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Legal Definitions

In an effort to assist all current and potential clients in understanding the complex terminology that accompanies family law, Simon Law Group of AZ has accumulated some of the more popular legal words and phrases below. To speak with a family attorney in Phoenix who can further clarify a particular matter, click “Contact Our Firm” and someone will respond immediately.


To take into one’s family through legal means and raise as one’s own child.


Money owed as the result of failure to make payments as per a support order in child and/or spousal maintenance in Arizona.


Arizona Revised Statuses.

Bench Trial

A trial without a jury where only a judge decides the facts.

Best Interest of the Child

Used in determining non-parental custody, visitation, and legal decision-making in Arizona, the term refers to what the Court must determine is ideal for the child’s well-being.

Child Support

In Arizona, this is the financial obligation that parents owe to their child(ren), as decided by the Court. Decisions are mostly based on financial calculations: the Arizona Supreme Court Guidelines has strict and specific formulas to determine assets, debts and dues.

Contested Case

A case wherein a response has been filed to a petition that disputes some or all matters within the petition.

Default Hearing

In divorce, when a Respondent does not respond to Petition for Dissolution, the Court may grant the requests of the Petitioner without the participation of the Respondent. Essentially, the Petitioner gets everything they asked for.


The official decision by the Court to end a marriage.

Divorce Decree

The Court’s formal order that grants the termination of a marriage. Most Divorce Decrees set out the Court’s expectations for alimony, property division, legal decision-making, parenting time, and child support in Arizona.

Foster Care

A government program that pays money to an individual, family, or institution so that they may raise another’s child.

Grandparents’ Rights

In Arizona, this also includes great-parents, and refers to petitioning the court for visitation time with the child.


An individual that’s been awarded the sole care and responsibility of personal decisions for a child, minor, or incapacitated adult. Once granted guardianship, the individual becomes a “ward.”

In Loco Parentis

A non-parent who acts as and is treated as a parent. Provides essential parenting care such as deciding health and education matters.

Joint Legal Decision-Making

Shared responsibility for for the making of legal decisions for a child or minor. Neither parent has superior or preferential rights, unless so decided by the Court.

Legal Decision-Making

In Arizona, this refers to the responsibility and right to make legal decisions for a child or minor. This includes non-emergency situations such as healthcare, education, and religious practices. Since many other states still refer to this act as “custody,” for the purposes of interpreting or applying international or federal laws and statutes it means “legal custody.”

Decided by the Court, this is the legal end to a domestic relationship where the parties remain married. The Decree for Separation may specify matters of legal decision-making, parenting time, and spousal maintenance, however, all legal rights and responsibilities created by the marriage remain unaltered, differentiating it from divorce.


In divorce, mediation assists in parents reaching decisions about parenting plans, distribution of assets, and taxes before going to court. Divorce mediation in Arizona is often an essential part of achieving fair parenting time and legal decision-making rights.

Minors/Minor Children

Children under the age of 18.

Negotiated Settlement

When two parties are able to work out issues such as property division, child custody, and legal decision-making in Arizona without going to trial.

Non-Parental Custody

Court-appointed custody given to an outside party, often a grandparent or stepparent. Must be petitioned for, and is often only awarded when one legal parent has died or gone missing for more than three months, when the parents are separating/divorcing/dissolving, or when it is in the Best Interest of the Child.

Order of Protection

Can be issued when one person exhibits criminal behavior against another person who has an existing relationship with the offender (i.e. married, have or are about to have a child together, are living or have lived together, or are blood relatives/ related by marriage).

Parenting Coordinator

A court appointed attorney who is licensed to practice law in Arizona; a psychiatrist who is licensed to practice medicine or osteopathy in Arizona; a psychologist who is licensed to practice psychology in Arizona; a person who is licensed by the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners as a social worker, professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, or substance abuse counselor; any other Arizona licensed or certified professional with education, experience, and special expertise regarding the particular issues referred; or professional staff of conciliation services to assist parents in resolving disputes about parenting their children and to make recommendations to the court for orders if the parents are unable to reach a resolution.

Parenting Plan

A Court-approved written document that lays out the child’s schedule with each legal parent. Arizona courts also require specific information on communication and visitation changeovers in order to be considered.

Parenting Time

The schedule for a particular parent’s time with their child/ren. During this time, the parent is responsible for all legal decision-making.

Petition for Child Support / Legal Decision-Making Determination

A court order to bring a child or minor to court.

Petition for Dissolution

No divorce can take place without one. It must be filed with the Court and then served to the Respondent within 120 days. The Respondent has 20-30 days to respond. If there is no response after 61 days, the divorce may be dissolved by default.

Sole Legal Decision-Making

One parent has been awarded the right and responsibility to make legal decisions for the child.

Spousal Maintenance

A payment of money or property from one spouse to the other, designed to assist the spouse receiving payment in maintaining an appropriate standard of living and provide for his or her needs in a manner similar to which they are accustomed and legally entitled.

Temporary Orders

These are short-term decisions made by a judge about matters such as parenting time, spousal maintenance, and debt payments until a permanent court order is reached.


When, during a case presented to the Court, neither party expresses a disagreement. An uncontested divorce in Arizona means no response has been filed to the divorce petition.

To set up a free consultation with Craig Simon, an Arizona attorney specializing and well-versed in family law, please call 480-745-2450 today.


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