If you decide to end your marriage, there are certain issues that have to be settled. For example, if you and your spouse have children, you’ll have to decide how much time each parent is going to spend with them and how much child support has to be paid. You’ll also have to divide your property and debts.
In order to start the divorce process without a lawyer, you’ll need to complete some forms. You can obtain the forms online. The forms that are required and the fees that are charged may vary slightly from county to county, so the starting point is to go to this page and select the county where you live (or, if you've already been served, the county where the papers were filed). The link will take you to the website for the correct court, and from there you can navigate to the required divorce forms. Even though these are official websites and forms, you should double-check with your local court to make sure the judges there will accept them.
When you complete the forms, be thorough and complete in responding to the questions. Fill out the forms on a computer if you can. If not, write or print neatly and legibly.
Generally speaking, you can expect to find two kinds of divorce packets: one for divorce with children, and one for divorce without children. You can also expect to find separate packets for the petitioner (the spouse who is initiating the divorce) and the respondent (the spouse who has been served with divorce papers). You should select the packet the fits your situation. The packets include instructions to guide you through the process.
The Mojave County Judicial Branch website is a good example of what you can expect to find when you navigate to your county court's website and divorce forms index.
When you’re ready, make two copies of all documents. Eventually you will give one to the other spouse and keep the other for yourself. The original will be filed with the court.
Go to your local courthouse and ask to file the documents. You’ll need to pay a fee unless you complete the "Application for Deferral of Filing Fee," which will be reviewed by the court. If the court agrees that the fee should be waived because you can’t afford it, you won't have to pay to file documents in your case.
When you give your documents to the clerk of court, they will be stamped with the date and time. If you're the petitioner, you will sign the petition in the presence of the clerk, who will notarize it for you at no cost. Serve your spouse as soon as possible after leaving.
When you’ve prepared and filed your forms, you should immediately serve your spouse with the documents. Service of process is very important in the American legal system because it ensures that everyone has notice about what’s going on and an opportunity to “appear,” or argue, their point of view. Service of process ensures that no one is ever “ambushed” in a courtroom.
If you are the petitioner, it's important to know that Arizona law gives you a maximum of 120 days to serve your documents on the respondent. If you don't serve the papers within 120 days, the clerk of court will dismiss your case automatically, and if you still want to get divorced, you'll have to start over.
If you are the respondent, you also have an important obligation. If you live in the State of Arizona, you must respond to the summons and petition within 20 days, or your spouse can get a default judgment (meaning, the court will give your spouse everything requested in the petition, without input from you) against you. If you live out of state, you have 30 days.
If your spouse is an adult who is pro se (meaning, has not hired a lawyer), then you should serve your spouse directly at the location at your spouse’s home address. If your spouse has retained a lawyer, serve the lawyer at the lawyer’s office and don’t send copies to your spouse.
If you are the petitioner and you will be serving your spouse within the State of Arizona, special service rules apply. You must serve your documents by having a deputy sheriff or a process server deliver them to your spouse. You can’t deliver the documents by hand or by regular first class mail. A process server is a private person who will charge a fee, but if you have a deputy serve the papers, you can ask a judge to waive or reduce the sheriff's service fee. If your spouse lives outside of Arizona, you can mail the papers by certified mail, return receipt requested.
Virtually all other documents can be served by first class mail or hand delivery.
Different rules may apply if you are trying to serve someone who is hard to locate, in the military, or in jail. Check with the clerk of court for more advice in these unusual situations.
Both the petitioner and the respondent have to complete an Affidavit of Financial Information. An affidavit is a statement sworn in front of a notary. This document details each spouse’s financial picture, from employment to assets to liabilities and monthly expenses. Certain supplemental documents, like pay stubs and tax returns, have to be attached. This helps everyone to understand more about, for example, how much child support should be paid, or whether one spouse should receive alimony. Make sure you are clear, detailed, and candid when you complete this form. File it with the court and serve it upon your spouse as well.
You can see a good example of a blank Affidavit of Financial Information here.
To learn more about divorce, property division, child custody and visitation, alimony, and related issues, see our section on Divorce and Family Laws in Arizona.
If you need extra help or if you just have questions, the Arizona Judicial Branch hosts a Family Law website that offers information and resources on divorce and parenting issues. The Arizona courts have also prepared a "Self-Service Guide for Divorce Cases," which provides self-represented people with extensive information about the divorce process.
AZ Turbo Court is a website provided by the Arizona Supreme Court. It enables you to prepare and file your divorce case online, taking a lot of the guesswork out of the process. There is a fee associated with this service.
AZLawHelp, a collaborative project of a number of respected legal aid organizations and foundations, maintains a list of legal assistance programs that may be of use to you, depending on your financial situation.
Finally, if you need to look up an unfamiliar word, you can check the Family Law Glossary for more information.