Parents, Know Your Rights

February 14, 2019

Understanding Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time

By Kelly L. Mendoza

Parents involved in a family law matters in Arizona might have come across the terms “legal decision-making” and “parenting time.” The terms are now being used across the state in place of “custody” and “visitation,” which no longer exist in Arizona.

As of January 1, 2013, Arizona legislators replaced the term “custody” with “legal decision-making.” (Other states have not made this change and still use the term “custody.”)

The legislature also decided to stop using the term “visitation” when referring to time spent with a parent and replaced that term with “parenting time.” But what do those terms mean and what is the public policy for determining legal decision-making and parenting time?

What is Legal Decision-Making?

Legal decision-making only relates to making the major decisions in a minor child’s life, not day-to-day care decisions such as whether the child may have McDonald’s. Legal decision-making is defined by statute as “the legal right and responsibility to make all non-emergency legal decisions for a child including those regarding education, health care, religious training and personal care decisions.”1

“Personal care decisions” can be defined as those decisions that can have a significant impact on the child, but that do not fall into the other specified categories, such as whether a child may get a tattoo.

Joint Legal Decision-Making vs. Sole Legal Decision-Making

There are two types of legal decision-making defined in the statute, joint legal decision-making and sole legal decision-making. Joint legal decision-making means “both parents share decision-making and neither parent’s rights or responsibilities are superior except with respect to specified decisions as set forth by the court or the parents in the final judgment or order.”2

Sole legal decision-making means “one parent has the legal right and responsibility to make major decisions for a child.”3

However, the court isn’t limited to just ordering one type of legal decision-making or the other in any particular case. The court may order that the parents have joint legal decision-making but one parent has sole legal decision-making for a particular area of the decision-making authority. For example, both parents may have joint decision-making authority for health care, religion, and personal care, but one of the parents might have sole decision-making authority over education.

What is Parenting Time?

Parenting time is “the schedule of time during which each parent has access to a child at specified times.”4

For example, the parents may have an alternating weekly schedule with the child from Friday at 5 p.m. until the following Friday at 5 p.m. The specifics of a parenting time schedule will depend on the facts of each case. The parent exercising parenting time is responsible for making the routine day-to-day care decisions for the child, such as what the child is wearing to school that day.

Ultimately the Court Decides

As with any legal case, the court must consider all facts that are relevant to the child’s well-being, both physical and emotional, as well as all of the factors specifically enumerated in the statute when determining the level of legal decision-making that is in the best interest of the child.5

Moreover, under Arizona law it is clear that unless there is evidence to the contrary, it is in a child’s best interest for both parents to participate in decision-making about the child and further that the child have substantial, frequent, meaningful, and continuing time with both parents.6

As such, parents should start the process with the thought that joint legal decision-making and equal access parenting time will be considered by the court unless there is some compelling reason that can be shown as to why the parents should not have equal rights in raising their child — because the court’s consideration of all relevant factors remains unchanged despite the changes in the terminology.

Contact Tiffany & Bosco’s Family Law Experts

The family law team at Tiffany & Bosco works with clients to achieve the best possible outcome for their families, especially when children are involved. Our attorneys can switch between carefully managing the emotional turmoil often present in difficult family situations and aggressively asserting themselves during negotiations and in the courtroom, yet always with your needs in mind.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with a member of our family law team, call 602-255-6000 today.


1 A.R.S. §25-401(3)

2 A.R.S. §25-401(2)

3 A.R.S. §25-401(6)

4 A.R.S. §25-401(5)

5 A.R.S. §§ 25-403, et seq.

6 A.R.S. §25-103(B)

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