Arizona’s statutes and rules regarding Family Law reflect policy decisions and societal values.
As a family law attorney, I [Mark W. Hawkins] have an interest in what these policies are because I have dealt with the impact of the laws and policies on a daily basis over the course of many years.
Increasingly, I’ve seen the challenges parental alienation presents. It is difficult for the courts to deal with these issues effectively; the judges have inadequate information. As a matter of divorce policy, and child custody policy, we should statutorily address parental alienation. Some have argued that child abuse statutes should apply to parental alienation, but the Arizona statutes are not effectively addressing the issue.
EQUAL PARENTING TIME
For example, effective January 1, 2013, the current version of A.R.S. 25-403.02 was enacted, which states that “the court shall adopt a parenting plan that provides for both parents to share legal decision-making regarding their child and that maximizes their respective parenting time. The court shall not prefer a parent’s proposed parenting plan because of the parent’s or child’s gender.”
Before that, who is the primary caregiver was one of the most influential factors in parenting time, and often led to one parent having the children most of the time, and the other parent having every other weekend and one night each week with the children, after a divorce.
After this change, I’ve seen many stay-at-home mothers who felt they were robbed because they end up with equal parenting time after a divorce, even though they had been the primary caregiver of young children for months and years.They strongly believe the children are better off being with them most of the time.
Before the change, I’d seen many fathers who felt they were robbed because they were working all the time, and as a result ended up being every-other-weekend fathers in a divorce. They strongly believed Arizona law was fundamentally unfair.
This is one of several issues that can be divisive. There are powerful forces and opinions on both sides of the issues, and the policies have a profound and pervasive impact on Arizona families in divorce and parenting time cases.
WHO DOESN’T MAKE THE POLICY
Mothers and Fathers–Their lives, and their children’s, are the most affected by the changes, but they don’t make policy.
Attorneys–As an attorney, I represent both mothers and fathers, and in each case I take one side or the other. I don’t make policy.
Judges–I’ve watched the judges grapple with tough issues, particularly with alienation. Our judges in superior court are capable and conscientious. They do not make the policy.
Experts–I often work with expert witnesses, including psychiatrists and counselors with bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degrees. You wouldn’t necessarily expect to see the experts change their opinions; if the question is, “What parenting schedule is best for the children in this family at this time?”, it shouldn’t matter that the law changed. The opinion of the expert is supposed to be based on science and studies. The experts do not make the policy.
WHO DOES MAKE THE POLICY
Legislators–The primary makers of family law policy for the State of Arizona are the members of the legislature. Arizona Revised Statutes embody Arizona’s policies and values regarding families and family law.
Arizona Supreme Court and Court of Appeals–The justices of the Arizona Supreme Court and approve the Arizona Rules of Family Court. They develop public policy by interpreting statutes in the way they believe is of greatest benefit to the people of the State of Arizona.
RESOURCES FOR POLICY
ASU LAW–Family Law Research Guide
U of A Law–Families & Society
Arizona Supreme Court–Family Law Materials
Arizona Courts: Child Support–Findings from Case File Data