocating to another town or state. However, if minor children are involved, Arizona places restrictions on a noncustodial parent's ability to modify joint physical custody following a move.

Overview of Custody

In Arizona, joint custody refers to the sharing of parenting responsibilities and includes both physical custody and legal custody. Joint legal custody is the sharing of important decisions regarding the child, such as medical treatment, education and religious affiliation. Joint physical custody refers to the sharing of overnights with the child. The sharing of physical custody does not often result in an equal 50/50 division, and the parent with less parent-child contact may be referred to by the court as the noncustodial parent, despite custody being held jointly.

Moving Without Child

If the noncustodial parent in a joint custody arrangement wants to move without the child, he must file a motion with the court detailing the circumstances and reasons for the move and provide at least 60 days notice to the other parent. If the parties can work out an agreement to modify the existing arrangement to accommodate the move, they may file that agreement with the court. Judges will generally accept agreements so long as the modification does not negatively impact the welfare of the child. In making this determination, the court will consider the child's adjustment to home, school and community and the mental and physical health of both parents and the child. Custody orders are not modifiable until one year has passed since they were issued, unless it can be shown that the current arrangement seriously threatens the child's physical or mental health.

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Moving With Child

A noncustodial parent may believe that the existing arrangement is workable despite relocation. If the custodial parent disagrees, she must file a motion for modification with the court to request a change in the parenting time arrangement based on the best interests of the child. The noncustodial parent may also believe that the move would benefit the child to such a degree that he should have more parenting time and become the custodial parent. The same notice and filing requirements apply in this case, and the court will consider additional factors, such as whether the move will benefit the child, and whether the move is made in good faith and not made to deny the other parent contact.

Effect on Legal Custody

Because the relocation of the noncustodial parent can be highly disruptive to a child's present living environment, modification of physical custody is often necessary. However, because joint legal custody covers only the sharing of decision-making between parents, it does not necessarily need to be modified to suit the best interests of the child when the noncustodial parent moves. This is because communication between parents by telephone, email and postal mail is generally not negatively affected by geographic distance.

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