Call your local representative and urge the representative to support HB-2153. This bill is helpful to fathers because it would change the law by making it harder for judges to vary from an equal parenting time plan in contested child custody cases.
Currently, the law says that it is the public policy of Arizona that it is in a child’s best interest to have substantial, frequent, meaningful, and continuing parenting time with both parents and to have both parents participate in the decision-making about the child.
The current law is already an improvement over the prior law, which had left the matter of how to define the “best interest of the child” completely up to the judicial branch of government.
However, even the current law is not strong enough. Based on anecdotal evidence from conversations with other family law attorneys and observation of judicial rulings, it still seems that judges not infrequently tend to err on the side of the mother when all else is equal.
HB-2153 would require that a judge award substantial, frequent, meaningful, and continuing parenting time to both parents and give both parents the right to participate in the decision-making about the child, unless – and here’s the specific language HB-2153 adds to the current law – the judge find that there is “clear and convincing” evidence to the contrary. This is a very high standard for mothers to overcome.
In the law, there are generally three evidentiary burdens of proof. The first is the one many of us are familiar with: “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the highest evidentiary standard and is the one applied in criminal cases. There must be no reasonable doubt at all. Essentially, this means a judge or jury needs to be 99% certain that the person committed the crime.
Another standard of proof is “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that the judge only needs to find that there is a 50.1% chance that the mother is correct regarding why she should have substantially more parenting time than the father. As you can imagine, this easy evidentiary standard makes things very hard for a father in family court. If the judge sides with the mother and gives her the majority of the parenting time, the father’s appeal is likely to be denied, because appellate judges give great deference to the trial judge who heard the testimony and assessed the credibility of each party and that party’s evidence.
HB-2153 would change the standard to a “clear and convincing” standard of proof. To meet this burden, the mother must prove her allegations by a 75% or better standard. (Technically, there is no specific percentage designated; this specific percentage is just being stated to give you an idea of the much greater burden of proof this is than in general civil cases.)
This is “clear and convincing” standard of proof is a much higher standard of proof than the current “preponderance of the evidence” standard, and is likely to result in far few mothers getting the majority of the parenting time in custody trials. And in those cases where the judge still sides with the mother, the father should have an easier time attacking the ruling on appeal.
So, I repeat: Call your local representative and urge the representative to support HB-2153. Then urge your friends and family to do the same. This change in the law would be a great development for fathers.