In Re the Matter of: Robert J. Nicaise, Jr., Petitioner/Appellee,
Aparna Sundaram, Respondent/Appellant.
from the Superior Court in Maricopa County The Honorable
Theodore Campagnolo, Judge Nos. FC2014-094949 and
of the Court of Appeals, Division One 244 Ariz. 272 (App.
2018) VACATED IN PART
Office of Karla L. Calahan, P.C., Karla L. Calahan (argued),
Phoenix, Attorneys for Petitioner/Appellee
Sheldon & Stoutner, PLLC, Diana I. Rader (argued), Marc
R. Grant, Jr., Phoenix, Attorneys for Respondent/Appellant
JUSTICE BOLICK authored the opinion of the Court, in which
CHIEF JUSTICE BALES, VICE CHIEF JUSTICE BRUTINEL, and
JUSTICES PELANDER, TIMMER, GOULD, and LOPEZ joined.
This case concerns whether a family court's award of
joint legal decision-making that gives one parent
final legal decision-making authority over certain
matters necessarily gives that parent sole legal
decision-making authority. We hold that final and sole have
different meanings in this context.
This question arises in the context of a family law dispute,
which the family court aptly described as "a troubling
and difficult case since its inception in September
2014," between the parents of a now eight-year-old girl.
In a fifty-eight-page ruling, the court recounted the case
history in painstaking detail, including allegations of
domestic violence, child abuse, and medical neglect of the
child. Based on extensive findings, including those
addressing the child's best interests, the court made
numerous orders regarding the parents' respective rights
Before us is the family court's order regarding legal
decision- making authority. The court found that it was in
the child's best interests to award joint legal
decision-making to Mother and Father. The court ordered, in
relevant part, as follows:
Parental decisions shall be required for major issues in
raising the child and in meeting on-going needs. When they
arise, each parent shall give good faith consideration to the
views of the other and put forth best efforts to reach a
consensus decision. . . . If they cannot agree after making a
good faith effort to reach an agreement, Father shall have
the ability to make the final decision as to medical, mental
health, dental, and therapy issues. . . .
court made other orders that are not before us regarding
The court of appeals affirmed some orders, vacated others,
and remanded. Nicaise v. Sundaram, 244 Ariz. 272,
282 ¶ 35 (App. 2018). However, although the issue was
neither raised nor briefed by the parties, the court
determined that by giving Father final legal decision-making
authority over medical, mental-health, dental, and therapy
issues, the family court "effectively create[d] orders
for sole legal decision-making, carved out from a general
order for joint legal decision-making." Id. at
278 ¶ 19. Construing A.R.S. § 25-401(2), the court
determined that "[a]n award of joint legal
decision-making that gives final authority to one parent is,
in reality, an award of sole legal decision-making. . . .
Regardless of the labels used in a decree, when one parent
has the final say, that parent's rights are superior and
the authority therefore is not joint as a matter of
law." Id. ¶ 18.
Mother sought review only of this portion of the court of
appeals' opinion. Whether a parent's right to make a
final decision following consultation converts joint into
sole legal decision-making authority is an issue of first
impression with statewide significance. We have ...