Arizona

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We interviewed Phoenix attorney Angela Hallier, a graduate of the University of Nebraska. Hallier has been practicing law since 1990 and is currently serving her fifth year on the Family Law Advisory Commission of the State Bar of Arizona.  Hallier is an expert on mediation and collaborative divorce and is the author of the 2014 book The Wiser Divorce: Positive Solutions for Your Next Best Life. See http://www.hallierlaw.com/angie_hallier.php for a full biography of this "super lawyer".

Hallier represents mostly women, about 65 percent, in cases where typically women are the "petitioners" (what Arizona calls a "plaintiff"), also in a roughly 65/35 ratio to men. Why the gender disparity among her clients? "There was a lot of publicity regarding a case where I represented the wife of a professional athlete and that garnered a lot of attention from wives of the wealthy," said Hallier. She goes to trial about 4-5 times a year and charges $480/hour in cases that cost "at least" $40,000 per side in fees when they go all the way through trial.

Depending on the assets at stake in a divorce it will take 1-2 years to get to trial, according to Hallier. As in other states there are temporary orders hearings at which a house, children, and cash flow can be obtained. These last "anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours although it usually takes 1-2 hours," according to Hallier. They are evidentiary, with witnesses and cross-examination, unlike the attorney argument-based hearings in some states, and Hallier says that they "tend not to have prejudice [at trial] that they might if we had longer hearings."

What if the house and the kids aren't won at a standard temporary orders hearing, does the domestic violence system offer an alternative path? "Domestic violence assertions don’t work that well. A party can get an immediate order but there will be a hearing within five days. Judges are very aware that people use [abuse allegations] as a tool. There isn’t a lot of advantage from getting an order of protection that isn’t valid. Judges are reluctant to put children on the order unless violence was committed against them." Is the standard for proof the same as in a criminal court? "No," says Hallier. "It is just preponderance of evidence [51 percent or 'more likely than not'] for making the order stick."

Child support may be calculated by consumers according to the azcourts.gov Web site guidelines unless the combined income exceeds $20,000 per month, "at which point the court may deviate," says Hallier. Here's the language from the guidelines:

If the combined adjusted gross income of the parties is greater than $20,000 per month, the amount set forth for combined adjusted gross income of $20,000 shall be the presumptive Basic Child Support Obligation. The party seeking a sum greater than this presumptive amount shall bear the burden of proof to establish that a higher amount is in the best interests of the children, taking into account such factors as the standard of living the children would have enjoyed if the parents and children were living together, the needs of the children in excess of the presumptive amount, consideration of any significant disparity in the respective percentages of gross income for each party and any other factors which, on a case by case basis, demonstrate that the increased amount is appropriate.

The top-of-the-guidelines numbers are $1,708 per month for a single child ($20,496 per year), $2,421 per month for two children, $2,795 per month for three children, etc. Given a $240,000 per year non-custodial parent, a single child in Arizona is much more profitable than a foster child in Arizona ($7,300 per year paid by the state), more profitable than a child in Nevada (court-ordered support capped at roughly $13,000 per year), roughly equally profitable as a child in Texas ($20,520 per year cap, but reached at only half the level of gross income), and only half as profitable as a child in Massachusetts ($39,052 per year) or New York ($40,800, assuming the judge can be persuaded to go beyond that state's income cap).

Will the court order the payor to pay for daycare on top of child support? "There is a separate line item in the guidelines for day care and medical insurance," says Hallier. "These expenses, along with unreimbursed medical and extracurricular activities, are split in proportion to income."

When does child support end? "Our courts lose jurisdiction once a child graduates from high school or turns 18, says Hallier, "which also means that a court cannot order payment for college."

Arizona sets up what attorneys in some other states refer to as a "days for dollars" system. A noncustodial parent who cares for a child 100 days per year, for example, should pay approximately 16 percent less to a non-working custodial parent compared to 0 days of care. Obtaining a substantially equal schedule should result in nearly a 50 percent reduction in child support payments, though a court always has discretion to deviate from the guidelines.

A stream of child support payments is less secure than in other states due to "days for dollars" system and the relative ease with which a parenting time schedule may be modified in Arizona. It is not necessary to show a substantial and material change in circumstances as in some other states, only that a change would be in the best interests of the child. Hallier says that "There is no magic age at which the child has a voice in determining the schedule. The statute says that the 'wishes of the child may be considered' any time that court believes the child is of 'an age and maturity to have meaningful input'. A judge might listen to a 5-year-old rather than a 16-year-old who wanted to get tattoos."

Parties can waive alimony and keep separate property separate via a prenuptial agreement in Arizona. The agreement need not be "fair and equitable" to be valid, though a post-nuptial agreement must be.

State background

The average hourly wage in Arizona is $21.13 per hour. A person who goes to college at Arizona State University will spend approximately $79,352 over four years to earn a bachelor's degree. Census 2014 data show that the median income for a college-educated woman age 22-36 working full time is $30,000 per year in Arizona or $23,801 after taxes. For a corresponding man it is $50,000 per year or $38,106 after taxes. Arizona collects 8.8 percent of residents' income in order to fund state and local government (source: Tax Foundation), a lower percentage than the national average of 9.9 percent. Arizona has an individual income tax with a top rate of less than 5 percent.

The average annual cost of child care is $8,946 for an infant, $7,263 for a four-year-old, and $6,191 for a school-age child. Thus the total cost of child care from age 0 through 12 is $52,682 in commercial settings or $44,785 in a family care setting.

The male college graduate will have an after-tax spending power of $493,464 after 14 years of working (14 years of income minus taxes and the cost of college). Considering the USDA-estimated cost of a child, he would be financially better off collecting child support than working when that support is $2,718 per month or more. This is an above-guidelines number that would require judicial discretion to obtain. With two children from two different mothers, however, he could have an after-tax spending power larger than from going to college and work if each mother paid $1800 per month, slightly above the guideline payment corresponding to pre-tax earnings of $240,000 per year.

The female college graduate will have an after-tax spending power of $253,862 over the same time period. After factoring in the cost of rearing a child, she would be better off collecting child support when it exceeds $1,905 per month, an over-the-guideline amount. If she is suing two fathers, however, she can come out ahead compared to the college/work case as long as each father pays at least $1,350 per month.

Note that the above examples assume that sole custody of a child can be obtained. The expectation of a 50/50 custody award would make the college-and-work alternative more attractive financially. Census 2014 data show that only approximately 4 percent of women in Arizona aged 30-40 collect child support, the smallest percentage of any state. The same data set, however, shows that of Arizonans who actually do collect child support, 90 percent are women.

The Scenarios

Scenario 1: Professional Wife and Slacker Husband

A 35-year-old female hand surgeon earning $325,000 per year marries a 33-year-old photographer. She sets up her husband with a photo studio and $100,000 of equipment, but he works just a few hours per week. They have a one-year-old child who is cared for by a nanny. The father is often home with the baby and nanny, but he spends most of his at-home time watching TV and surfing the Internet, leaving the child-rearing chores to the nanny. With the mom at work and/or taking care of the baby, the dad begins an affair with a young fashion model. After two years of marriage, the mom sues for divorce, custody, and child support.

Hallier says that 10 percent of her cases involve a woman who has higher income than the man. "I have this case exactly right now. She is a 32-year-old doctor and he used to be a construction worker who stayed home for 10 years. My client cannot accept the fact that she has to pay him."

Can the father in our hypothetical scenario launch a successful bid to continue his stay-at-home lifestyle? "There is an unacknowledged gender bias," says Hallier. "Male judges tend to be more critical of a non-working male than do female judges. However, if dad is really the stay-at-home dad who drives, cooks, and makes doctor’s appointments then he will get more sympathy and support."

What would the custody arrangement look like? "We had a new policy statement go into effect two years ago that children are entitled to frequent and meaningful contact with both parents," says Hallier. "In reality what that did was give a lot of judges the leeway to say 'unless you show me something's wrong it will be equal'. Almost every case in Arizona now results in 50/50 custody, whether it starts out that way or starts slower and moves to 50/50." Even with a child this young? "We've had babies where judges have assigned equal time," says Hallier. What would the child's actual schedule look like? "Maybe a 5-2-2-5 schedule," responded Hallier. "At a minimum it would be every other weekend and one night per week. The Supreme Court-sponsored parenting plan guide does suggest equal time for a one-year-old."

Regardless of the parenting time plan they will have joint legal custody ("decision making"): "You have to show something is really wrong with the other parent to get sole legal custody," says Hallier.

Can he collect child support from her? The top of the guidelines and a 50/50 parenting schedule would give him about $10,250 per year. "In order to go above he would have to show a budget and tangibly show how he needs the extra money. I would bet that with a one-year-old he would be less likely to get upward deviation than with an older child.  Part of the argument is 'What would this child receive from these parents if they'd stayed married?'" How about a Massachusetts-style argument of "she has more income than the top of the guidelines so she should pay more and we will simply extrapolate"? "No," says Hallier. "You can't just say that she has more money and therefore child support should be above the guidelines."

What else can he get? Hallier explains that due to of the short length of the marriage, the court would be very reluctant to order anything: "Maintenance for the husband would only be three or four months to allow him to get back into the job market and there would be no standard of living inquiry [to decide what lifestyle he had during the marriage and how to maintain it post-divorce]."

Given that he has no income, will the hand surgeon have to pay the slacker’s legal fees? "Either spouse is entitled to use community assets to pay fees and there can be an immediate division of liquid assets," says Hallier. Any fee award is discretionary with the judge: "The fee statute has only two bases for awarding fees: (1) the disparity of financial resources, and (2) the reasonableness of positions parties took."

How about property division? "Arizona is a community property state like California," explained Hallier, "but uses an equitable division standard rather than an automatic 50/50 division. In practice, however, equitable almost always means 50/50."

Scenario 2: 14-year marriage of equals

A 22-year-old woman marries her 22-year-old college sweetheart. After 14 years of marriage, they have four children, ages 3, 7, 9, 13. Both parents are public school teachers earning approximately $65,000 per year.  They have shared child care duties roughly equally over the years. Now they can't stand to be in the same room together. He accuses her of having an affair. She accuses him of being verbally and emotionally abusive to her, but not to the kids. After a stormy argument in the kitchen, he moves in with a friend and she files for divorce, requesting sole custody and child support. The father answers the Complaint by requesting sole custody, but no child support. Both parents agree that the marital assets can be split 50/50. Both parents prefer as little post-divorce contact with the other as possible.

Hallier predicts another 50/50 parenting time plan with a 5-2-2-5 schedule. "The court might order the three year old to have dinner with the other parent during the five-day stretch." Would they transition to week-on, week-off after the youngest child is in school? "They might never go to week-on, week-off," responded Hallier.

Due to the equal incomes there would be no alimony.

Scenario 3: 10-year marriage with kids 2 and 5

An 18-year-old woman marries a medical resident. She spends the first four years of the marriage as a college undergraduate, earning a bachelor's degree, and then becomes a stay-at-home mother to two children. She files for divorce after 10 years of marriage. The kids are 5 and 2 years old at the time the divorce commences. The plaintiff does not allege any misdeeds on the part of the father, only that they drifted apart in the time that she aged from 18 to 28. The mother has very obviously been the primary caregiver. The father has now completed his medical training and is earning $275,000 per year. The family has home equity of $300,000 and additional savings of $200,000.

Hallier predicts joint legal custody and that the mother "would have the children more than he will initially given the ages, that she has been the stay-at-home parent, and that she does not have a job to go to right now." What would the schedule look like? "Weekends with the father would be Friday to Monday or Thursday to Monday," responded Hallier. "There would be some kind of mid-week time. It would ultimately trend to 50/50 once she is in the job market." Would that be an automatic trend ordered at the initial trial? "No," said Hallier. "He would have to come back to court to get it. On the other hand, he could also get 50/50 right away."

At the top of the guidelines, the potential child support to be collected is a maximum of $29,052 per year. That's tax-free but it could also be reduced in half in a 50/50 custody arrangement. Can she get alimony in addition? "Yes," says Hallier. "I expect that there would be a vocational evaluation to look at what she can do now and how many years it would take her to get into a self-sustaining role." How long would alimony last? "As a rule of thumb we talk about maintenance for one third to one half the length of the marriage. Probably four or five years in this case," says Hallier. "The court may give her up to $5,000 per month and then, once she gets a master's degree, give her another year at a lower rate."

Is child support calculated first based on her having zero income? "No," says Hallier. "Alimony is done first and then you figure child support with her income being the alimony."

Can the mother if she has primary custody of the children obtain the house as part of an unequal property division? "No," says Hallier. "The court does not have that flexibility."

Scenario 4: 1.75-year marriage with 8-month-old child

A 25-year-old woman marries a 40-year-old never-married medical doctor earning $275,000 per year. She had been earning $50,000 per year working as a receptionist in a medical office. She has a child after a year of marriage, quitting her job during the 7th month of pregnancy due to fatigue. She files for divorce when the child is 8 months old (after 1.75 years of marriage), alleging that the father did not participate in the infant's care, e.g., he did not change diapers or get up in the middle of the night to soothe the baby. The mother will allege that the father was verbally demanding and abusive, though there won't be any witnesses to corroborate. The father had savings of $2 million that he accumulated prior to the marriage but there was no significant accumulation of assets during the less-than-two-year marriage. The mother seeks a division of assets as well as alimony.

In many other states this is a slam-dunk victory for the mother. She was the primary caretaker during this 8-month-old child's infancy so she can remain, via court orders, the primary parent for between 17 and 22 additional years. Does an argument that the father wasn't as involved as the mother fly in Arizona? "Nobody cares if he didn't participate in the infant's care for the first 8 months," says Hallier. "His role in the marriage was to work. Our judges would assume that he could take on child care responsibilities if needed given the life changes they are going to go through."

Hallier predicts that it would be possible to "convince the court that because of bonding issues dad needs to have frequent short visits with this 8-month-old," but that "by age 2 there would be equal parenting time. Maybe before."

The guidelines will give her at least $10,250 per year in child support with a 50/50 schedule. Can she get alimony to supplement that? "It was a short marriage so she is not entitled to his standard of living," says Hallier. "She may just get transitional alimony and then have to go back to work. She has been a stay-at-home parent but not for very long."

Tapping into pre-marital savings such as the $2 million is difficult in a community property state. Unlike California it is not even clear that the mother would obtain a share of the income from the $2 million via child support because the doctor's $275,000 per year salary is already above the guidelines.

Scenario 5: 18 year old free spirit/music lover; no marriage

An 18-year-old woman goes to a music festival and meets a 38-year-old medical doctor earning $275,000 per year. Things get a little crazy and a few months later she calls him up to say "I am going to have a baby." The 18-year-old does not go to college, quits her $12/hour job during the pregnancy, and does not wish to return to work.

As in other states, an unmarried child support plaintiff can get the same child support as one who had been married. Hallier says that she can even get paternity established and a child support order put in place by a state agency but "they're not going to work hard on her deviation" (to get child support above the guidelines).

On the father's side, "He can easily get 50/50 custody especially if he comes in before the baby is born so that he can bond." In other words, the mother who seeks sole custody may be better off if she conceals the fact of the child's existence from the father for a few years. "Child support goes back retroactively for up to three years," says Hallier. "She can also get a contribution to her medical expenses, but not legal fees as with a divorce."

If the mother eventually marries a high-income partner, can her child support be reduced? "The court cannot consider the income of anyone else in the household," says Hallier. "However, the court could recalculate child support using recurring gifts or in-kind gifts that she is receiving from her husband. That would have the effect of reducing child support. It is an argument that could be made."

Removal/Relocation

Supporting the general theme of this book that jurisdiction is everything, the likelihood of obtaining court permission to relocate with a child is much lower in Arizona than across the state line in neighboring Nevada. "It is almost impossible to move with the child," says Hallier. "We’ve had cases where a woman was remarried to someone in the armed forces. She had children with her new husband and the court would not let her move with the child from her first marriage." What if a father only cares for a child every other weekend? "It is still pretty darn hard," says Hallier. "The court has a significant bias based on the belief that children have the right to have both parents in their life. It won’t work if you want to move for a job or to be with the grandparents."

Quirks

Arizona's child support guidelines, like those in some other states, have a "self-support reserve." A court is not required to leave a defendant parent with at least $903 per month in pre-tax income, but the court may reduce a child support order so that a parent has something close to $903 per month to live on ($10,836 per year).

The top-of-the-guidelines numbers are $1708 per month for a single child, $2421 per month for two children, and $2795 per month for three children. Thus Arizona courts will award $603,720 tax-free over 18 years to the person who has three children with a single co-parent and $1.1 million to the person who has three children with three different co-parents (assuming that all have incomes at the $240,000 per year top of the guidelines). In other words, the state provides financial incentives to have children with multiple partners.

Unlike in many other states, the child of marriage in Arizona has at least some rights to support when his or her parent's income is being sought by a child support plaintiff based on an extramarital child. Here's the language from the child support guidelines:

An amount may be deducted from the gross income of a parent for support of natural or adopted children of other relationships not covered by a court order. The amount of any adjustment shall not exceed the amount arrived at by a simplified application of the guidelines (defined in example below).

As in other states, if a parent is sued by multiple co-parents for multiple children, each child will have a different cash value depending on when the lawsuit was filed and the court order obtained. That is because Arizona provides for existing court orders to be deducted from a parent's gross income when calculating a new court order.

Unusually, Arizona allows parents to contract out of the child support system. Hallier represented a father who paid the mother of a child a lump sum of $350,000 while she waived future child support in exchange. Note that this is very nearly equal to 18 years of child support at the top of the Arizona guidelines and was a valid contract in Arizona. Subsequently the father got a much higher paying job in California. The mother moved to California and tried to obtain a new child support order under California's "no limit" guidelines while invalidating the contract under California law. The mother was ultimately unsuccessful, despite the fact that the child support waiver would not have been enforceable in California.

In 2012, Arizona sued Nick Olivas for child support and medical expenses going back to the birth of his 6-year-old daughter, of whose existence he had been unaware. An unusual aspect of the case was that Olivas was 14 years old at the time of conception (the mom was 20). A September 3, 2014 article from the Arizona Republic, "Statutory rape victim forced to pay child support," published on the USA Today Web site, notes "State law says a child younger than 15 cannot consent with an adult under any circumstance, making Olivas a rape victim." Reporter Alia Beard Rau including additional examples from other states:

The most well-known case was of a Kansas boy who, at age 13, impregnated his 17-year-old baby-sitter. Under Kansas law, a child under the age of 15 is legally unable to consent to sex. The Kansas Supreme Court in 1993 ruled that he was liable for child support.

California issued a similar state court ruling a few years later in the case of a 15-year-old boy who had sex with a 34-year-old neighbor. In that case, the woman had been convicted of statutory rape.

In both cases, it was the state social-services agency that pursued the case after the mother sought public assistance.

What about the fact that some people might see this situation as unfair to the young Mr. Olivas?

"We don't see those cases very often, and we're really glad for that," said attorney Janet Sell, chief counsel with the Attorney General's Office's Child and Family Protection Division.

"They have to comply with us," said Scott Lekan, DES child support operations administrator. "We're trying to keep them off the cash assistance, and we're trying to get back some of the cash assistance money. It benefits everybody at the end of the day."

The voice of experience

Hallier notes that spousal maintenance (alimony), due to the lack of guidelines and near-complete judicial discretion, is currently the main issue that drives litigation in Arizona. Why aren't trials just limited to this one issue then? "As long as you're going to court on one thing you try the other things you didn't feel like settling as well," says Hallier. Is parenting time one of the "other things" that get added? "It is rare to litigate parenting time at trial because if there is something significantly contested a custody evaluator is appointed and his or her recommendation is effectively binding."

Are people actually getting the carefully deliberated justice that they are paying rather dearly for? "You beg for more than a half-day trial after a 20-year marriage," says Hallier. "The longest trial I ever got was five days. If you beg and scream you might get two days of trial." What's the alternative then? "It is very common to hire private mediators," responded Hallier. "We'll spend a full day with a mediator and almost always settle." What about her specialty of collaborative divorce? "Other attorneys who handle high-income clients haven't joined in," Hallier sighed.

How is Arizona's relatively new 50/50 parenting system working out for children and parents? Hallier agreed with Linda Nielsen, the Wake Forest University professor of psychology, that the equal schedule enabled both parents to remain functional as parents, rather than one becoming an aunt or uncle. Did that mean that everyone was happy with it? "No," says Hallier. "Especially if you have a mother who didn't want an equal role or who didn't like her husband. They will battle on."

Hallier was not a fan of her state's "days for dollars" fine-tuning of child support in accordance with the number of overnights because it drives litigation. Hallier is backed up by shared parenting researchers who say that mothers are happy to share custody with fathers right up to the point where a state's formula results in their child support revenue being reduced. [On the other hand, nobody seems to be able to think of a fair system that does not drive litigation. A statute that said "every father will pay and every mother will receive as though the mother were a 100-percent time parent" would eliminate most litigation but would probably not be regarded as fair.]

The voice of the lawmaker

In November 2014 we interviewed Sylvia Allen, a legislator who was partially responsible for a 2012 bill, SB 1127, that upended decades of established Arizona family law. From a December 25, 2012 article in The Republic:

A new Arizona law goes into effect Jan. 1 that may change how much time divorced parents get to spend with their children.

The new custody law encourages joint parenting, including requiring the court to adopt a plan that "maximizes" both parents' time with the child and forbids the court from giving one parent preference based on the parent's or child's gender.

Physical custody will now be called parenting time and legal custody will now be called legal decision-making authority. The parent with legal decision- making authority now has power over not just a child's health and education but also personal-care matters like haircuts and ear piercing.

Under the new law, the court now must fine any parent who lies to the court or tries to delay court proceedings. Before, such fines had been optional. There are also stricter reporting requirements for parents to notify the other parent when they move a significant distance away.

"It changes a lot of things," said Mesa family-law attorney Billie Tarascio. "We are moving away from the every-other-weekend custody arrangements or mom automatically being named the custodial parent."

According to Hallier, the way that judges have interpreted the "maximize both parents' time" provision is by making Arizona essentially a presumptive shared parent state. Thus Arizona became, along with Alaska and Delaware, one of just three U.S. states where statute or regulations suggested to judges that they award shared parenting.

How did it happen? Senator Allen gives much credit to William Fabricius, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, who chaired a committee regarding what was best for children and informed fellow committee members (judges, lawyers, psychologists and social workers who make a living from divorce litigation) regarding the latest academic research. From "Professor instrumental in passage of groundbreaking divorce law" (Julie Newberg):

Research findings from his work showed that Arizona children of divorce wanted to spend much more time with their fathers and that equal parenting time is important. Arizona children from divorced families who were studied from seventh to tenth grade from 2003 to 2006 revealed that 50 percent of children at every age wanted to spend more time with their fathers.

“Only 10 percent wanted to spend less,” he added. Fabricius’ studies also showed that the more time that a child spends living with their divorced father, the closer their relationship with their dad when they are in their early 20s.

Perhaps most telling is research that predicts poor future health in later adulthood for those 20-year-olds who had lacking relationships with their fathers.

“If children spend less than substantial time with both parents, this is a huge long-term public health issue. It sets up this chronic stress response that initiates stress-related health problems including susceptibility to cancer and early mortality. These weren’t just our findings. This is supported by long-term health studies that link parent-child relationships and later health,” he said.

“It is a major public health issue that children are not spending enough time with dad after divorce,” Fabricius added.

Based on our interviews with legislators in other states, comparable committees elsewhere in the nation were generally chaired by attorneys and were heavily influenced by the state bar association. These committees ultimately rejected any parenting time presumptions or guidelines in favor of attorney argument and an open-ended "best interest" standard to be interpreted as judges saw fit.

Senator Allen said that, rather than the bar association and divorce litigators, judges and psychologists had the most influence on the standards that Arizona adopted. Who was most vocal in opposition to the changes? "The domestic violence people. In the old days women who didn't want the father involved in their children's lives would say that the father abused them or the children in some way. They would get total custody and the child support to go with it. Consequently there were a lot of false allegations. So the courts were supposed to punish people who made false allegations by giving custody of children to the other parent. The domestic violence advocates said that women would then be afraid to make allegations and therefore the sanctions for making false allegations were softened. The domestic violence advocates also put in a bill about 'coercive control' to make it easier for a judge to find domestic violence where there hadn't been any physical violence and then award custody to the mother based on that. Basically the domestic violence groups didn't like joint parenting and they had a lot of support from Democrats." [Senator Allen is a Republican.]

What was her goal with the bill? "I worked on this bill only for about two years. Family law is not my field. I'm in natural resources. But I got interested in this issue when I heard from children of divorce and fathers who'd lost contact with their children. There was a lot of pressure from constituents and I felt it was right for children to have access to both parents. The idea was not to tie judges' hands, however. If there is a history of abuse or drug addiction the courts still have all of the discretion that they used to have. We wanted to get the judges to think differently and ask 'Why are you picking one parent as a winner?'"

Now that the bill is fully implemented has she gotten complaints that shared parenting results in more domestic violence? "I have never gotten any negative feedback from anybody about the bill," responded Senator Allen. "What we have learned is that fathers are being more responsible now that they have significant time to spend with children. This leads to more interest in the child and they are more likely to pay child support." [When there is a differential in income, child support is paid from one parent to the other even in a 50/50 parenting time situation.] Senator Allen added that "a side effect of the bill is that, at least during the early years, a parent can't move a child hundreds or thousands of miles away from the other parent."

Summary

Arizona inflicts vastly less punishment on children of divorce than most states. Due to the 50/50 custody default and the relatively modest child support guidelines the stakes are lower in Arizona than in many other states. Parents don't have a big financial incentive to try to eliminate their co-parents from children's lives. At the same time, citizens who want to use the courts but not pay an attorney will find comprehensive set of forms and instructions on official Web sites. According to Professor Margaret Brinig, across a sample of 685 Arizona divorce cases, in just one third of the cases was at least one parent represented by an attorney and only about 14 percent of cases were litigated at all (the rest were resolved by consent or default). By contrast, a contemporaneous sample of cases in Indiana had attorney representation in roughly three quarters of the divorces. In other words, there is statistical evidence that Arizona's system results in fewer families "lawyering up".

On the other hand, for wealthy and high-income families the state's lack of alimony guidelines makes litigation difficult to settle. The fact that the top of the child support guidelines is not a strict cap also drives litigation as one parent hopes for a windfall and the other tries to avoid a bloodbath.

For all divorcing couples the lack of resources devoted to family courts must result in justice that is by turns both rough and slow. A 30-minute hearing, for example, in which a house, children, and two parents' income are disposed of, does not have the appearance of careful deliberation.

Arizona rewards pre-lawsuit planning far less than many other states because (1) child custody is not strictly based on who was "primary" during the voluntary partnership of marriage, and (2) alimony is limited in amount and duration.

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