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Arizona Family Law: Understanding the Difference Between Joint and Sole Decision-Making

Law Office of Tad Davis Aug. 20, 2018

In Arizona, when couples divorce they can either agree on how they will make decisions or put that issue to the courts. In either event, the primary question the court will decide is what is in the children’s best interests.

Generally, the courts may decide to give the parents either sole or joint custody. Joint custody applies when both parents must be actively involved in the child’s upbringing while sole custody is used when the obligation will be given to one of the parties.

Understanding the differences between the two is crucial to parents who go through a family law matter or divorce. Let’s look at each of them for a better understanding:

Joint Legal Decision-Making

The joint or shared legal decision-making allows both parents to continue sharing the educational, medical, religious, and even personal care needs of their children. When it comes to larger decisions no single party can unilaterally plan on what to do with the child without informing or consulting the other parent.

For example, if one parent would like to enroll the children in George Washington Elementary, and the other parent prefers Alexander Hamilton Elementary, joint legal decision-making would mean that the parents would need to discuss the schools and come to an agreement before any decision was made. If they cannot agree then there are options for them to seek assistance, like mediation.

This type of legal decision-making is great for parents who tend to agree on some things for their children or who are willing to have a discussion about the children’s best interests. For other parents who are in a situation where their ex disagrees with anything they suggest, joint legal decision-making is harder, although not impossible. In those kinds of situations, the best thing to do is to agree on some parameters for your discussion. Perhaps you can’t agree on a specific school but you could narrow things down to a school district or two. By learning what things you do agree on you can still make progress towards an ultimate decision.

Sole Legal Decision-Making

When one of the divorced parents gets sole decision-making, he or she gains the full responsibility of making the most important decisions for the children. This is helpful when there is persistent conflict, but be aware that misusing this decision-making authority will result in the Court revoking it, and possibly giving it to the other parent.

For most parents with sole legal decision-making authority, they should still consult the other parent when highly sensitive issues arise, like when the child needs medical care although some exclusions do apply.

The non-custodial parents should make an effort to contribute to the child’s life; even if the law has not obligated them to do so. On the other hand, the custodial parent should not stop the children from bonding with the other party. However, in many cases, the custodial parent with sole legal decision-making usually has the final say in almost all major decisions.

It should be noted that sole legal decision-making does not mean that the parenting time would change at all. This only refers to the parent that will make decisions regarding education, health care, religion, and other major decisions.

Sometimes it’s quite hard for the courts to decide who will be given sole legal decision-making, especially when both parents seem responsible. Keep in mind that this type of decision is often appropriate in some cases like when there is alcohol abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, or significant mental illness. The court can also decide to award one of the parents sole legal decision-making if it is clearly not logical for them to share the responsibility.

It is important for both parents to have a strong bond with their children, which is why sole legal decision-making is less frequently used than joint legal decision-making.

If you have a particular concern regarding the custody of your children after divorce, Tad Davis can walk you through the process. Our legal team is trained to deal with this and other types of family law matters as efficiently as possible. Contact us today.