Access, Visitation, Parenting Time: Words used to describe the schedule of time that a child has with each parent.

Admissions: Statements that you agree or disagree. Usually, this comes in the form of a formal request from one party to the other.

Advanced Fee: This was formerly known as a “retainer,” which is money that an attorney usually requires before beginning your case.

Affidavit: A sworn statement of fact signed by the author and witnessed by another, usually a notary.

Affidavit of Financial Information: This required document must be filed if a party wants child support or spousal maintenance. It is a court form.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Ways to solve legal problems without a trial. Examples include mediation, resolution management conference or other settlement methods.

Annulment: In some states, it was possible to receive an “Annulment.” This was a document that declared that the legal marriage never occurred in the first place.

Arrearages: Past child support or spousal maintenance payments which have not been made. A.R.S. § 25-500: The total unpaid support owed, including child support, past support, spousal maintenance and interest.

A.R.S. (Arizona Revised Statutes): This is a set of laws that governs Arizona, including Family Law. They can be found at:

Attachment: Positive feelings of the child toward parents and other parent figures.

Best Interest of the Child: When a judge decides what would be best for the child in a decision-making or parenting plan issue, based on all the information. A standard by which a court determines what arrangements would be to a child’s greatest benefit, often used in deciding child-decision-making and visitation matters and in deciding whether to approve an adoption or a guardianship. A.R.S. § 25-403: A decision-making determination shall be made in accordance with the best interests of the child. All relevant factors shall be considered, including: (1) the wishes of the child’s parent(s) as to decision-making, (2) the wishes of the child as to the custodian, (3) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s parent(s), the child’s siblings, (4) the child’s adjustment to home, school and community, (5) the mental and physical health or all individuals involved, (6) which parent is more

likely to allow the child frequent and meaning continuing contact with the other parent, (7) whether one parent, both parents or neither parent has provided primary care of the child, and (8) the nature and extent of coercion or duress used by a parent in obtaining an agreement regarding decision-making.

Bonding: Close relationship that develops between a young child and a parent or a parent figure.

Child Decision-making: The care, control and maintenance of a child awarded by a court to a responsible adult. Decision-making involves legal decision-making (decision-making authority) and physical decision-making (care giving authority). A.R.S. § 25-402(2).

Child Support: Financial support ordered to be paid by one parent to the other parent for support of a child. The amount is calculated by statutory guidelines, called Child Support Guidelines, which are calculated and reflected in a Child Support Worksheet. A.R.S. § 25-320: In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, maintenance or child support it may be ordered that either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child and pay an amount reasonable and necessary for support of the child, without regard to marital misconduct. When determining the amount of child support owed, income is normally the most important factor. This not only includes standard paycheck wages, but also bonuses, commission payments, overtime, disability payments, Social Security income, income from rental properties, and income from intellectual property, such as royalties. The court can also view stock option plans (which are non- retirement) as income. If one spouse is not working, the judge can still assume that this non-custodial parent is capable of obtaining a job at minimum wage for 40 hours a week.

Co-Parenting: When parents share the responsibility for raising a child, even when the parents do not live together.

Community Property: The body of law in Arizona which creates a presumption that property and debt acquired during a marriage belongs to both parties and require such  property  and  debt  to  be  divided  equitably  during  a  divorce.

A.R.S. §25-211: “All property acquired by either husband or wife during the marriage is the community property of the husband and wife except for property that is: (1) acquired by gift, devise or descent (2) acquired after service of a petition for dissolution…” Community Property: also includes pensions, benefits, stock plans, accrued vacation, deferred compensation, frequent flier miles, publishing rights, copyrights, patents, or anything else of value acquired during the marriage.

Conciliation: An alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process, whereby the parties in a divorce agree to utilize the services of a conciliator, who then meets with the parties in an attempt to resolve their differences and determine if any agreements can be made.

Conciliation Services: Services provided by Maricopa County. These details change frequently, so you should always review their website. They provide parenting conferences, mediation and early resolution conferences.

Confidentiality: Private information that cannot be shared with anyone else, except as required by law.

Consent Decree: An agreement that ends the marriage. Both parties sign and agree to the terms of the decree.

Contested Divorce: One in which your spouse is contesting your Petition for Dissolution. By contesting the petition, they will have actually filed a response with the court.  The  filing of the response will not prevent a future Consent Decree/Marital Settlement Agreement from being reached. In fact, the most likely scenario is that they will respond and then later work out an agreement between your attorney and theirs. This usually occurs after discovery has been concluded. If a Marital Settlement Agreement is still not reached, it is at this time that a trial will occur.

Court Appointed Attorneys for Children (Guardian ad Litum): Only rarely will a court appoint attorneys for children, but they may do so if the judge finds that the parent’s position may be in conflict with the best interests of the child. Sometimes this will occur if the child is insisting on being with one parent, although a judge may feel that it conflicts with their best interest. This also helps prevent the parties from playing tug-of-war with their child.

Court Order: A written order made by a judge that must be followed.

Covenant Marriage: Special marriage designated on the marriage license. It is more difficult to get divorced if you have a covenant marriage.

Decree of Dissolution: This is the Final Judgment or Decree that will restore you and your former spouse’s status of unmarried persons. They will also set out the final rulings regarding child decision-making, child support, property division, and other important issues regarding the termination of the marriage.

Default Judgment: A default occurs when a spouse is not responding to the Petition for Dissolution within the required amount of time (20 days if your spouse is an Arizona resident; 30 days for an out-of-state resident). Once the time limit has run out and if your spouse has failed to respond, you can then file for a Notice of Default with the court. This has the effect of asking the court to grant everything that you have asked for in your petition. Once you have filed the Notice of Default, your spouse has 10 days in which to respond. If they do not respond, then your case will be assigned to a judge to enter a Final Judgment in the form of a Decree of Dissolution. At this default hearing, you must be present at court, otherwise the judge cannot sign the decree and give you your copy.

Depositions: Court-ordered interviews that are normally conducted with both attorneys present, along with a court reporter.

Discovery Process: Discovery is the term used to describe the process by which each party is allowed to examine all possible evidence that may support their claims. In Arizona, both spouses must disclose, in writing, all legal and factual grounds for their alleged defenses and claims.

Dissolution Decree: Same as a divorce decree. The court order that dissolves a marriage and returns parties to the status of single persons and outlines the terms of the divorce, including decision-making, child support, spousal maintenance and division of community assets. When the parties agree to all the terms of a divorce, they can submit a Consent Decree, signed by each party, to the court for the court’s approval. A.R.S. §25-312: A decree of dissolution of marriage shall be entered into if (1) one of the parties, at the time the action was commenced, was domiciled in this state, and that domicile has been maintained for ninety (90) days, (2) the conciliation provisions of § 25-381.09 and the provisions of article 5 either do not apply or have not been met, and (3) the marriage is irretrievably broken.

Dissolution of Marriage: Divorce.

Dissolution: The present day term for a divorce, meaning to dissolve the marriage.

Divorce: The legal process of dissolving a marriage.

Domestic Partnership: A non-marital relationship between two persons of the same or opposite sex who live together as a couple for a significant period of time.

Domestic   Violence: Domestic   violence   is   legally   defined   in   Arizona   in A.R.S. § 13- 3601(a) as a criminal act of physical, verbal or sexual behavior or threats or intimidation by one partner toward another. Significant domestic violence is a factor considered in determining parenting time decisions under A.R.S. § 25-403.03.

Early Resolution Conference: This is a meeting set for pro per clients to meet with court personnel, outside a courtroom setting, to try and resolve the divorce issues.

Emergency Temporary Orders: Can be requested by either party and normally will be heard by the court within 24 hours. These orders are normally based upon a showing of irreparable harm that may befall the children. Usually, there is a child abuse, drug abuse or mental health issue involved in these cases. Many times these orders are heard Ex Parte (i.e. with only one party appearing in front of the judge). At the Emergency Order’s hearing, the judge will base his information upon declarations and sometimes on brief testimony.

Enforcement: The process of ordering a party to appear before the court for failing to make child support or spousal maintenance payments and requiring the party to pay arrearages.

Exchange: Pick-up and drop-off of a child between parents or other caregivers.

Exhibits: Documentary or other evidence that supports your position. Exhibits can include your Affidavit of Financial Information, bank statements, school records, etc.

Family Law Rules: The Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure (ARFLP) are the procedure rules that guide family law litigation cases.

Family Law: The laws that relate to family relationships. They include laws about divorce, paternity, decision-making, parenting plans, property and debt division, child support, spousal support (alimony), and other topics. The laws are based on statutes, rules and reported court decisions.

Filing: Giving your legal papers to the clerk of the court.

Frequent and Continuing Contact: How the law refers to children having regular and ongoing contact with parents.

Full Decision-making: This is not a legal term defined by law in Arizona. In Arizona, the term is not used and it has no meaning. However, often this term is confused with “sole decision-making.” (See Sole Decision-making.)

Grandparent Visitation: In certain situations, grandparents and great- grandparents may be entitled to visitation or parenting time with their grandchild under A.R.S. § 25-409: Grandparents may be granted reasonable visitations to the child during the child’s minority on a finding that the visitation rights would be in the best interests of the child.

Hague Convention: An international convention dealing with international adoption, child laundering and child trafficking.

Hearing: A scheduled appearance in court where parents and attorneys may call witnesses and introduce evidence.

Hearsay: An out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Hearsay is allowed in family law matters, unless one party requests strict compliance with the Rules of Evidence.

Holiday Plan: A part of the parenting plan that specifies how children will spend holidays with each parent and defines each holiday, so both parents know when the holiday begins and ends.

Injunction: Order by the court to refrain from doing something.

In loco parentis: [Latin for “in the place of a parent”] When an individual acts as a guardian or caretaker of a child, taking on all or some of the responsibilities of a parent. A.R.S. § 25-415: A child decision-making proceeding may be commenced by a person other than a legal parent. An award of decision-making shall be denied unless, (1) the non-parent stands in loco parentis to the child, (2) it would be detrimental to the child to remain or be placed in the decision-making of either the child’s living legal parents who seek decision-making, (3) an award of decision-making of the child has not been made within one year, unless there is reason to believe the child’s current environment present dangers to the child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health, and (4) one of the legal parents is deceased, the child’s legal parents are not married to each other, or there is a pending dissolution of the legal parents.

Interrogatories: Written questions that each party must answer in writing.

Irretrievably Broken/Irreconcilable Differences: These are the only grounds which are recognized for divorce in Arizona. It is not necessary to find that somebody is at fault for the dissolution. All that is required is that one party wishes to get the divorce. (See No Fault).

Joint Legal Decision-making: Both parents share major decision-making for their children. Neither parent can overrule the other parent, unless specifically allowed by the parenting plan or by court order. See also Legal Decision-making. (See A.R.S. §25-402(2).) “The condition under which both parents share legal decision-making and neither parent’s rights are superior…” A.R.S. §25-402(3).

Joint Parenting Time: The child has roughly the same amount of time and contact with both parents. This does not mean the parents have joint legal decision-making. See also Physical Decision-making. (See A.R.S. §25-403.)

Legal Decision-making: The right of a parent to make major decisions for the children. Major decisions may include medical care, personal appearance, religion, or education. Decision-making may be either joint with both parents or sole with one parent. (See A.R.S. §25-403 and §25-403.01.)

Legal Separation: A partial or qualified divorce by which the community ends for purposes of community property, assets and debts are split, and child decision-making, parenting time and support is determined, but the parties remain technically married. A.R.S.  25-313: A decree of legal separation shall be entered into if: (1) one of the parties, at the time the action was commenced, was domiciled in this state, (2) the conciliation provisions of A.R.S. §25-381.09 and the provisions of Article 5 either do not apply or have not been met (3) the marriage is irretrievably broken or one of both of the parties desire to live separate and apart, and (4) the other party does not object to a decree of legal separation. It can be temporary or for an unlimited period of time. It is a legal decree which is issued when the judge determines that there is an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, or that one spouse desires to live separate and apart from the other spouse. The benefit of the legal separation is that it still leaves open the possibility of reconciliation, and it protects both spouses from the others future debts. One spouse files an objection to the legal separation, it will then be amended to a Petition for Dissolution of the marriage and the divorce process begins.

Litigate: Go to court to resolve issues.

Maiden Name Restoration: A wife’s former or maiden name can be changed back upon request in the Petition for Dissolution or by pleading during the divorce.

Marital Settlement Agreement: A written document signed by both parties evidencing the agreement of the split of the parties’ assets.

Maternity: A legal action that results in a court order naming the child’s mother.

Mediation: A meeting with a mediator who helps the parents try to solve problems cooperatively. Mediation may occur face-to-face or separately, if necessary. Mediation is confidential. The mediator does not tell the parents what they should do or make a recommendation to the court. (See Rule of Family Law Procedure 66.B(4))

Mediator: A trained, neutral third party who helps the parents try to solve problems cooperatively through mediation.

Minute Entry: These are orders generated by the court.

Modification of Parenting Plan: Changes to the parenting plan. If agreed to, the changes can be enforced only if they are submitted to and ordered by the court. If the parties cannot agree, one party can request modification by filing a motion with the court.

Modification:  Making changes  to  a  prior  agreement,  court  order  or  decree.

A.R.S. § 25-411: A person shall not make a motion to modify a decision-making decree earlier than one year after its date, unless there is reason to believe the child’s present environment may seriously endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health.

No Fault: In some states, it is required that one party be at fault for the breakup of the marriage. In Arizona, it is not necessary to have somebody to blame for the end of the marriage; therefore, Arizona is a “No Fault Divorce” state.

Non-Modifiable: This usually refers to a spousal maintenance agreement that cannot be modified. You need to be very careful with this language, because

according to Arizona law, spousal maintenance ends when a party dies or the receiving spouse remarries.

Notice to Attend Parent Information Program Classes and Order: This is an official court order, and failure to obey may result in contempt of court. What this means is both you and your spouse must complete these classes within 45 days from the petition being served. Also, these classes must be completed before the judge will finalize your Decree of Dissolution.

Order of Protection: See Protective Order.

Parenting Conference: The parties and children are interviewed by a contract provider hired by the court to interview the family and write a report to the court. The fee varies and at the time of publishing, cost is $300 per person. Children are no additional cost.  These are usually conducted by a psychologist.

Parenting Plan: A document that states when the child will be with each parent and how decisions will be made. The parenting plan may be developed by the parents on their own or with the help of a professional such as a mediator, an attorney or a judge.

A plan should allocate custodial responsibility and decision-making authority that serves the child’s best interests and provides a mechanism for resolving any later disputes between parents. A.R.S. § 25-403.02: Before joint decision-making is awarded, the parents shall submit a proposed parenting plan that includes: (1) each parent’s rights and responsibilities for the personal care of the child, such as education, health care and religious training, and (2) a schedule of the physical residence of the child, including holidays and school vacations.

Parenting Time: The time a child spends with each parent. This is the present- day term for visitation, during which one parent is awarded set time to have physical control and decision-making of a child. A.R.S. § 25-402: The condition under which a parent has the right to have a child physically placed with the parent and the right and responsibility to make, during that placement, routine daily decisions regarding the child’s care, consistent with the major decisions made by a person having legal decision-making.

Paternity Action: This is a court proceeding brought forward to determine who is the father of a child.

Paternity: A legal action that results in a court order naming the child’s father.

Pendency: The state of being pending, during the process of or in a state that is undecided.

Petition: The filing to start to the divorce.

Petitioner: The person who files the divorce or initiates the action.

Preliminary Injunction Order: These are the first orders issued by the court during the dissolution proceeding. It is in effect automatically after service of the petition. This prevents you or your spouse from selling or giving property. It also prevents either you or your spouse from taking your children out of state without the prior written consent of the other spouse. You are prohibited from changing any insurance plans. Lastly, it prevents either you or your spouse from harassing or disturbing the peace of one another.

Prenuptial/Premarital Agreements: These are contracts that are entered into prior to the marriage taking place. These must be in writing and signed by both parties in order to be enforceable. The agreement has to be entered into voluntarily, and it cannot be unconscionable when executed. In addition, both spouses must be fully informed and provided with fair and reasonable disclosure of all the property and financial interests and obligations of the other spouse. In other words, all of your information must be turned over to the other spouse and their lawyer. There is an exception if your future spouse voluntarily waives the disclosure of this information and had adequate previous knowledge of your financial holdings and obligations.

Primary Residence: The parent’s home where the child physically resides most of the time.

Pro per: The Latin term that courts use when referring to a party who is representing themselves. This means that the party is not represented by an attorney.

Property Settlement Agreement: This document sets forth the terms of your property agreements.

Protective Order: Refers to four types of orders (Order of Protection, Emergency Order of Protection, Injunction Against Harassment, Injunction Against Workplace Harassment) designed to prevent violence or harassment between parties. Any court in the state can issue these special orders without notice to the defendant. When the orders are set without notice, hearings must be set within 5-10 days at the request of the defendant. (See Rule 1B of the Arizona Rules of Protective Order Procedure).

Reconciliation Request: When one party strongly believes that the marriage can be saved, they can petition the court to order marriage counseling. This order results in the dissolution proceedings being suspended for up to 120 days while the court determines whether reconciliation is possible and likely.

Redact: A form of editing that covers information that you do not want to disclose on documents.

Relocation (”Move Away” cases): When one spouse wishes to move out of the area, or out of Arizona, and they wish to take the children with them, then very specific steps need to be undertaken. The other parent must receive written notice and they have the opportunity to contest it in the court.

Request for Admissions: A written list of questions asking for very specific admissions that will save time in the preparation of the case (i.e. “Are you the father of the child?” etc.).

Request for Production of Documents: A specific request for certain documents that either side believes will be beneficial to their case.

Residency/Jurisdiction: One of the two spouses must live in Arizona for at least 90 days before the filing of a Petition for Dissolution. Residency is required in order for the court to have jurisdiction. Once the petition is filed, there is a 60-day waiting period after service of process on the other spouse before any divorce can become final. In regards to legal separation, there are no residency requirements specified, and that action can be filed at any time after one spouse establishes residency within the state of Arizona.

Resolution Management Conference: Courtroom meeting set by the court so the parties can meet the judge and discuss the case. The judge will want to meet if there are any settlements, stipulations, need for a parenting conference, conciliation, mediation or a trial date. If you do not have an attorney, you will have an Early Resolution Conference instead.

Resolution Management Statement: A court-ordered form required to be filled out and filed with the court before the management conference.

Respondent: The person who must file an answer to the divorce pleading.

Rules of Court: Court procedures are controlled by rules. Family law is controlled by the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure (ARFLP). The ARFLP can also be supplemented by local county rules. The ARFLP can be found at the local law library or at:

Section or §: Specific portion of the law.

Service of Process/Summons: Once a Petition for Dissolution is filed with the court, the petitioner must have the summons and other required documents and notices served on the respondent. The best way to achieve service of process is to use a private process server. Once your spouse has been served, they must respond to the petition within 20 days, or the court may grant all relief you have requested (i.e. a Default Judgment).

Sole legal decision-making: When only one parent has the right to make major legal decisions for the child. The sole legal custodian may not change the parenting time of the other parent without agreement. (See Legal Decision-making).

Spousal Maintenance: Money paid by one married person to another for support after a divorce or legal separation. A.R.S. § 25-500: “‘Support’ means the provision of maintenance or subsistence and includes medical insurance coverage, or cash medical support, and uncovered medical costs for the child, arrearages, interest on arrearages, past support, interest on past support and reimbursement for expended public assistance. In a title IV-D case, support includes spousal maintenance that is included in the same order that directs child support.”

Statute: A law passed by the state legislature (or adopted by initiative). Most code sections relating to family law are in Title 25 of the Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) and are available at the county law library or on the Internet at:

Stipulation: A formal agreement of the parties. When it is written and signed by both parties and then approved by a judge, it becomes a court order.

Supervised Exchanges: Pick-up and drop-off of the child in the presence of another specified adult.

Supervised Parenting Time: Parenting time during which the parent and child must be in the presence of another specified adult.

TASC or Treatment Assessment Screening Center: This is an organization devoted to drug and mental health assessment. According to their website at, TASC has a state-of-the-art drugs of abuse testing laboratory onsite to provide the high-quality drug testing analyses. There are locations all over the Valley.

Temporary Orders: Orders that can be entered by the court before the divorce is final. A motion must be filed and a hearing date is set. Evidence is provided to the court in a mini trial. It normally takes a couple of months to be heard by the court.

Therapeutic Supervision: Supervision of parent-child contacts provided by a therapist.

Transition: The adjustment time for parents and the child immediately before, during and after the exchange of the child between the parents or other caregivers.

Trial: A formal hearing with witnesses and evidence. (See Hearing).

Uncontested Divorce: The type of divorce where your spouse does not file a response to the Petition  for  Dissolution.  This can either result  in  a  Default

Judgment, or they may have contacted you and simply entered into a Consent Decree/Marital Settlement Agreement, without any official fight or contest taking place in court.

Wage Assignment: The process whereby child support or spousal maintenance is automatically taken from your check. Your employer pays this support payment directly to the state for distribution.

Virtual Parenting: Parenting time facilitated by electronic means to supplement, but not replace, in-person parenting time. Examples include telephone calls, web cam, videoconferencing, instant messaging, online chatting, telephone texting, etc.

Visitation: This term is no longer preferred. Instead, see Access, Parenting Plan or Parenting Time.


Courthouses (Superior Court) Maricopa County Maricopa Co. Superior Court: Northeast Regional Court Complex, 602-506-3360 18380 N. 40th St., Phoenix 85032 Maricopa County Superior Court: Northwest Court Complex, 602-506-3360 14264 W. Tierra Buena Lane, Surprise 85374 Maricopa Co. Superior Court: Downtown Phoenix Court Complex, 602-506-3204 101/201 W. Jefferson, Phoenix 85003-2205 Maricopa Co. Superior...

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