A few of the important terms used in Arizona courts

A.R.S. — Refers to the Arizona Revised Statutes, the laws the state legislature has enacted.

ADR — Stands for alternative dispute resolution, a type of court-ordered mediation intended to facilitate full or partial settlement.

Arrears — The amount of unpaid and past due child support or spousal maintenance.

Best Interests Attorney — A court-appointed attorney who advocates for the best interests of the child. Best interests attorneys participate in litigation to the same extent as the parties’ attorneys and do not testify or provide reports to the court.

Burden of Proof — The obligation placed on a litigant to prove his or her claims necessary to obtain the desired relief.

Child’s Attorney — A court-appointed attorney who represents a child during litigation. Unlike a best interests attorney, a child’s attorney is subject to the child’s directives.

Clearinghouse — The entity through which child support and spousal maintenance payments are commonly ordered to be paid.

Commissioner — A judicial officer appointed to handle certain types of cases.

Community Lien — An equitable interest in a spouse’s sole and separate property, usually derived from community contributions to the property’s purchase or improvement.

Community Property — In Arizona, property acquired during a marriage is presumed to belong to the marital community, even when titled to only one spouse. Community property is equitably (but not necessarily equally) divided during divorce.

Consent Decree — An agreement between the parties adopted as a court order.

Contempt — May refer to the willful violation of a court order; may also refer to a type of enforcement action in Arizona family court where a party asks the family court to hold the other party in contempt for noncompliance with court orders.

Continuance — Postponement of a court hearing.

Court Appointed Advisor — As the name suggests, this is an individual appointed by the court to gather information useful to the resolution of issues before the court. Typically court appointed advisors are appointed in contested child custody cases. The fees for court appointed advisors are assessed against one or more of the parties, unless the parties qualify for fee waiver.

Dependency — An action initiated in juvenile court to determine if the parents are fit or if the child should be removed from the parents’ care.

Deposition — A discovery tool used to obtain testimony from a party or witness outside of court during litigation. Depositions can be conducted orally or in writing and the testimony usually can be admitted as evidence at trial.

Disclosure — Disclosure refers to the parties’ duty to share certain information pursuant to procedural rule or statute. 

Discovery — The procedures a party can use to obtain facts and information important to the outcome of pending litigation. 

ECR — Stands for Electronic Court Records, the system Maricopa County Superior Court uses to enable litigants and their attorneys to electronically access the documents filed in their case.

Enforcement — An action in which one party seeks to enforce the provisions of a court order.

Ex Parte — This is a latin phrase that means from or by a party. It may be used to refer to relief that can be obtained without notice to the other party, such as a protective order. It also may be used to refer to prohibited contact by one party without the other.

Final Say Decision Making — Family court judges can use this to confer slightly different rights, but typically it refers to a joint legal decision-making order where one parent is given the authority to make a legal decision for the child whenever the parents cannot agree. Usually, final say requires the parents to confer and attempt to make the decision jointly before a parent can exercise his or her right to make the final decision.

Guardian Ad Litem — A person appointed by the court to represent the interests of a minor child in a divorce or parentage case. Guardians ad litem are different from attorneys in that they make a recommendation to the court about what they think is best for the child.

In Loco Parentis — A latin term to refer to a non-parent who enjoys a legally significant parent-like relationship with a child.

Income Withholding Order — An IWO, also sometimes called wage assignment, is a court order for a party’s employer to withhold or garnish funds usually for the purposes of paying court-ordered child support or spousal maintenance.

Interrogatory — A discovery tool a party can use to send a set of written questions to the other party to obtain facts or information pertinent to litigation.

Joint Legal Decision Making — Gives both parents equal rights and, without further order, prohibits a parent from making certain legal decisions without the consent of the other parent.

Jurisdiction — A court’s authority to resolve a particular case. Jurisdiction consists of subject matter jurisdiction, the court’s authority to hear a certain type of case, and personal jurisdiction, the court’s authority over the parties.

Legal Decision-Making — Under Arizona law, this is the component of child custody that authorizes a parent or parents to make certain legal decisions for their children. Legal decisions may include educational, medical, and religious decisions.

Mediation — A confidential dispute resolution process where the parties meet with a trained mediator, usually a former judge or a practicing attorney, to attempt to find suitable compromise to resolve issues during litigation.

Motion — A written or oral request by a party for the judge to take some specific action.

Obligee — Refers to the individual to whom something, usually child support or spousal maintenance, is owed.

Obligor — Refers to the individual who owes something, usually child support or spousal maintenance.

Order to Appear — A court order for the parties to appear at a hearing. Typically, the party who requested a hearing must serve this order on the other party.

Parenting Conference — A non-confidential conference between parents and a professional with relevant credentials used by family courts to assist child custody determinations. Parenting conference providers typically provide a written report to the family court complete with recommendations for how the court should award parenting time and legal decision-making. Children of suitable age and maturity also may be interviewed by the parenting conference provider and their wishes considered in the recommendations.

Parenting Plan — An enforceable court order providing each parent’s rights and responsibilities pertaining to parenting time and legal decision-making. 

Parenting Time — Known in other jurisdictions as visitation, physical custody, or custodial access, parenting time refers to the time a child spends with each parent.

Paternity — Paternity refers to the establishment of a father’s rights and responsibilities. It can be established by voluntary acknowledgement or a petition to establish. Paternity does not strictly refer to the biological relationship. Legal paternity can be established by a non-biological father.

Petition — A document filed and served on the other party to initiate a family court case, analogous to a complaint in a civil case.

Petitioner — Refers to the individual who filed the initial petition that started a family law case. In subsequent modifications, the “Petitioner” retains this designation even when the other party files additional petitions.

Preliminary Injunction — A temporary restraining order issued when certain cases are filed that prohibits both parties from specified behaviors. 

Pro Per / Pro Se — These terms refer to litigants who represent themselves without attorneys.

Respondent — The party against whom an initial petition commenced a family law case.

Response — The pleading a Respondent files to admit or deny the allegations in a petition.

Return Hearing — A preliminary hearing sometimes used to hear limited evidence or testimony necessary for the court to resolve contested motions.

Resolution Management Conference — Also referred to as an RMC, this is a preliminary hearing where a judge may order the parties to attend additional services such as ADR, mediation or a parenting conference, depending on the facts of the case. No evidence or testimony is presented and the family court cannot make any substantive orders absent agreement between the parties.

Rule 69 Agreement — An agreement between parties to family law litigation, pursuant to Rule 69 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure, that binds the parties when adopted by the family court.

Rule of Exclusion — The parties’ right to exclude non-essential witnesses from the courtroom during other witnesses’ testimony so they cannot hear the other witnesses’ testimony.

Service — Service and process service refer to procedures required to give a party notice of certain proceedings. 

Spousal Maintenance — A party’s obligation to provide financial support to his or her spouse or ex-spouse. In other jurisdictions, this is sometimes called alimony or spousal support. 

Status Conference — Another type of hearing, sometimes held telephonically, where the parties update the judge regarding the status of the litigation.

Statute of Limitations — A specified time period during which certain claims must be brought.

Subpoena — A document issued to compel testimony or production of evidence from a witness or non-parties.

Temporary Orders — In Arizona family law cases, a party may file a motion for temporary orders to apply during the pendency of family law litigation.

UCCJEA — The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act is a statutory framework adopted in several states to resolve issues in interstate child custody cases.

Under Advisement — Courts frequently take matters “under advisement” at the conclusion of a hearing where the court is not yet prepared to enter its ruling(s).