Reporter: Craig Smith
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Child custody can be the most contentious part of a divorce. As of New Year's Day Arizona parents, and judges will face a lot of changes in how custody's decided---including removing the word "custody
The law recognizes that kids generally grow up better with two responsible parents active in their lives---but it also recognizes divorce can deprive children of that.
It doesn't even talk about custody anymore. Instead it's parenting time and that time carries a high priority.
The law is designed to improve the amount of time a child has with both parents. It would get beyond the every other weekend visits non-custodial parents often have now, but family law attorney Ann Haralambie says that does not mean divorced parents can count on a fifty-fifty split on time with their children. It directs judges to act in a child's best interests and be practical about it.
Haralambie says, "So if you have one parent who lives in Marana, another parent who lives in Vail and you have a first grader who goes to school is is not going to be practical to divide that child time fifty-fifty in most instances."
Judges will also have discretion on whether parents can share control over important decisions on issues like education or health, or whether that decision making power should stay with one parent.
KGUN 9 reporter Craig Smith asked Haralambie:"Does this give a judge so much latitude that it could be a major change or almost no change at all based on how the judge interprets?"
Haralambie:"Judges have always had so much latitude to do pretty much anything they wanted that that judge found to be in the best interest of the child."
Haralambie says successful joint decision making---and whether a judge will allow it in the first place---will depend on whether parents can put aside the anger they may feel for each other and pul together for the good of the child.
"So I always ask my clients do you love your children more than you hate or dislike your ex?"
Psychologist Dr. Dennis Embry runs the Paxis Institute. He says there's growing research on just how important it is for a child to have the influence of a father growing up.
He says a child can grow up okay with one parent who has solid parenting skills.
"But if you have two parental figures who are really suppostive of that child's development and equally contribute to that that's going to be better for the child. Hands down."
Craig Smith asked: "Even if they're separated as a couple?"
Embry: "Even if they're separated but they have positive nurturing relationships."
Dr. Embry says in a lot of divorces the conflict's not over the children, so shared decision making can be a good arrangement, if parents can truly pull together for the good of the child.
"But if they bicker and fight over their children just for who gets brownie points in the contest of life that's going to be problematic."
These new rules apply to new custody arrangements made after the new year. They do not affect existing child custody arrangements unless there's some sort of substantial change that leads a parent to ask for a change---that would be something like a parent moving, or a child's schedule changing in a substantial way.