What Does “Final Say” Mean in Arizona’s Child Custody Laws?


Arizona makes custody decisions based on what’s perceived to be in a child’s best interest. While it’s generally accepted that parents have an equal right to spend time with their children and make decisions on their behalf, situations exist in which parents disagree on the best course of action.

In some cases, the court may grant one parent final decision-making, meaning that they have the legal “final say” in all major decisions affecting their child.

However, child custody involves many complex factors that influence “final say”, which are covered below.

Understanding Sole Legal Decision-Making

When two parents are married, they tend to make major decisions about their children as a unit. However, when unmarried or divorced parents share custody, disagreements often arise about who has the last word in decisions regarding healthcare, schooling, religious upbringing, and more.

Arizona courts are typically hesitant to award one parent sole legal decision-making in custody cases. Not only does the law believe that parents have a right to be involved in their children’s lives, but it also recognizes that joint decision-making is usually in a child’s best interest.

Still, cases exist when a court assigns one parent sole legal decision-making over the other. Under these circumstances, the parent with sole decision-making has final authority when there’s a difference of opinion about child rearing.

Here are some circumstances in which the court will generally consider awarding sole legal decision-making to one parent:

  • Domestic violence
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Certain mental health conditions

Just because a parent has sole legal decision-making rights doesn’t mean that parent is free to make childcare choices without consulting the co-parent. On the contrary, you must still make “a good faith and conscious effort” to consider the other parent’s point of view in decisions.

Understanding Joint Legal Decision-Making

The norm in custody cases, joint or shared legal decision-making requires both parties to agree when it comes to significant issues in their children’s lives. Except in cases of emergency, a parent is legally required to consult with their co-parent before making significant decisions regarding their child.

In general, Arizona courts attempt to implement this arrangement in custody cases, as it allows both parents to remain involved in their children’s lives.

However, co-parents with communication issues may struggle to put aside personal disagreements in order to make decisions as a unit. In the event that parents neglect to reach a consensus, their only recourse in these circumstances is to petition the court to intervene every time.

Along with being frustratingly slow, this process can cost a great deal of money. As a result, many parents allow the court to assign joint legal decision-making with final say for one party.

Understanding Joint Legal Decision-Making With Final Say

A compromise between joint and sole legal decision-making, joint legal decision-making with final say gives both parents a voice when it comes to making choices regarding their child’s well being. However, in cases when parents fail to agree on a major issue (such as healthcare or schooling), one party is granted the authority to make the final decision.

It’s worth noting that the court requires individuals with final say to make a good faith effort to consider the other parent’s point of view. In the event that the non-final-say parent objects to the decision, they may opt to petition the court to intervene. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the court may even decide to shift final-say authority to the party who brought the petition.

In some cases, the court may choose to specify that certain decisions don’t fall under the joint legal decision-making ruling. These exceptions give one parent sole legal decision-making regardless of the other parent’s views on the issue.

Determining Legal Decision-Making

The Arizona Department of Economic Security defines legal decision-making as the court granting authority to one or more persons to care for a minor child. In other words, the individual awarded legal decision-making has the right to care for the child and make decisions in their best interest.

In some cases, legal decision-making is assigned for a set period of time, like a week or a summer. In other cases, the decision is permanent. It’s important for parents to realize that legal decision-making differs from custody. Just because a parent has custody of their child for a period of time doesn’t mean they also have the right to make legal decisions.

The court is responsible for deciding whether parents will have joint legal decision-making rights or if one party will have sole legal decision-making or joint legal decision-making with final say. These determinations are made based on the physical and emotional well being of the child in question. Here are some of the many factors judges consider when assessing custody and legal decision-making:

  • The relationship a child has with each parent
  • The relationship a child has with siblings
  • The relationship a child has with other people who impact their life, such as relatives and teachers
  • The child’s current level of contentment with regard to home, school, and community
  • The child’s wishes with regard to parenting time and legal decision-making (depending on their age and level of maturity)
  • The physical and mental health of the parents and child
  • Whether one parent is likely to prevent the child from spending time with the other
  • Whether one parent or both parents have committed acts of child abuse or domestic violence
  • Whether either parent misled the court in order to delay the assignment of parenting time or legal decision-making

The goal is to make a decision that preserves the child’s best interests every step of the way.

Getting Help With Custody Decision Making

There’s nothing more important than your relationship with your kids. At JacksonWhite Law, we work tirelessly to help parents maintain their rights to physical custody and legal decision-making in Arizona. Contact us below to get help from our experienced family law attorneys.

Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.

Contact Our Family Law Team

Call (480) 467-4348 or fill out the form to schedule your consultation and discuss your best legal options.