Legal expert: New AZ child custody law not a sea change - Tucson News Now

Legal expert: New AZ child custody law not a sea change

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The new year brings a new Arizona law intended to help children of divorce.

However, there's a difference of opinion over how big the change is and what it will mean for the families involved.

At first blush, SB1127 might seem like it changes a lot of things for parents involved in child custody cases.

But a Tucson legal expert who has studied it and held seminars on it says it's not what she calls a sea change at all.

"There's a lot of people who think this law's creating a tsunami of change. I like to think it's more like a mirage," says Family Law Attorney Kathleen McCarthy of the McCarthy Law Firm.

McCarthy says, some people think it does something it does not.

She says the law does not require judges to award joint physical custody, now called parenting time.

"There is absolutely nothing in this statute that guarantees one parent more time with the child than they would have received previously," McCarthy says.

McCarthy says what the new law does do is change language regarding child custody.

It's a change McCarthy says has been needed to remove the stigma of custody or, more specifically, not having custody.

She says the language is more neutral now.

"With parenting time, they changed it from custody and visitation to parenting time. They changed legal custody to decision making,"

McCarthy says the law basically clarifies or expands what judges have done all along in considering whether parents should share decisions regarding the child, and how they should share them.

Legal decision making for the child can involve religion and education.  It can be medical decisions.

The law also says the court cannot consider the gender of the parent when making decisions.

"For years now that has been the case where the court is basically supposed to be gender blind," McCarthy says.

She says the law also emphasizes that decisions be made in the best interest of the child and that, if the child is of suitable age and maturity, the judge consider the child's wishes.

That's something else McCarthy says judges already were doing.

"Judges have always done that. Judges don't park their common sense at the door,"

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