Legal Decision-Making

Resource Guide

This guide can give you a place to start your research when you have a case for legal decision-making. When the court makes a legal decision-making order, it is deciding how the responsibility for making decisions for the child will be divided between the parents. These decisions include healthcare, schooling, personal care, and religious training.

“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. ARS 25-401(2).

“Sole legal decision-making” means one parent has the legal right and responsibility to make major decisions for a child. However, it does not allow that parent to alter the court-ordered parenting time plan. ARS 25-401(6).

“In loco parentis” means a person who has been treated as a parent by a child and who has formed a meaningful parental relationship with a child for a substantial period of time. ARS 25-401(1).

Arizona Revised Statutes §§ 25-401 through 25-417: These Arizona statutes govern legal decision making.

Rule 23, Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure: Describes the initial petition and response in a family court action.

Rules 91 and 91.3, Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure: Describe the procedure for modifying a court order for legal decision making.

The Court’s primary focus in any case involving children is the “best interests of the children.” See A.R.S. § 25-403. The Court can look at many different factors to determine what is in the children’s best interests. The Court can consider anything that is relevant to the child’s physical or emotional well-being. These can include several factors listed in the statute:

  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 § 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.1
  11. Whether either parent was convicted of an act of false reporting of child abuse or neglect under § 13-2907.02.

Arizona law states that joint legal-decision making cannot be awarded to a person who has committed “significant” domestic violence. If the Court finds domestic violence was committed, but it was not “significant,” the law presumes that it is in the best interests of the children that the person who committed the domestic violence not be granted sole or joint legal decision-making. However, that person can show that joint legal decision-making is in the best interests of the children. You can find more information about what constitutes domestic violence in A.R.S. § 25-403.03.

The Superior Court in Maricopa County has created forms that you can use. Please be sure to read the checklist for each packet to ensure the forms are right for your situation.

Establish Legal Decision Making – Use these forms when you do not have a previous custody order and want to ask the Court to set one up. These forms cannot be used if you are married to the other parent. 

Establish Paternity and Legal Decision Making – Use these forms when paternity has not been established and you want a custody order. Paternity has been established if the father’s name is listed on the birth certificate or if there is a previous court order for paternity.

Divorce with Children – Use these forms when you are married to the other parent and want to get divorced and get a child custody order.

Legal Separation with Children – Use these forms when you are married to the other parent and want to get a child custody order, but also want to stay legally married to the other parent.

Pre-Decree Temporary Orders – Use these forms when you have for a Divorce, Legal Separation, or to Establish Paternity and/or legal decision making, but you also need an order temporary order while the case proceeds.

Modification of Legal Decision Making – Use these forms when you have a previous legal decision-making order and want the Court to make a change to that order. 

Post-Decree Temporary Orders with Notice – Use these forms when you are filing a modification and want to ask the Court for an interim order while the modification is in process. 

Post-Decree Temporary Orders without Notice – Use these forms if there is an emergency affecting the health or safety of the child and you need the Court to enter an order without giving notice to the other parent first. 

If you have a custody order from another state or country, you may be able to register that custody order in Arizona. Depending on your circumstances, the Court may be able to modify or enforce your out of state order after it has been registered. Child custody orders must be registered separately from child support orders.

Arizona Revised Statutes § 25-1055

  • This statute states how and when a child custody order can be registered in Arizona. It is part of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), a standard set of child custody jurisdiction laws that have been adopted by 49 states and the District of Columbia.

Forms to Register an Out-of-State Custody Order

A.R.S. §25‐409 allows a non-parent to get custody of a child in certain situations. The non-parent must stand “in loco parentis” to the child they are seeking custody of.

We do not have pre-made forms for this.

These resources are available at the downtown Phoenix location, and online where indicated. 

“Arizona Rules of Family Procedure.” Arizona Rules of Court: Thomson Reuters, KFA 2929 .A193. Also available online at

Armstrong, Mark, McAuliffe, Daniel, et al., Arizona Practice: Arizona Family Law Rules Handbook (Volume 13). Thomson Reuters, KFA 2494 .A73. Also available on Westlaw.

Cantor, I., and Smith, C. M., Arizona Practice: Marriage Dissolution Practice (volumes 3). Thomson Reuters, KFA 2500 .S65. Also available on Westlaw.

Creighton, C. A., Arizona Legal Forms: Domestic Relations (volumes 4, 4A). Thomson Reuters, KFA 2468 .A75. Also available on Westlaw.

This information is provided by the Law Library Resource Center of the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County. 

You may contact a reference librarian as follows:



in person: 101 W. Jefferson, Phoenix


You may contact the Law Library Resource Center at:

phone: 602-506-7353


Last update 11/10/2022


The information provided in these guides is for research purposes only. We do not provide legal advice. For legal advice, please speak to an attorney. These guides are reviewed and updated periodically. The most recent revision date is on the guide. There may be more current information available. These guides are intended as a starting point only and do not include all information or materials related to the topic.

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