How to Settle Child Custody in Arizona: 5 Steps

In a settlement, parents work together to decide their case, often with professional assistance. The alternative is a judge deciding legal decision-making and parenting time in a trial.

A settlement agreement becomes a final order if the court decides it meets the children's best interests.

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Settling is recommended because custody orders tend to meet children's and parents' needs better when parents decide them. It's also faster and less expensive than going to trial.

A complete settlement is when parents compromise on all issues in their case. In a partial settlement, parents agree on some issues and take the rest to trial.

A complete settlement agreement is also called a consent decree (for divorcing parents) or a consent judgment (for unmarried parents).

1. Reach an agreement

You can reach a settlement with the other parent before or after filing a case.

Some parents hire a mediator and lawyers to help with negotiations and paperwork. If you have a particularly complex case, consider collaborative law, in which a team of experts helps you and the other parent reach an agreement.

Parents with straightforward cases who can readily compromise may be able to negotiate an agreement on their own. Always have a legal representative review a settlement before signing.

2. Complete settlement paperwork

You can download and fill out the settlement forms from the state's self-help website or your county's website.

Experts recommend creating your own parenting plan (which includes a parenting time schedule) instead of using the court-provided template, which isn't detailed enough for many families. Simply attach your customized parenting plan to your other court forms.

If you're divorcing, attach the plan to your Consent Decree of Divorce (sometimes called a Marital Settlement Agreement).

If you're not married to the parent, attach the plan to your Final Judgment (sometimes called a Paternity Judgment and Order).

Most counties also require a child support calculation worksheet and child support order.

Ask the court clerk for any additional forms your case may require.

3. Sign in front of a notary

Your signatures must be notarized, so both parents should wait to sign any forms until they're with a notary public or the court clerk.

After notarization, make at least three copies of each form. The court clerk can usually do this for you (for a fee).

4. Submit your forms

When you submit your forms depends on when you reach a settlement.

Unmarried parents can submit their settlement agreement when they open a case.

In Maricopa County, divorcing parents can also submit an agreement when they file, but a judge won't approve the settlement for at least 60 days.

In other counties, divorcing parents can't submit an agreement until 60 days after filing their case.

If these divorcing parents have a settlement ready when they open the case, the filing parent should request the agreed-upon arrangements in their initial paperwork so the other parent can submit a response in agreement. This signals to the court that a settlement is coming. (Some parents opt not to file a response and instead get a default judgment to avoid additional filing fees.)

In all cases, parents who aren't ready to settle early on can submit an agreement later in the litigation process.

When you submit your forms to the court, you may have to pay filing fees, depending on your case and county.

5. Receive final orders

In most cases, parents don't need to return to court to get their settlement approved. Instead, the judge reviews the agreement behind the scenes.

If the settlement meets the children's best interests, the judge approves it, and the court mails the final orders to both parents. You should receive them within a month of filing your settlement (possibly longer, depending on how busy your court is).

If the judge has questions about your agreement or finds that it doesn't meet the children's best interests, the court contacts both parents to schedule a hearing about the concerns.

After you've settled

The custody journey continues after you receive final orders. Now your responsibilities include:

To do all of this and more, use Custody X Change.

The online app's customizable calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, expense tracker and parenting plan template will make life after settlement as straightforward as they made settlement itself.

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