When family law judges in Arizona and around the country make child custody decisions, their primary concern is the welfare of the children involved. There was a time when the prevailing belief was that children fared better when they were cared for by their mothers, and judges generally awarded sole physical custody. However, things began to change in the late 20th century when research revealed the benefits of joint custody, and now these arrangements are rapidly becoming the norm.

This shifting trend was highlighted in 2014 by a University of Wisconsin-Madison study. After reviewing the outcomes of divorce petitions filed in Wisconsin between 1980 and 2008, the researchers discovered that the percentage of mothers awarded sole custody fell from 80 percent to 42 percent. During the same 28 years, the frequency with which judges ordered equal or unequal joint custody rose from 5 percent to 27 percent and 3 percent to 18 percent, respectively.

This legal trend is a reflection of evolving societal attitudes. Fathers were once seen as mainly a source of financial support for children, but the crucial parenting role they often play is now better understood. Family courts in most parts of the country now approach child custody issues with a presumption of joint legal custody, and they are usually open to, and in many cases actively encourage, joint physical custody arrangements.

Protracted child custody disputes can be extremely contentious and ruinously expensive, and they often leave the children involved emotionally scarred. To avoid bitter court battles, experienced family law attorneys may begin negotiations by reminding divorcing parents that the welfare of their children should be their most pressing concern. When resentments run deep and divorcing parents are unable to find common ground, attorneys might suggest alternative approaches like collaborative divorce or mediation. However, when one of the parents involved is prone to violent outbursts or is struggling with addiction, attorneys may argue against joint custody or extended visitation.