Skilled Legal Counsel for Your Domestic Case
Family Law, which includes marital dissolution, legal decision-making, and parenting time issues, is a legal area delving into matters intensely personal to each individual. A marital dissolution is a highly emotional event and you require an attorney who is sensitive to your struggles, but is knowledgeable, professional, and reasonable in their decision-making. SHICK LAW OFFICES has the knowledge and experience to handle your Family Law needs, from detailed management of complex marital property disputes to the responsive advocacy required in combative child custody proceedings.
SHICK LAW OFFICES prides itself on quality customer service. Aware of the stress legal proceedings add to an already difficult situation, we make it our business to counsel clients on their legal rights and options in terms they can understand, with an ultimate goal of completing their case as efficiently and successfully as possible. Our clients can expect SHICK LAW OFFICES to be considerate and compassionate, but professional and efficient, quickly responding to their needs. We communicate promptly, timely returning emails and telephone calls, and punctually advising on case developments. We work closely with clients throughout the entire legal process to ensure they are confident that their interests are being well-served. We will analyze the merits of your case, evaluate the significant facts and relevant law, and develop strategies that will meet your long–term goals.
SHICK LAW OFFICES ethically, fairly, and effectively advocates for our clients. We understand that any type of Family Law case can be unpleasant, whether it is a contested divorce, child custody proceeding, relocation, or grandparents’ visitation matter, and we work diligently to ensure the timely resolution of your case. With emotions running high and the stakes even higher, you need a Family Law attorney with the ability to provide you with sound legal advice and support, while being responsible with your funds. We do our best to keep expenses low, while providing you the professionalism and experience to help guide you through to a successful result. Few areas of the law are as emotionally charged as Family Law, which encompasses multiple issues affecting our clients’ everyday lives. We know this is a very stressful time in your life and we strive to ensure that you have the support you need.
Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time
SHICK LAW OFFICES provides knowledgeable, experienced representation in cases involving legal decision-making and parenting time. We know that these issues often lead to emotion-driven disputes during which parents can forget that their children wish to love them both equally and be free to enjoy their relationships with both parents. It is only in those cases where clearly identifiable issues impacting parental fitness can challenge that notion of equality. SHICK LAW OFFICES identifies the issues impacting your children’s well-being and will help guide you in best presenting your case.
"Legal decision-making" (formerly known as “legal custody”) means the legal right and responsibility to make all non-emergency legal decisions for a child, including those regarding education, medical care, and religious training. "Joint legal decision-making" means that both parents share decision-making for their child and neither parent's rights or responsibilities are superior. "Sole legal decision-making" means one parent has the legal right and responsibility to make major decisions for a child. Sole legal decision-making is reserved for cases including those in which significant domestic violence has occurred or a parent engages in drug and/or alcohol abuse.
"Parenting time" means the schedule of time during which each parent has the child in his/her care. During their scheduled parenting time, each parent is responsible for providing the child with food, clothing, and shelter, and may make routine decisions concerning the child's care. Legal decision-making and parenting time are determined considering the factors set forth in A.R.S. §25-403 (https://www.azleg.gov/ars/25/00403.htm), which focus on meeting a child’s best interests. The law presumes that “frequent and meaningful parenting time” (often interpreted as “equal” absent compelling reasons to refuse equal parenting time) with both parents is in a child's best interests, but it also recognizes that not every parent is capable of parenting effectively. There is a rebuttable presumption in Arizona that joint custody by a parent who has been convicted of a drug offense or has committed a significant act of domestic violence is not in the child’s best interest. In order to safeguard the "best interests" of a child, courts will evaluate a variety of factors, including: the child's existing relationship with each parent; the parent who is most likely to allow frequent and meaningful contact with the other parent; the mental and physical health of each parent; the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community; and parental drug offenses and criminal history. Depending on the age and maturity of a child, their wishes may also be considered.
Whether you have concerns about the safety of your child while in the care of the other parent, or you require assistance in presenting your own parental fitness, SHICK LAW OFFICES is prepared to help you. If you require counseling or treatment to overcome personal challenges, or face allegations of abuse by your spouse, we can direct you to the resources necessary to meet your needs.
Arizona’s Child Support Guidelines set forth the factors and method for calculating child support. For the calculation of child support, generally, the Guidelines utilize gross income for a 40-hour work week, day care expenses, the child’s health insurance cost, parenting time days, education expense (such as tuition), and any special needs costs. The Guidelines also give credit for the support of other legal children not mutual to the parties.
Unlike legal decision-making and parenting time issues, child support is a fairly inflexible obligation that the paying party can expect will continue until the emancipation of the youngest child. Under Arizona law, all other financial obligations are secondary to a child support obligation. Child support orders should be revisited to account for new circumstances such as the birth of another child or changes in income.
If you or your loved one is having difficulty with unpaid child support, SHICK LAW OFFICES can assist in enforcing your award, collecting past due support, and/or ensuring that future child support is collected promptly. Call SHICK LAW OFFICES to discuss what we can do to assist you.
Arizona’s Child Support Guidelines can be viewed here:: http://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/34/Forms/FamilyLaw/AOCDRS10H2018.pdf.
To calculate child support, utilize the 2018 Child Support Calculator: https://www.azcourts.gov/familylaw/2018-Child-Support-Calculator.
Grandparents Rights/Third Party Visitation
By itself, the status of grandparent is insufficient to assure visitation rights with a grandchild under Arizona law. In order to secure a court order establishing a right to regular contact with a grandchild, a grandparent must demonstrate to the Court that his/her relationship with the child is in the child’s best interests, and it is a significant and meaningful relationship. A grandparent must also show that granting legal protection to the relationship is in the child's best interests. A Court will consider the factors set forth in A.R.S. §24-409(C) in determining whether visitation rights should be ordered to legally ensure a grandparent's relationship with their grandchild. https://www.azleg.gov/viewdocument/?docName=https://www.azleg.gov/ars/25/00409.htm.
Preliminarily, whether it is a grandparent or an individual seeking third-party visitation, the Court must find that one of the legal parents is deceased or has been missing for at least three months; the child was born out of wedlock and the child's legal parents are not married to each other at the time the petition is filed; for grandparent or great-grandparent visitation, that the marriage of the child’s parents has been dissolved for at least three months; or, for “in loco parentis” visitation (a person who stands “in the place of a parent”), the legal parents’ proceeding for dissolution of marriage or legal separation is pending at the time the petition is filed. In considering a grandparent’s/third-party’s request, the Court will consider the historical relationship between the child and the person seeking visitation, the motivation of the requesting party, the motivation of the person objecting, the quantity of visitation requested and the potential adverse impact that visitation will have on the child's customary activities, and, if one or both of the child's parents is deceased, the benefit in maintaining an extended family relationship.
Furthermore, a grandparent or other non-parent may wish to establish legal decision-making for a child whose circumstances with his/her legal parent are seriously troubled or unstable. SHICK LAW OFFICES assists grandparents and other non-parents who have played a significant role in a child's life in obtaining legal decision-making and physical custody of the child.
Under Arizona Revised Statute §25-409(A), a non-parent may petition for legal decision-making/physical custody of a child if the person filing the petition stands "in loco parentis" to the child, meaning that the child has treated the person as a parent and a meaningful parental relationship has existed for a substantial period of time. Further, the non-parent must establish that it would be significantly detrimental to place the child with either of the child's legal parents. The Court must also find that another court has not entered an order concerning the child's custody within one year before the non-parent filed (unless there exists emergency circumstances); and that one of the following applies: one of the legal parents is deceased; the child's legal parents are not married to each other at the time of the filing; or that the legal parents’ marital dissolution or legal separation is pending at the time of filing. There exists is a rebuttable presumption that it is in a child's best interest to award legal decision-making/physical custody to a legal parent because of the physical, psychological, and emotional benefit to the child to be reared by his/her legal parent. To rebut this presumption, the non-parent must show by clear and convincing evidence that awarding legal decision-making /physical custody to a legal parent is not in the child's best interests.
Typically, the types of cases motivating a non-parent to seek legal decision-making/physical custody of a child involve ill-treatment of a child, inappropriate or unsafe living conditions, a parent's abuse of drugs or alcohol, or untreated mental health issues. These cases require a thorough, professional presentation to the Court as there are many significant factors to weigh in pursuing court orders that interfere with a legal parent's rights. SHICK LAW OFFICES has the experience and knowledge to assist you in pursuing the “in loco parentis” case.
It is best when spouses amicably resolve the issues arising from their decision to divorce: when parties work toward effectively and fairly resolving these issues, they can more effectively co-parent in the future, and move forward in their lives absent distrust and bitterness. Ultimately, divorcing parties will control their own destinies if they can jointly resolve the matters arising from the dissolution of their marriage.
An Uncontested Marital Dissolution results when divorcing spouses agree on resolution of their marital issues prior to the filing of the initial pleadings, including legal decision-making and parenting time, and distribution of property, assets, and debt; however, even in an uncontested divorce, the parties may require guidance in fairly and effectively reaching agreeable terms. SHICK LAW OFFICES is prepared to assist you in resolving marital issues absent prolonged, costly litigation.
In a Contested Marital Dissolution, the parties cannot come to agreement on legal decision-making and parenting time matters, child support, spousal maintenance, and/or the distribution of property, assets, and debts. A contested divorce may require mental health assessments, extensive investigation into financial matters, business valuations, and/or complex litigation to arrive at resolution. SHICK LAW OFFICES takes the time to carefully review cases in order to provide our clients with reasonable expectations. Further, we strive to mitigate the adverse impact of litigation, representing our clients with an end goal of preserving their parent-child relationships and protecting marital assets.
Many spouses determine that there are practical reasons to remain married, but to separate assets and responsibility for debts, as well as implement guidelines for legal decision-making and parenting time. Legal separation may meet your needs while technically functioning just like a divorce. A legal separation is a particularly effective alternative when a difficult to insure spouse stands to lose health insurance benefits upon divorce. A legal separation is also a sound option when spouses are uncertain of their desire to divorce, but must protect assets and assign responsibility for the payment of debt while they consider their future together.
A Court will consider an award of spousal maintenance utilizing the factors provided in A.R.S. §25-319 (https://www.azleg.gov/ars/25/00319.htm); however, there is no formula or calculation for the determination of a spousal maintenance award and, as such, the issue is left to the discretion of each judge.
A Court will determine that a litigant qualifies for spousal maintenance if it finds that a requesting spouse:
- lacks sufficient property to provide for his/her reasonable living needs;
- is unable to be self-sufficient through appropriate employment, or is the custodian of a child whose age/condition is such that the spouse should not be required to seek employment outside the home;
- has made a significant financial or other contribution to the education, training, vocational skills, career, or earning ability of the other spouse;
- had a marriage of long duration and is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self-sufficient; or
- has significantly reduced his/her income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse.
If the Court finds that one of these factors applies, it will then consider:
- standard of living during the marriage;
- length of the marriage;
- age, employment history, earning ability, and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;
- ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet his/her needs while paying maintenance;
- the comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities;
- contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse;
- extent to which the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced his/her income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other;
- ability of both parties after the dissolution to contribute to the future educational costs of mutual children;
- financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to that spouse, and that spouse's ability to meet his/her own needs independently;
- time necessary to acquire sufficient education/training to enable the requesting party to find appropriate employment and whether such education/training is readily available;
- excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community property (“marital waste”);
- cost for requesting spouse to obtain health insurance and the reduction in the cost of health insurance for the other spouse; and
- all actual damages and judgments from conduct resulting in the criminal conviction of either spouse in which the other spouse or a child was the victim.
Spousal maintenance is not designed to equalize incomes, but to provide rehabilitative opportunities for requesting spouse to receive education/training necessary to obtain employment which will provide for that spouse’s reasonable needs.
The issue of spousal maintenance is one requiring consideration of numerous factors and is often the most contentious issue in dissolution cases. SHICK LAW OFFICES has the knowledge and experience to effectively advocate for our clients, whether he/she pursues an award of spousal maintenance or avoid an unjust payment obligation.
Defining and Identifying Marital Assets
Arizona is a “community property” state, meaning that marital property and assets are divided in a process referred to as “equitable distribution”. This is designed to ensure that each party receives a fair and reasonable (but not necessarily equal) share in the property division.
“Separate property” includes any and all property brought into the marriage, property acquired as a gift and/or inheritance during the marriage, and/or property purchased with separate funds (obtained during the marriage). Separate property can include real property, investments, and money. Separate property is yours to keep when you divorce, so long as you have not commingled separate financial assets with “community” assets or retitled separate property into joint title with your spouse. (The income earned during your marriage is not your separate property.)
”Community property” is, presumptively, any and all property acquired during the marriage (excluding items acquired as separate property). This category is broad and includes items such as the marital residence, furniture, vehicles, income, and retirement accounts. During the dissolution process, you will be required to file a financial affidavit providing a full disclosure of all earnings, bank accounts, investment accounts, tax returns, loan applications, deeds/titles, promissory notes, and other assets and liabilities. If necessary, a business valuation expert and/or forensic accountant will be utilized to ensure that your spouse provides a full and fair disclosure of assets.
Divorce is difficult enough without going into it unprepared. If you think a divorce is in your future, there are several things you can do to protect your family relationships and financial interests. Here are a few of the things I suggest to my clients:
- Prepare a list of the important issues and your desired goals. If you have children, the list should include arrangements for their day-to-day care, and plans for academic and medical needs. You should also determine your financial and residential objectives.
- Avoid saying anything negative about your spouse, especially if you have children. Further, do not broadcast information about your marital disputes or complaints about your spouse on social media.
- Do not tell your child that he/she will “talk to the judge” or that your child will make the decision of the parent with which he/she will reside. It is rare that a child speaks to “a judge”; further, your child is most likely unequipped to make reasoned decisions concerning their residence.
- If it is reasonable and/or safe to do so, it is best to maintain open lines of communication with your spouse. Doing so allows settlement with your spouse absent unnecessary expense and/or court appearances, and fosters effective co-parenting in the future.
- If you have experienced domestic violence and law enforcement has been involved, obtain police reports documenting incidents of abuse. If you received medical treatment, gather your medical records. If the Department of Child Safety has been involved with your family, seek records documenting the case (you may request such records through DCS here: https://dcs.az.gov/resources/public-records-request.
Seek the advice and support of a domestic violence counselor and develop a safety plan if you are in fear of your spouse and/or must leave the home in order to ensure yours or your child's safety. You can seek information on domestic violence shelters and services at the following website: https://superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/llrc/resources/. If it is necessary for you to obtain an Order for Protection to prevent contact with your abusive spouse, the following is the link to Maricopa County Superior Court’s Protective Order Resource Center: https://superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/llrc/protective-orders/.
- Collect your last three years’ tax returns and W-2s, your last six months of bank statements and income information; and documentation evidencing insurance policies, benefit programs (such as medical insurance), and investment accounts. Make sure all of your important documents are maintained in a safe, secure place.
- Immediately open a bank account in your sole name at a bank where your spouse does not do business.
- The State of Arizona will not grant you a divorce unless your marriage is irretrievably broken. If you can repair your marriage, make the attempt. You can save yourself a lot of time, anguish, and money.
Modification & Enforcement
Family Law cases are unlike other legal proceedings which conclude upon settlement or a court's ruling. Because circumstances change, modification of a family court order is often necessary, be it orders for legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, or spousal maintenance. Some orders can be modified at any time, while others are subject to time limitations: for example, child custody orders cannot be modified for one year after entry, unless the child's present environment seriously endangers his/her physical, mental, or emotional well-being. Such modification requests are governed by A.R.S. §25-411 (https://www.google.com/search?q=ars+25-411&oq=ars+25-411&aqs=chrome..69i57j0.3014j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8). Modification of a child support obligation, however, can be ordered whenever there is a substantial and continuing change of circumstances which would result in the 15% adjustment in the child support obligation. Spousal maintenance can be modified when there is proof of a substantial and continuing change of circumstances, unless the divorce decree provides that maintenance is non-modifiable.
While legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, and spousal maintenance orders can be modified after entry of a Decree/Judgment, provisions regarding property division generally cannot be modified. In all modification actions, the party seeking modification must demonstrate that the modification is justified and that legal requirements have been met. SHICK LAW OFFICES is prepared to represent you in all modification matters arising from Family Law cases.
Typically, the most effective means of preserving a parent-child relationship is to provide regular and frequent contact between the child and his/her parent; however, certain circumstances arise which often require a parent to consider relocating the child a significant distance from the other parent. In some cases, the failure of the nonmoving parent to provide for the child’s financial needs or failure to engage in frequent and meaningful contact with the child, or their abusive conduct toward the child or moving parent, justifies an order for relocation. A.R.S. §25-408 outlines the steps that a custodial parent must take when planning to relocate (https://www.azleg.gov/ars/25/00408.htm).
Pursuant to A.R.S. §25-408, if by written agreement or court order both parents are entitled to joint legal decision-making or parenting time with the child, and both parents reside in the state, at least forty-five days' advance written notice must be provided to the other parent before a moving parent may relocate the child outside the state or more than one hundred miles within the state. Within thirty days after notice is made, the nonmoving parent may petition the court to prevent relocation of the child.
A Court shall determine whether to allow a parent to relocate the child in accordance with the child's best interests, and the burden of proof is on the moving parent. In determining the child's best interests, the court will consider all relevant factors including: The factors set forth in A.R.S. §25-403 (governing legal decision-making and parenting time determinations); and, in addition, whether the relocation is being sought/opposed in good faith and not to frustrate the relationship between the child and the other parent; the prospective advantage of the move for improving the general quality of life for the moving parent or for the child; the likelihood that the moving parent will comply with parenting time orders; whether the relocation will allow a realistic opportunity for parenting time with each parent; the extent to which moving/not moving will affect the emotional, physical, or developmental needs of the child; the motives of the parents and the validity of reasons given for moving or opposing the move, including the extent to which either parent may intend to gain a financial advantage regarding continuing child support obligations; and the potential effect of relocation on the child's stability.
Relocation cases are among the most difficult of all Family Law cases. There is generally no middle ground: one parent wishes to relocate the child, potentially interfering with the other parent's relationship with the child; and one party seeks to prevent a relocation that may improve the moving parent's quality of life. As such, many factors must be considered and thoroughly presented in order to effectively represent the client's interest.