Family Law Dictionary

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Here’s a list commonly misunderstood terms it might be useful to know as you progress through your family law case. If you can think of any we’ve missed, please leave a comment and we’ll update the list!

Covenant marriage

This refers to a special type of marriage created by the Arizona legislature pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-901 through 906. It does not replace the kind of marriage already available. Instead it offers an additional option to couples who wish to marry. The covenant marriage differs both in the steps necessary to get married and the reasons why a legal separation or divorce may be granted by the court. To enter into a covenant marriage, the couple first must have counseling (called “premarital counseling”) from a member of the clergy or a marriage counselor. Then, when applying for a license to be married, both persons must show their intention to enter into a covenant marriage by signing a special statement (or “declaration”) on the application form. In a covenant marriage, legal separation or divorce may be granted by the court only for specific reasons listed in state law. To learn more about covenant marriages, please download this PDF.


This means divorce, or the end of a marriage.

Domestic violence

This refers to a broad range of conduct that is specifically outlined in A.R.S. § 13-3601. You can read A.R.S. § 13-3601 in its entirety here.

In loco parentis

This is what you call 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.

Joint legal decision-making

This 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.

Legal decision-making

This means the legal right and responsibility to make all nonemergency legal decisions for a child including those regarding education, health care, religious training and personal care decisions. For the purposes of interpreting or applying any international treaty, federal law, a uniform code or the statutes of other jurisdictions of the United States, legal decision-making means legal custody.

Legal parent

This means a biological or adoptive parent whose parental rights have not been terminated. Legal parent does not include a person whose paternity has not been established pursuant to § 25-812 or 25-814.

Parenting time

This means the schedule of time during which each parent has access to a child at specified times. Each parent during their scheduled parenting time is responsible for providing the child with food, clothing and shelter and may make routine decisions concerning the child’s care.


Refers to the person that files the initial Petition to get a case started (e.g. Petition for Dissolution for a divorce). This person is referred to the as the Petitioner in all subsequent proceedings and documents.

Pro Per

This means self-represented; or not represented by an attorney.


A Respondent is the person who the Petitioner (see above) is suing. This person is typically served with the initial paperwork and often files an answer called a “Response”. This person is referred to the Respondent is all subsequent proceedings and documents.

Sole legal decision-making

This means one parent has the legal right and responsibility to make major decisions for a child.

Spousal maintenance/ Alimony

This means a court ordered obligation of one party to provide financial support to the other party. This term used to be referred to as “alimony”.


This refers to a schedule of time that occurs with a child by someone other than a legal parent.

 Common-law marriage

A common law marriage is not possible within the state of Arizona, but available in many other states. In the event couple has entered into a valid common-law marriage in a state where it is legal, their marriage is legal even in Arizona. They must get divorced in accordance with Arizona law.

Pendante lite

This is the Latin term for a temporary order, pending litigation.


An appeal is available as a remedy for a legal error.  you must file a notice of appeal within 30 days following the entry of the judgment.

Contested case

The contested case is one where the parties disagree on any of the material terms. for instance, it’s a couple of agrees on everything except for parenting time, the case is still contested. Truth be told, Arizona does not have a specific procedure for an uncontested divorce.

Contempt of court

The willful and intentional failure to comply with the court order. Most often the finding of contempt comes from a petition or motion on enforcement of a specific provision within the court order.


The remedy, or legal conclusion, for an in valid marriage. Grounds for an annulment include lack of capacity, failure to consummate, fraud, and others.

Default or Default Judgment

An order or judgment granted by the court without a hearing because the responding party has failed to appear or file a response.


The testimony of a witness taken out of court under oath, the transcript of which can be used to impeach a witness.