Written by Canterbury Law Group

How To Get Custody Of A Child In Arizona (Process)

If you’re looking for how to get custody of a child in Arizona, this post should help. Here is a step by step guide on the process of getting custody of a child in Arizona.

If this is the first time you are meeting with an Arizona family attorney about child custody, paternity matter, or child support, you absolutely want to know what to expect throughout the legal process. To help get yourself ready for what lies ahead, you should at least get a comprehensive idea of how long the process will take, what costs it might entail, what is required of you, and what you ought to expect. Not all these things can be decided precisely this early in the process but the more information you collect up front, the better off you will be in the end.

In Arizona, establishing a child-custody case take at least three months but, in some cases can take up to a year and occasionally even longer. The “even longer” part is likely not what you want to hear, but it is essential to be realistic and know that these matters are going to take time. The largest variable on the length of time and cost is whether you and the other parent can come together to reach full agreement on everything that needs to be decided. If you can do that, then you can get an uncontested decree and parenting plan usually within 90 days (judge’s order). If the other side fails to reply or be involved in the process, or doesn’t do so in a timely manner, you might be able to obtain a default judgment. If not, the case becomes a contested affair with evidentiary hearing(s) and/or a trial, this can take 6 to 24 months.

Listed below is a high-level step-by-step outline of usual establishment proceedings in Arizona family courts. Some of these steps may not apply, subject to the nature of the matter and the direction it is going take.

Fill Out And File The Papers To Start The Case

You must start with the somewhat tedious exercise of filling out the many forms the court requires to start a case. These documents include:

  • The Family Court cover sheet/Sensitive Datasheet, which includes confidential data commonly wanted by identity thieves, like birthdates and Social Security numbers. The court will retain this information and will never share it with the other party.
  • The cover sheet (an individual one may not be needed, depending on the county).
  • The Summons to Appear/Respond.
  • A Petition to Establish Paternity, Child Support, Child Custody (Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), usually depending on the nature of the case.
  • The Notice of Appearance. This is only filed with the court if an attorney is representing you from the start of the matter.

Although it can change, the present filing fee for a Petition in Maricopa County is $349.00. For a Response, the filing fee in Maricopa County is $269.00. The total fees may differ in other counties in Arizona.  If you cannot afford the filing fees, you can apply for a fee-waiver by using the fee waiver form.

Process Serve The Other Party

The fastest, easiest, and most affordable way to serve the other party is through certified mail with a return receipt and restricted delivery. You absolutely need to use restricted delivery if anyone else lives with the other party who might unknowingly sign for the delivery, which would void the service. The cost for certified mail is around $10.00 to $15.00, depending on the weight and whether you ask for a postcard to be returned and/or electronic verification.

If the other party denies or fails to sign for the certified mail, with the knowledge or suspect they are being served legal papers, then you will have to hire a licensed process server. This will usually cost you from $75.00 to around $125.00, depending on the provider, how far away they must drive to find the person, and how hard he or she is trying to avoid service.

If you are incapable of serving the other party by certified mail or process server, you can petition the court for approval to serve by different methods. You must prove you have depleted all reasonable ways first or have no idea where to find the person. Service by posting is one alternative. This involves a process server physically attaching a posting and court papers in a prominent place on the person’s last known residence. Service by publication is an additional option. It requires placing a legal notice in a newspaper of general distribution in the county where the person was last known to reside, for at least four weeks in a row. The cost is typically between $100.00 and $200.00, depending on the type of publication. The publication will give you a price up front, get the legal notice prepared, and provide confirmation of publication.

Take A Parenting Class

If the court requests that you to take a parenting class, don’t take it personally. This doesn’t mean you are a lousy parent. It is just another required step in the process.  Most counties require mandatory parenting classes, many of which can be satisfied online.

You must take a verified parenting course within 45 days after the Respondent’s papers are served. The cost is $50.00. If you’re in Maricopa County, visit the Arizona Superior Court’s website on the Parent Information Program or Approved Parent Information Program Classes. Or give the Family Court Conciliation Services a call at 602-506-1448.

Wait To File A Consent Decree

If you and the other party come to an agreement on all conditions of the child custody concerns that the court requires you to resolve, and if you both entirely agree with each other even after the filing of the petition, all you need to do is wait at the mandatory 60 days “cooling off period” after service is affected to submit a proposed consent decree that both parties have signed. You may need to wait a couple of days up to a couple of weeks for a judge to get around to signing it—usually they have up to 60 days to sign—but you should get the order no more than three months or so after beginning the process.

It is plausible you may need to attend at least one court hearing. The law says a hearing is the judge’s choice if it involves one or more children. But judges are always busy, they may not make you do so. Every case is different.

Wait For A Response

If the other party is served in Arizona, he or she has 20 days to respond (usually 25 days if the other party was served by mail). If the other party is served out-of-state, he or she has 30 days to respond (35 days if served by mail). You don’t count the day the other person is served. You start counting from the day after that and includes weekends and the holidays. Additionally, if the last day falls on a holiday or weekend, then the other party has up until the end of the next business day to file a response.

File For A Default Judgment

If the other party doesn’t ever file a written response, you can ask the court to start default proceedings against him or her for failure to appear on time or file a response. He or she will get another 10 days’ clemency period after that to file a response without penalty. If the other party still doesn’t file a response, then you would file a final petition for a default judgment along with a suggested default decree. It’s possible you will get everything you asked for in the petition, as long as it is within reason. Nevertheless, you still have to wait at least 90 days from the filing date to petition before a judge will sign off on the default decree.

Go To Court

If the other party files a written response, the clerk’s office automatically refers the case to the appointed judge’s division for his or her assistant to set up a Resolution Management Conference. At this initial hearing, the judge needs to hear from both parties as to whether any kind of agreement has been reached on any of the terms of the subject. He or she may also refer both parties to Conciliation Court for mediation if there are any leftover terms that need to be addressed. If this doesn’t end up in a full agreement, the court eventually sets a date for trial.

If you must go to court, make sure you get represented by a knowledgeable and experienced Arizona family law attorney. You and your family are way too important for you to try by yourself.  Going to trial without a lawyer is like going golfing without clubs, or going shopping without money—it just does not work.

*This information is not intended to be legal advice. Please contact Canterbury Law Group today to learn more about your personal legal needs. 480-744-7711 or [email protected]

Speak With One Of Our Child Custody Attorneys In Scottsdale

Canterbury Law Group’s child custody  in Phoenix and Scottsdale will advance  your case with personal attention and always have you and your children’s best interest in mind when offering legal solutions.

We are experienced family law attorneys and will fight for you to obtain the best possible outcome in your situation. Our firm will represent you fully, so you can get on with your life. Call today for an initial consultation! 480-744-7711 or [email protected]

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