Arizona’s New Take On Sole-Decision

The Court of Appeals has just issued a new and very important Opinion (Nicaise v. Sundaram). (See attached.) This case holds that Court Orders for joint legal decision-making (formerly “joint custody”) between parents, with one parent having final decision-making over any or all issues, constitutes a Court Order for sole legal decision-making. And if one parent has final decision-making authority, the family court can no longer require parents to go to mediation when they disagree on a decision regarding their children.

This new case also holds that there is no statutory authority to allow the family court to make decisions when parents do not agree. (It has been routine, up until now, that family courts often decide parenting issues when the parents disagree.) However, this new ruling precludes the family court from making such decisions and instead requires the court to award one party sole decision-making authority over the disputed issue(s). The family court may no longer interfere in or decide the substantive issues/decisions parents have to make for their children – other than to give the authority to one of the parents to make those decisions.

As such, this case also departs from the 2009 Jordan v. Rea school-choice case, which required family courts to determine which school a child should attend when parents disagree. However, this new case holds there is no statutory authority allowing the Court to decide which school a child should attend. Instead, if the parties cannot agree on the school, then the court must assign one party sole-decision making authority on that issue.

This case is not only important for family law practitioners, but for any parents who have a children in a family court case or may in the future.

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