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Sept. 12, 2018-Equal Parenting Time became Arizona’s starting point. This may have been due to educating judges with respect to the social science research which demonstrated the benefits to children

Advance Fair Warning: Today’s post is a bit longer than others. Today’s excerpts from Prof. Fabricius’ analysis of the Arizona law reform contain some fascinating insights (particularly in the latter part of the post) with respect to the importance of bringing social science research to the attention of judges:

The comprehensive professional perspective revealed that the new law [the Arizona law]

1. is functioning as a rebuttable presumption of equal parenting time,

2. that it has resulted in children having increased parenting time with fathers, and

3. that “good dads” are now virtually assured of being awarded equal parenting time even when mothers want the children to live primarily with them.

This is noteworthy because the bill that became law deliberately did not include presumption language or specific amounts of parenting time. Courts were directed only to “maximize” parenting time with both parents, and judges were free to interpret the meaning of that term. Nevertheless, most judges have chosen to begin with equal parenting time as the presumed starting point when parents disagree.

The second interesting question involves how the law came to be interpreted and implemented as a de facto rebuttable presumption for equal parenting time. There was deliberately no mention in the new law of either “equal” parenting time or any percentages of parenting time. Likewise, there was no mention of a “presumption” regarding parenting time. This was done to allay concerns that the law would constrain judicial latitude in dealing with atypical families. Nevertheless, since the law change in 2013, most judges have chosen to begin with equal parenting time as the presumed starting point when parents disagree. By 2008, however, at the very beginning of the legislature reform process, judges already held favorable attitudes toward equal parenting time, and their attitudes coincided with broader public opinion favoring equal parenting time not only in Arizona but elsewhere (Fabricius, Sokol, Diaz, & Braver, 2012). This underlying cultural endorsement of equal parenting has not led, as far as we can tell, to similar widespread judicial behavior in other states. Arizona judges’ implementation of the law as a rebuttable presumption might have been at least partly due to the extensive training they received about the research on parenting time. Awareness that the research showed benefits to children associated with increased parenting time with fathers up to and including equal parenting time with both parents might have given them the reassurance they needed to act on their positive attitudes toward equal parenting time.

William V. Fabricius, Michael Aaron, Faren R. Akins, John J. Assini & Tracy McElroy (2018): What Happens When There Is Presumptive 50/50 Parenting Time? An Evaluation of Arizona’s New Child Custody Statute, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, p. 13 & pp. 14 – 15. DOI:10.1080/10502556.2018.1454196

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