In Arizona, you begin divorce proceedings (more properly called “dissolution of marriage”) by filing a petition for dissolution of marriage. You must file the petition in Superior Court. You must also pay a filing fee (currently $321); if you meet the income requirements, you can ask the court to defer or waive payment by filing a written application for the waiver or deferral with the court. The petition alleges certain facts about the parties’ property rights, spousal maintenance, child custody, and support, as well as any other rights of the parties that are related to the marriage.
Documents You Must File
In addition to the petition, you must file the following papers:
- Sensitive data sheet: This document is for information that is private to the parties and their children. Examples of information to be included on the sheet are the Social Security numbers of the husband, wife, and children. The court keeps this document sealed so that the general public cannot access the information, which could be used for fraud or other purposes.
- Creditor notice: When a dissolution has begun, each spouse must receive a notice of their rights and responsibilities regarding the debts incurred during the marriage.
- Joint preliminary injunction: This is an order of the court that takes automatic effect when the divorce case has begun. It prohibits either spouse from transferring assets, selling properties, changing insurance policies, and taking other actions that may put community property at risk.
- Notice of right to convert health insurance: Each spouse must receive notice of his or her rights and responsibilities pertaining to existing healthcare insurance policies.
- Summons: A summons is a legal document that tells the responding party (respondent) that a divorce case has been filed naming the respondent as one of the parties. It also informs the respondent that a response must be filed within 20 days if he or she wants to have any input regarding the divorce case.
(For instructions on how to prepare divorce petition forms, see Filing for Divorce in Arizona).
Serving Documents on Your Spouse
The initial petition for divorce and related documents listed above must be served on your spouse. This is the procedure for making sure your spouse has the required legal notice and an opportunity to respond. In Arizona, service for family law cases can be made by the sheriff, by a private process server, by registered mail with return receipt, or by UPS/DHL if a return receipt signature confirmation is available. After your spouse is properly served, you must file a notice of service with the court.
Response to the Petition
Your spouse will have 20 days from the service of the petition to file a responsive pleading. In this pleading, your spouse will either admit or deny the allegations in the petition.
If your spouse doesn't file a response within 20 days, you can file a request for default. If the default is granted, your spouse will not be able to contest any of the allegations in the petition.
After the Petition and Response Are Filed
If you and your spouse agree on all of the issues in the petition and responsive pleading, you must wait 60 days and then file a “consent decree.” A consent decree is available only if you and your spouse agree on each and every issue in your divorce, including property division, spousal maintenance, debts, and child custody.
If you can't reach an agreement on all of the issues, the litigation process begins. Each of you will be entitled to request documents from the other , request hearings before the judge, set depositions (interviews conducted under oath) to question the parties and witnesses, hire expert witnesses, and ultimately have a trial in regards to the contested issues. At any time, you and your spouse can also reach a settlement on the disputed issues and avoid a trial.