Legal Decision-Making Authority Explained

             We get questions all the time from our clients that shows confusion about what authority a parent has over decisions made in the other parent’s household, and what decisions require consultation between parents who share joint legal decision-making authority.  Do you need to get permission from the other parent before having a babysitter watch your children when you go out to dinner?  What about if your daughter wants to wear mascara to school?  What if your ex has different ideas from you about whether your child should watch a PG-13 rated movie?

            Joint legal decision-making authority requires parents to work together and consult with one another to make decisions in very specific arenas of child rearing, including the following:

·      Medical decisions, which include the selection of doctors, dentists, mental health professionals, and the like.  It also includes consenting to non-emergency medical procedures such as vaccines and surgeries

·      Educational decisions, which include the selection of a school/routine child care provider and consent to educational testing

·      Religious decisions, which include participation in rites that indoctrinate a child into a particular faith

·      Personal care decisions, which include any major, semi-permanent changes to a child’s physical appearance

The day-to-day decisions on caring for a child, such as personal grooming, diet, bedtimes, discipline, supervision of homework, participation in extra-curricular activities, playdates and activities within the home are not subject to legal decision-making authority.  These sorts of decisions do not typically require consultation with the other parent – even if the other parent holds sole legal decision-making authority – and are instead treated as routine parenting decisions that must be made by any parent while exercising parenting time. 

            The court’s ability to review routine parenting decisions is limited unless one of these decisions is so clearly not in the best interests of a child that action is warranted.  For example, if a parent insists on feeding a child a food to which the child is allergic, or refuses to administer medication as prescribed by a doctor, then judicial action is warranted.  Similarly, if a teacher indicates that a child is falling asleep every day after exercising parenting time with one parent, or flunking a class because work is not being completed at home, then this sort of parenting issue can be cause to modify parenting time.

-Erin Fox

What About the Personal Property?

We are often asked how the court goes about dividing personal property, and how detailed a person should be in outlining the personal property.  As with all property acquired during the marriage, the first presumption is that personal property belongs equally to the spouses and should be equally divided. 

First, address items that may not have any monetary value, but have enormous personal significance.  This most often comes up with photographs, memorabilia from children, and holiday decorations.  When it is possible to copy such items so that each spouse has a complete copy, this should be done.  Otherwise, the fairest approach is to equally divide these items.

            Personal property with a financial value also must be addressed.  Some ways to go about dividing the personal property without having to determine the value of those items is to have the spouses alternate picking items, with the first pick to be determined by the flip of a coin.  Another alternative is to instruct one spouse to make two lists that separate all of the property.  The second spouse then picks between the two lists and retains the property outlined on the selected list.  This method gives some incentive to the first spouse creating the list to be fair in outlining the division, since the second spouse would pick a list that has the greater value.

There may be items that need to be valued so that one spouse can receive the appropriate compensation.  The court considers the value of personal property to be the resale value at the time of the divorce, and not the purchase value at the time that the item was acquired.  An appraisal may be necessary.  An internet search may also reveal at what price comparable items are selling.

If the spouses cannot resolve the division of personal property or the value of that property, it may be necessary to involve a judge.  First, be sure that the item is worth sufficient money so that litigating regarding the item makes sense.  The judge can order that one party will retain a disputed item at a certain price, and order an equalization payment if one spouse is receiving more than half of the value of the property.  The judge can also require the disputed property to be sold, with the proceeds to be divided between the parties.  If the spouses do not cooperate sufficiently well to manage a sale together, it is possible to hire a liquidation company to facilitate the sale of marital property.

Don’t hesitate to contact McNorton Fox PLLC if you need advice about how best to manage the personal property division in your case.

-Erin Fox

Child Support Modification Time!

April is almost over, which means that the month of May and high school graduations are rapidly approaching!  This is the time for most parents with a senior in high school to file to modify or terminate a child support obligation.

            Arizona law defines the emancipation of a child for child support purposes as generally taking place when the child is both eighteen years of age and has graduated from or is no longer attending high school.  This means that most parents of high school seniors will need to modify or terminate child support effective May 31 so that the high school senior is no longer covered by the support order.  May 31 is also the appropriate end date for the support obligation if your child is still under the age of eighteen but is graduating from high school in May. 

            Modification is the appropriate process if there is another minor child common to the relationship that is covered under the support order.  Termination of the support order should be requested if the child in question is the only child or the youngest child covered by a Child Support Order.

            In the event that child support arrears are owed, and a termination of the support order is requested, the Court will terminate the ongoing child support amount but will require payments on the arrears until they are satisfied in full.

            It is important to note that the Court does not track when your children are emancipating, and the Court will not take any steps to terminate or modify your support order for you.  It is your responsibility to prepare and file the appropriate paperwork in a timely manner to address these issues.  Contact McNorton Fox PLLC for guidance if you are interested in pursuing a change to your Child Support Order! 

-Erin Fox