A Matter of Perspective — Child custody as viewed from the bench

After many years of appearing in front of judges about custody matters, there are some universal truths that color judges’ perspectives on this topic. It’s helpful to be able to advise clients about how judges think.

1. Judges often feel they need to remind you that you and the other parent made choices that led to your becoming parents, and you picked each other. You don’t get to second-guess those choices now that you and that person are no longer together. If you go into court to tell the judge that the other parent is an abuser, a drug addict, an alcoholic, a neglectful, endangering parent, or any other of a myriad of criticisms— you’d better have a lot of examples to prove your case. You also need to recognize that these developments impugn your own judgment, at one time you chose this person to be the parent of your child.

2. There are very few causes that will bring a judge to the point that he or she will suspend parenting time altogether. It takes hearing after hearing before something like that is likely, and even then, it’s doubtful. Arizona statutes mandate that after consideration of a child’s best interests, each parent’s available parenting time be maximized.

3. The parent that has no other agenda other than what best serves a child, is the parent to whom the judge pays attention. Parents who go to court thinking the court will punish the other parent for what they perceive as poor parenting, are most often disappointed. Court isn’t about punishment, it’s about protecting children.

4. Judges have seen all the tricks. They know the parent that insists on 50/50 parenting time just to put the child in day care during their time is motivated by reducing their child support obligation. They understand that joint decision-making is often an ego issue. They know that parents sometimes set the other parent up to fail, to over-react, even to get arrested. There’s nothing they haven’t seen, and they recognize destructive motivation. Sometimes those tactics will backfire in ways that were never intended.

5. Judges don’t allow you to tell them what your child says, or how your child feels. They will allow a therapist, or a counselor, or a teacher to tell them, but you cannot. Other than the testimony of a professional, children’s actions are the best barometer of their feelings.

6. There is no magic age when children are allowed to decide where they will live. The court will sometimes have a child interviewed by a professional to determine what they want and why, but that doesn’t mean the court will do what a child wants. The judge will take many factors into consideration when deciding custody, the child’s wishes are just one factor.

For the statutory mandates that judges must consider in custody cases, we recommend that you review Arizona Revised Statutes §25-401 through 407. You can find these at www.azleg.gov/ArizonaRevisedStatutes.asp

Look for Title 25. If you have questions, be sure to call us!

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