Often when clients come into the office and begin discussing their children, they will often say “I want full custody of my children”. Usually what the client means is that they want the children to live with them. Arizona separates the terms regarding a parent’s ability to make decisions for their children and the term how often a parent is going to have their children. They are separate and distinct terms. In 2013, Arizona changed the term from custody to legal decision-making authority. The Court uses the term legal decision-making authority as a parent’s “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.”  Thus, in practical terms legal decision-making is the power to decide, for example, where your child goes to school, what medical treatment he/she will receive, what faith the child will be raised, etc. There are two terms the court uses for legal decision-making, “Joint Legal Decision-Making” and “Sole Legal Decision Making” which determines whether both parents will make decisions together or only one parent will make the decisions for the child. On the other hand, the court uses the term “Parenting Time” as the schedule of time “each parent has access to a child at specific times”. The Court uses the term “visitation” for the time that a third party may have time with the children such as a grandparent or other third party seeking visitation rights with the child.   Even if a parent has sole legal decision-making authority, that parent generally does not get to dictate the parenting time for the other parent or daily routine decisions while the child is in the other parent’s care. If you would like to refer to Arizona’s full legal definitions regarding these terms, click here to see A.R.S. § 25-401 and A.R.S. § 25-403.


This blog should be used for information purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice.  If you need legal advice about your own particular situation, please feel free to contact Divorce and Family Law Attorney Sheri Shepard at (480) 461-5332 or at www.udallshumway.com