The Divorce Process in Arizona

Have you decided on getting a divorce? Learn where to begin, what steps to take, and what to consider during a divorce process in Arizona.

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Gavel and Scales

Divorce is the legal process that ends a marriage. In Arizona, the legal term for divorce is “marriage dissolution.” During the divorce process you will have to make decisions about child custody, visitation, child support, alimony (sometimes called spousal support or maintenance), property and debt division, and attorney's fees and costs. You can either make an agreement with your spouse about these issues (usually with the help of a lawyerd) or you can have the court decide for you in a trial.

Divorce Proceedings in Arizona

Here are the steps and considerations you’ll have to make when getting a divorce in Arizona.  When you work with a lawyer, your lawyer will create and file most of the paperwork for you.  But your lawyer will need your input about what to include in the documents.

1. The Petition

A divorce begins with the Petition. This document notifies the court and your spouse, when served, that you want the court to end your marriage. It also lists what you are asking for, such as child custody, child visitation, child support, spousal maintenance (alimony), property division, attorney's fees and costs.

2. The Response

After a Petition is served, the other spouse (the Respondent) is entitled to file opposing papers. In Arizona, if you are served with a Petition, you must file your opposing papers as the Respondent within twenty days if you are in state or thirty days if you live out of state, or you will lose your right to present your side of the case to the court, and the court might give your spouse everything asked for in the Petition. When the court grants dissolution of marriage after hearing from only one spouse, it’s called a default divorce.

3. Temporary orders

Temporary orders, also called pendente lite orders, set the rules while the case is pending. Either spouse can ask the court to make temporary orders stating, for example, who stays in the house, who is responsible for the children, who pays which bills and restraining inappropriate conduct. It is in both spouses' best interest to agree upon reasonable arrangements while the case is pending rather than incur additional legal fees and add to bad feelings by having to go to court for temporary orders. In Arizona, when children are involved, the court will automatically create temporary orders for child support when a divorce proceeding is filed or the other spouse is served. However, this process can take several months to be completed. To have this issue settled more quickly, the spouses can make a temporary order themselves and file it with the court.

4. Discovery

Each spouse is entitled to information from the other about the case. The legal procedures for obtaining that information are called discovery. Discovery may be a simple, speedy process or one consuming a great deal of time, energy and money. Often times the depth of discovery depends upon the size and value of the estate and the length of the marriage.

There are several different discovery procedures, sometimes referred to as discovery devices. Your attorney will usually submit and receive information on your behalf during discovery, but he or she will need your input along the way.

  • Interrogatories.  You can use an interrogatory to send a list of questions to your spouse. Your spouse must respond with formal written answers.
  • Request for production.  You can use a request for production to ask your spouse for specific documents.
  • Deposition. You can use a deposition -- sometimes called an examination before trial – to ask or spouse or other people questions in person and under oath.  This usually takes place in a lawyer’s office. while a court reporter takes down what is said and then prepares a transcript. Lawyers asks the questions, not the spouses, and if  your deposition is to be taken, you will have advance notice and you will have time to prepare with your lawyer.

Your lawyers may also be able to conduct discovery informally, without the formal procedures described above.  Informal discovery is almost always more efficient and therefore less expensive than formal discovery.

5. Negotiated settlement

Most lawyers and judges agree that it is better to resolve a case by agreement than to have a trial in which a judge decides the outcome. When spouses craft their own divorce agreement, it’s called a negotiated settlement. Negotiated settlements provide much more privacy and control than a trial. Also, ex-spouses are more likely to adhere to their own agreements, rather than orders imposed on them by a judge. Voluntary compliance is important because enforcement procedures available from the court are usually expensive and sometimes inadequate. For these reasons, negotiating a settlement is often to both parties advantage.

In Arizona, mediation may be ordered by the judge in an attempt to settle many if not all of the issues pertaining to the dissolution of marriage.

Although your lawyer may recommend that you accept or reject a particular settlement proposal, the decision to settle or not to settle is yours. Your lawyer cannot and will not make that decision for you.

If a case is settled by agreement early on in the process you may never see the inside of the courthouse. However , you and your lawyer will still have to follow additional legal procedures in order to turn your agreement into a judgment and end your marriage.

6. Trial

If you and your spouse cannot settle your case, it will go to trial. At trial you each tell your story to the judge. It is told through your testimony, the testimony of other witnesses, and documents called exhibits.

Trial is likely to be expensive and unpleasant. However, it can be the only alternative to never-ending unreasonable settlement demands. Still, trials are risky. No lawyer can predict the outcome of a trial because every case is different. In a trial, a judge – who is a stranger who may have a viewpoint, a temperament, and values very different from yours -- tells you and your spouse how to reorder your lives, divides your income and assets, and dictates when each of you may see your children.

Sometimes, a trial does not end the case. If either spouse is unhappy with the outcome of the trial, he or she may appeal the decision in a higher court. An appeal adds more time and expense to the divorce process and is hard to win.

Children

Custody Issues

Ordinarily parents make decisions about their children together. But when parents divorce, the hostility between them sometimes causes them to disagree on what is best for the children. In addition, divorce presents a whole new set of child-rearing challenges. Even the best parents may find it useful to consult a child development expert for help in meeting these challenges.

Issues related to children can present challenges for your lawyer as well. While your lawyer's loyalty is to you, your lawyer also has an obligation as an officer of the court to keep the best interest of the children in mind, even if that interest is inconsistent with yours.

Legal and Physical Custody

Physical custody is the responsibility of having the children live with you. The parent with whom the children are at the time has the responsibility for making day-to-day decisions about them. These day to day decisions include what the children eat and wear, who they play with, and when they go to bed. Legal custody is the right to make important long-term decisions affecting your children's welfare. Long-term decisions made by the parent with legal custody may include decisions about the children's education, religion, and non-emergency medical care.

Many variations of sharing parenting responsibilities are possible. When parents share physical or legal custody, it’s called joint legal custody or joint physical custody. Or, if one parent has all of the responsibilities, it is called sole legal custody or sole physical custody.

Joint legal custody does not necessarily mean that there is equal time sharing of the children. And if one parent does not have primary physical custody, he or she may have visitation rights, also called access or secondary physical custody. The terminology is less important than how the arrangement works in practice.

There is no one standard joint custody arrangement. Some parents alternate weeks with the children, others alternate months. Still others divide the children's time unequally, but in a manner that meets the needs of each particular family. Parents who work out these arrangements themselves are usually more creative than courts are when the parents can't agree.

Child Support

The amount of child support which you will have to pay or be entitled to receive depends on income, the custody arrangement, and other factors. The amount of child support is usually determined by guideline formulas – these are standard calculations that lawyers and the court use to figure out how much child support a parent should pay. These formulas make the amount of support more predictable, but also more rigid.

Your Conduct With Your Children

The behavior of parents before and after divorce has a great influence on the emotional adjustment of their children. The following guidelines may be helpful:

  • Put your children's welfare first. Never use your children as a weapon against your spouse.
  • Be sure your children have ample time with the other parent. They need it.
  • Visitation should usually not take place in the children's home.
  • Don't introduce your children to your new romantic interest until the children have adjusted to your separation and your new relationship is stable.
  • Don't bring your children to court or to your lawyer's office.
  • Keep to the schedule. Give the other parent and the children as much notice as you can when you will not be able to keep to the schedule. Be considerate.
  • Be flexible. You may both need to adjust the schedule from time to time.
  • Giving of yourself is more important than giving material things. Feverish rounds of holiday type activities during every visitation period or lavish gifts may be viewed as a crude effort to purchase affection, and is not good for the children.
  • Do not use your children as spies to report to you about the other parent.
  • Do not use the children as couriers to deliver messages, money or information.
  • Try to agree on decisions about the children, especially matters of discipline, so that one parent is not undermining the other parent's efforts.
  • Avoid arguments or confrontations while dropping off or picking up the children and at other times when your children are present.
  • Don't listen in on your children's phone calls with the other parent.
  • Maintain your composure. Try to keep a sense of humor. Remember that your children's behavior is affected by your attitude and conduct.
  • Assure your children they are not to blame for the breakup, and are not being rejected or abandoned by either parent.
  • Don't criticize the other parent in front of your children. Your children need to respect both parents.
  • Do not let guilt you may feel about the marriage breakdown interfere with discipline of your children. Parents must be ready to say "No" when necessary.
  • You are only human. You cannot be a perfect parent. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it and try to do better next time.

Learn More About Divorce in Arizona

Get more free legal information about Arizona Divorce and Family Law on Divorcenet.com.  Or read Arizona’s laws about the divorce process in Title 25 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. You can also find some forms and information on the Arizona Judicial Branch’s Self-Service Center.

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