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Family Law

Crimes can be stressful and hard on families. You can find information here about steps you can take to address common family law issues as well as information about services that can help you.

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Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time

Legal decision-making is the current, legal term for what used to be “legal custody” or just “custody” in Arizona. Legal decision-making is the authority to make decisions about a child or the children’s major life issues. This includes things like education, medical care, and religion.
There are two types of legal decision-making authority:
Joint legal decision-making is when both parents make major life decisions about the children together.

Sole legal decision-making is when one parent is given the authority to make major life decisions about the children. A parent with sole legal decision-making is still expected to keep the other parent informed about their decisions.
Parenting time is the current, legal term for what used to be “visitation” in Arizona. Parenting time is the amount of time each parent is allowed to spend with the child or children. A child may live more with one parent, or equally with both parents.
In Arizona, there are two types of parenting time:
Supervised visitation happens when the court orders that someone else must be present during a visit between a parent and child. These types of visitations are ordered when the court finds evidence that the child would be in danger if he or she were to spend time alone with the parent. Typically, the court will order that a social service agency or mental health professional oversee visits or exchanges with children involved.

Unsupervised visitation is when the parents are allowed to visit the child without another person being present. Most visitations are unsupervised.
Parenting time is set up using a plan. The parenting time plan specifies when the child goes from one home to another and how, the division of holidays or breaks from school, the ways the child communicates with one parent when staying with the other, and other logistical arrangements.
If the court orders that a child will live most of the time with one parent, that parent may be generally referred to as the “primary residential parent.”
If parents are unable to agree on legal decision-making and on a suitable parenting time plan, the court will evaluate and use the "best interests analysis” to make the decision.

Arizona law says that the court shall consider all factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being, including:
1. The past, present and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.

2. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s parent or parents, the child’s siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.

3. The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community.

4. If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the wishes of the child as to legal decision-making and parenting time.
5. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.

6. Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact with the other parent. This paragraph does not apply if the court determines that a parent is acting in good faith to protect the child from witnessing an act of domestic violence or being a victim of domestic violence or child abuse.

7. Whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause an unnecessary delay, to increase the cost of litigation or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or a parenting time preference to that parent.
8. Whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse pursuant to section 25-403.03.

9. The nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding legal decision-making or parenting time.

10. Whether a parent has complied with chapter 3, article 5 of this title (Parent Information Class).

11. Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect under section 13-2907.02.

What is an emergency custody order?

An emergency custody order or “Temporary Order Without Notice” is issued in situations where a child faces the possibility of serious, immediate harm. Temporary Orders Without Notice can grant emergency legal decision making to a parent or guardian who is not putting the child is harm’s way. The orders might also require that the parent endangering the child not have parenting time or only have supervised parenting time. The orders are called “temporary orders without notice” because the court can issue the orders without first having the person requesting the order notify the other person. Emergency custody orders are only in effect until the court has a hearing to make a more permanent decision on custody.

A motion for temporary orders without notice must be filled out and filed, either at the same time or after filing a petition for divorce, legal separation, or legal decision-making and parenting time, or a petition to modify court orders. The motion is where the emergency is explained to the court using evidence and detail. It must be signed in front of a notary, and three copies must be made in addition to the original petition. Finally, the petition must be filed with the proper county clerk at court. To find the proper paperwork and court where it must be filed, access the website for your county clerk here.

Courts often do not grant emergency custody orders. However, even if the court denies the motion for emergency orders, the court will often set a hearing where the other person is notified, so both people can appear and ask the judge to issue orders.

How to File for Legal Decision-Making and/or Parenting Time

Step 1: Prepare Your Information

To complete the forms for legal decision-making and/or parenting time, you will need to know:
  • The name, address, and date of birth for the other parent.

  • Whether or not paternity is established. This can be established by affidavit, birth certificate, blood test, or other reasons.

  • Information about the minor children, such as:

  • If there are other court cases about the children, including other cases involving legal decision-making or parenting time,

  • Where the children have been living for the past 5 years, or if they are under 5 years old, since birth, and who they lived with,

  • If anyone other than the parent indicated above has physical custody of the children, or if they are claiming any rights to the children.

  • Information about medical or other expenses related to the children.

Step 2: Completing Forms and Paperwork

Complete the initial forms and paperwork. You can find the Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Plan Petitions here:
If necessary, use the online Child Support Calculator to determine the amount of child support to request in the petition
Sign the petition in front of a notary. Some retail shipping, postage, or printing stores offer a notary service, or you can find a notary using the Secretary of State’s directory
Make two additional copies of the signed and notarized petition.

Step 3: Filing with the Court and Serving the Other Person

Take all three copies of the petition (original and two copies) to the Family Law/Civil Court Clerk’s office at Superior Court. The Clerk will take the original copy and stamp the two other copies. One copy of the petition is for you (the petitioner) and the other is to serve (deliver to) the other person.

To serve the petition to the other person, you can:
Mail the petition using certified mail. The other person must sign the green receipt for service by mail to be valid.
Contact a private process server or law enforcement officer to hand the paperwork to the other person. The process server or law enforcement officer may file or give you an “affidavit of service” if they are successful in delivering the paperwork.
Have the other person accept service by signing an acceptance of service in front of a notary. The acceptance of service is then filed with the case. The other party signing the acceptance of service only means they received a copy, not that they agree with anything in the petition.

Important Things to Know:

The court charges a fee to file petitions for legal decision making and parenting time. For those who meet certain criteria, it may be possible to get these fees waived (not have to pay) or deferred (pay later). For more information about fee waiver or deferral, click here.

A child’s parent, grandparent, or sibling can file for visitation with the child.

If a child is in the care of the state or foster care and parental rights have not been terminated, parents have a right to visit the child. This type of visitation is established through Juvenile Court, not Family Court.

How to Change a Legal Decision-Making or Parenting Time Order

When someone asks the court to change a custody or visitation order, the change is called a modification. To request a modification to a parenting time or custody:
  • There must have been a substantial and continuing change since the date of the last court order, and
  • There cannot be a request to change court orders for one year after the orders are entered, unless a child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health may be in danger.
Forms for requesting a modification of parenting time or legal decision making can be found here, by county.

Safety and Parenting Time

Addressing a crime victim’s concerns about safety when creating a parenting time plan can be challenging. For new parenting time and legal decision-making orders, the court may consider several factors. For example, if there is a history of domestic violence, the court may not order equal legal decision-making authority, as decisions must be made jointly between the parents. Or the court may order supervised parenting time for the offending parent to ensure the safety of the child. If, for another example, an order of protection is in effect, the parenting plan should not include contact that would violate the order of protection.
What if the other person does not obey the legal decision-making or parenting plan order?
A request can be filed that the court make the other person follow court orders. This is known as Enforcement. Filing for enforcement is a good place to start when someone is not following family court orders, rather than just requesting to have the orders changed. To find the proper forms for requesting enforcement in your county, click here.
Legal help from a lawyer or legal information about your rights from a lay legal advocate may be available to help you through this process.

Family Resources and Help