NPO Highlights Study’s Findings of Positive Perception
for Arizona Shared Parenting Law
A recent study showed that Arizona family law professionals have a positive view of the state’s shared parenting law overall and its impact on children’s best interest — even among those generally found to be the harshest critics of such laws.
Published in the Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, the April 2018 study presents the results of an evaluation conducted of Arizona Revised Statutes 25-403.02 (2013), which directed courts to “maximize” a child’s time with both parents in custody decisions. This study included a statewide survey of the four family law professions (court staff, judges, mental health providers and attorneys) to assess perceptions four years after passage of the legislation.
The consensus showed that the law led to an increase in parenting time for fathers, with “good dads” now virtually assured of receiving equal parenting rights. At the same time, there was shown to be no noticeable increase in legal conflict leading up to custodial decisions.
“These findings are extremely encouraging and reinforce the idea that shared parenting benefits children,” said Petra Maxwell, Executive Director of the National Parents Organization. “The bill in Arizona specifically did not include presumption language related to parenting time, and courts have been directed only to maximize opportunities for both parents. Judges have been free to interpret the meaning of ‘maximize.’ Shared parenting has become the apparent starting point, and the positive perception of the law clearly indicates that courts continue to use judicial latitude when determining the best interests of a child.”
The authors of the study received responses from 209 family law professionals in Arizona. This number represented 11 percent of the state’s attorneys, 40 percent of judges, 50 percent of mental health practitioners, and 82 percent of county conciliation court staff, which includes mediators, attorneys, conciliators, counselors and evaluators employed by the court.
Survey questions were formatted using a 1- to 5-point Likert scale with a neutral midpoint (3) and 5 being the most positive. Ratings were averaged across the four professions to obtain a comprehensive perspective that gave equal weight to each profession.
The results showed a moderate increase in parenting time with fathers, averaging out to a 4.04 response. Additionally, the overall perception of the law was positive, with an average response of 3.53, and the perception of its effect on the child’s best interests had a positive rating of 3.40.
Conciliation staff and judges showed the most favorability, while attorneys and mental health professionals showed a nearly equal split between positive and negative.
“Shared parenting continues to be the best outcome for children,” Maxwell said. “Special interest groups continue to push the incorrect idea that these laws take away a court’s ability to exercise judgment, and the results of this survey dispel that myth. Opposition to these laws generally comes from groups who profit the most off of our broken family court system, but this study demonstrates that the judiciary will continue to have the discretion to award child support orders that protect the interests of children at all costs. Other states would be wise to take into account these results when looking at passing their own legislation.”
In January 2013, Arizona became the first state to order that, “Consistent with the child’s best interests … the court shall adopt a parenting plan that maximizes [both parents’] respective parenting time” (Arizona Revised Statutes 25-403.02). According to one of the authors of the study, it was critical to educate attorneys, judges and mediators for several years prior to January 2013 on the benefits of this law and that it would not limit judicial discretion.
The governor’s signed statement released to the media said, “The ultimate goal is to limit one-sided custody decisions and to encourage as much shared parent–child time as possible for the positive development of the child.”
ABOUT NATIONAL PARENTS ORGANIZATION
National Parents Organization, a charitable and educational 501(c)(3) organization, seeks better lives for children through family law reform that establishes equal rights and responsibilities for fathers and mothers after divorce or separation. The organization is focused on promoting shared parenting and preserving a child’s strong bond with both parents, which is critically important to their emotional, mental and physical health. In 2014, National Parents Organization released the Shared Parenting Report Card, the first study to rank the states on child custody laws. Visit the National Parents Organization website at www.nationalparentsorganizatio