from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. FC2017-051406
The Honorable Jennifer C. Ryan-Touhill, Judge.
Law Office of Kristen Kaffer, PLLC, Phoenix By Kristen E.
Kaffer Counsel for Petitioner/Appellant.
Offices of James B. Rolle, Phoenix By James B. Rolle, III
Counsel for Respondent/Appellee.
Lawrence F. Winthrop delivered the opinion of the Court, in
which Presiding Judge Paul J. McMurdie joined. Judge Jennifer
M. Perkins specially concurred.
In this opinion, we address the superior court's
statutory obligation to state its analysis on the record when
making legal decisionmaking and parenting-time decisions
after the court finds that a parent has engaged in domestic
violence. We hold Arizona Revised Statutes
("A.R.S.") section 25-403.03(A) and (D)
(2019) require different analyses regarding legal
decision making and those specific findings must be stated on
the record. We further hold that A.R.S. § 25-403.03(F)
requires the superior court to make specific findings on the
record when determining parenting time.
As a preliminary matter, we start with some statistical
information for context. In recent years, superior court
filings involving divorce, legal decision making and/or
parenting time have substantially increased. In 2018, per
statistics published by the Maricopa County Superior Court
Clerk's Office,  there were 35, 757 family court cases
involving children filed in Maricopa County. Many of those
filings include requests for the court to initially determine
or modify legal decisionmaking and parenting-time orders.
In general the statutes governing decisions concerning
parenting time, legal decision making, and relocation impose
on a superior court the obligation to make specific findings
supporting those decisions. See A.R.S. §§
25-403, -408(G), (I); Owen v. Blackhawk, 206 Ariz.
418, 421-22, ¶¶ 9-12 (App. 2003) (holding that
although A.R.S. § 25-408 makes no reference to findings
of fact, specific findings were required by A.R.S. §
25-403 because a proposed relocation involved a substantial
and disputed change in physical custody); see also Murray
v. Murray, 239 Ariz. 174, 177, ¶ 9 (App. 2016)
("Under Owen, when the superior court holds a
hearing on a request for relocation that necessarily
implicates a change in parenting time or legal decision
making, the court must make the specific findings of fact
required in cases of parenting time and legal decision making
under § 25-403.").
Similarly, over that same time period, allegations of
domestic violence by a parent-directed at a spouse or a
child, or both-have also dramatically increased. The
legislature has, in turn, enacted and amended statutes that
require the superior court make additional detailed, specific
findings related to legal decision making and parenting time
where there are allegations of domestic violence.
See A.R.S. § 25-403.03. At times, those
statutes and amendments have been imprecise or lack
definitions of critical terms, leading to confusion and
unintended errors by the superior court in applying the law
to the facts of the particular case, sometimes resulting in
inconsistent rulings that do not fulfill the statutory
In this matter, Sylvia Rose DeLuna ("Mother")
appeals from a decree of dissolution awarding joint legal
decision-making authority and unsupervised parenting time to
Giovanni Alexander Petitto ("Father") and denying
her request that Father be ordered to reimburse the community
for paying Father's separate debt. Because the superior
court failed to properly apply the domestic violence statutes
about legal decision-making and parenting-time
determinations, we vacate the legal decision-making and
parenting-time orders and remand for reconsideration. We
affirm the denial of the reimbursement request.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The parties were married in 2016 and have three children.
Before their marriage, in 2013, Father was arrested after he
assaulted Mother and her daughter from a prior relationship.
Mother ultimately did not cooperate in the prosecution of the
resulting charges, and the charges were dismissed.
After the parties separated in July 2017, Mother obtained an
order of protection based on Father's stalking and
harassing behaviors. Father was ordered to not have any
contact with Mother except through text messages about the
children's welfare. In August 2017, Father violated the
protective order when he entered Mother's residence and
took her cell phone after an argument. Later that same day,
Father waited outside Mother's residence but left before
the police arrived.
Mother petitioned for dissolution in September 2017, and the
superior court held a trial on the petition in September
2018. After the trial, the court issued a lengthy decree of
dissolution finding that, although Father had committed
domestic violence, it was not "significant domestic
violence" under the provisions of § 25-403.03(A).
The court ruled that Father was not precluded from joint
legal decision-making authority, and also awarded Father
parenting time three weekends per month, alternating
holidays, and every other week during the summer months. The
court denied Mother's request to reimburse the community
for paying Father's separate child ...