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What Happens During Arizona Conciliation Court Proceedings?

An Arizona conciliation court can offer different services to preserve the marriage or to resolve controversies between spouses, including conciliation services, temporary orders, mediation, assessments, evaluations, family education, and other such services. See Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(a). This writing discusses the rules of procedure regarding the scheduling of a hearing and the use of these different processes.


I. What is the Process for First Hearing in Conciliation Court?


Under the applicable court rules, “[t]he conciliation court must conduct and complete its services not later than 60 days after the petition requesting conciliation services is filed.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(b)(4)(A). “After the conciliation court accepts a petition for conciliation services, the court or a conciliator will schedule individual or joint meetings with the parties.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(b)(5). “All oral and written communications during conciliation services are confidential and must not be disclosed without the consent of the party making a communication, or as required by law.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(b)(7).


In terms of timing, the judge of the conciliation court will set reasonable time and place for hearing on the petition, which must be held within thirty (30) days of the date of the filing of the petition, unless the conciliation court finds good cause, in which case the hearing will be held within forty-five (45) days. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.14. The conciliation court will then send notice of the filing of the petition and the time and place of the hearing to the respondents. See id. “The [conciliation] court may, when it deems it necessary, issue a citation to any respondent requiring him to appear at the time and place stated in the citation, and may require the attendance of witnesses as in other civil suits.” Id.


II. Temporary Orders on Family Law Issues


In conciliation court, the judge has the “full power to make, alter, modify, and enforce all orders or temporary orders, orders for custody of children, restraining orders, preliminary injunctions and orders affecting possession of property, as may appear just and equitable, but such orders shall not be effective for more than the period of the stay under section 25-381.18, unless the parties mutually consent to a continuation of such time.” See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.17(A). “Any reconciliation agreement between the parties may be reduced to writing and, with the consent of the parties, a court order may be made requiring the parties to comply fully therewith.” See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.17(A).


III. Mediation & Alternative Dispute Resolution


“All family law cases that involve a dispute over legal decision-making or parenting time are subject to mediation or other alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) process under local rules.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(c). If there is a legal decision-making or parenting time dispute, either or both parties may file a motion or request for mediation or ADR services or the court may order ADR on its own motion. See Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(c)(1). 


However, “[u]nless the parties agree to private mediation under Rule 67.3, the court must determine whether mediation or ADR services are appropriate in a particular case.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(c). Additionally, either “[t]he court or conciliation services may deem mediation inappropriate for reasons such as parental unfitness, substance abuse, mental incapacity, domestic violence, or other good cause.” Id. “Conciliation services must reject for mediation or terminate mediation in any case if the mediator deems mediation is inappropriate because of domestic violence.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(c)(2)(C).


Furthermore, the rules state that “[i]n a proceeding concerning legal decision-making or parenting time, if an order of protection is in effect involving the parties or there is a history of domestic violence between the parties, the court may order mediation or ADR services only if there are policies and procedures in place that protect the victim from harm, harassment, or intimidation.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(c)(2)(A). Additionally, the court is required to “notify every party in writing or orally in open court before mediation or ADR services that a party may request a waiver of mediation or request that reasonable procedures be in place at the mediation to protect a victim of domestic violence . . . .” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(c)(2)(B). Once such a request is made, “[n]either party is required to appear for mediation pending determination of this issue.” Id


“When a matter has been ordered or referred to mediation, conciliation services will schedule one or more individual or joint conferences that each party must attend.”  Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(c)(4). “Counsel are not permitted to attend mediation conferences unless approved by the mediator or conciliation court policy.” Id. However, “[t]he mediator may permit any person to attend a conference that the mediator believes is appropriate.” Id. “All communications, both oral and written, made by a party in mediation are confidential and must not be divulged to third parties, as provided by Arizona statutes and court rules.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(c)(3).


“Any agreements reached as a result of conciliation services mediation must be in writing.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(c)(6). “The parties must sign the agreement and their attorneys, if any, must sign or object to the agreement within 30 days after the mediation.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(c)(6)(A). “If no timely objection is filed, the agreement will be forwarded to the court with a proposed order for the court’s consideration and signature.” Id. “Upon receipt of an objection, conciliation services will terminate the mediation and issue a memorandum to the court indicating that there is no agreement in the matter.” Id. “Upon the entry of a written order by the court approving or modifying an agreement reached by the parties in mediation, it is considered binding.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(c)(6)(B).


IV. Assessments & Evaluations


“If the court believes it would be in a child’s best interests, it may refer a case to the conciliation court for the assessment or evaluation of legal decision-making or parenting time issues.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(1). Similar to ADR, “counsel is not permitted to attend these appointments . . . .” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(2). However, there maybe some exceptions if “the evaluator deems counsel’s presence is necessary for the process to be successful.” Id.  “All parties are required to appear at all scheduled appointments. . . . [and t]he court may sanction any party who fails to appear for an appointment.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(2)(B).


“Conciliation services may conduct interviews that it deems appropriate, including interviewing the parents jointly or individually, interviewing the children, and observing interactions between parents and children.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(3)(B). “Conciliation services also may review documents that it deems appropriate. If either party submits documents to the evaluator, the party submitting the documents must promptly provide copies to the other party.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(3)(C).


“When the assessment or evaluation is complete, conciliation services must provide the court and the parties with a written report but must not file it with the clerk.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(4)(A). However, “[t]he court may direct the evaluator to provide an oral report in open court instead of a written report.” Id. “The report may include recommendations to the court regarding legal-decision making, parenting time, or therapeutic interventions allowed by law.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(4)(B). “Conciliation services’ assessment or evaluation files are confidential, and only an order of the assigned judge or the family court presiding judge may release a file.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(3)(E).


The evaluator’s “written report is confidential, but it will be available for appellate purposes.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(4)(C). “Conciliation services evaluators may testify in court proceedings only if a party properly and timely subpoenas the evaluator.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(5)(A). “Conciliation services evaluators may be deposed only by subpoena and with the judge’s approval.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(5)(B). However, “[t]he judge may set reasonable limits concerning the time, duration, and location for the deposition, the nature of the questions, and the release of conciliation services’ files and records.” Id. Additionally, [b]efore the evaluator begins an evaluation or assessment, the parties may stipulate that the parties will not call the evaluator as a witness in any court proceeding or depose the evaluator, unless the court orders otherwise.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(d)(5)(C).


V. Family Education & Other Services.


Some counties may offer additional services beyond those described above. Arizona statute provides that “[t]he presiding superior court judge in a county or a designee may implement family education services that parties must attend as the court deems appropriate.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(e). Additionally, “[c]onciliation services may approve, establish, or administer other services designed to assist the parties or the court in resolving a dispute, including open negotiation, parenting conferences, or early post-decree conferences.” Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(f). It may be helpful to check the offerings of the family court in your specific county.


If you are considering taking your case to conciliation court or are in the middle of conciliation court proceedings and need some guidance, Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC can help you with your case. Contact Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC to set up a consultation and to discuss your options.


Disclaimer: This publication is for educational and informational purposes only, and represents Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC’s understanding of the present state of Arizona law. This publication does not constitute legal advice or counsel, and should not be construed as a comment on the merits of any particular case. It should be noted that the laws and requirements of the State of Arizona may change at any time and that this information may not be complete or correct.