Approaching a divorce can feel overwhelming. Along with the emotional toll and practical decisions you need to make, the legal process involves a lot of forms and requirements. But it doesn't always have to be that difficult, and help is available. Here's what you need to know.
Basically, there are three different ways to go about filing for divorce:
The specifics of your situation—as well how much time and money you have—will determine which of these options is best for you. A DIY divorce is the cheapest, but it does require a certain amount of legwork and attention to detail, to make sure you've properly followed all of Arizona's rules for divorce (known as "dissolution of marriage" in the state's laws).
Before you actually file your Arizona divorce papers, there are several things you need to figure out and prepare.
Before you may file for divorce in Arizona, either you or your spouse must have lived in the state (or been stationed there in the military) for at least the previous 90 days. If you just moved to the state, you'll have to wait to file for divorce until you meet the 90-day residency requirement. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-312 (2022).)
Also, if your divorce is going to address any child custody issues, Arizona must have "jurisdiction"—the legal authority to decide those issues. Usually, your minor children must have lived in the state with a parent for at least six months before the filing date (or since they were born if they're less than six months old). If you don't meet the six-month requirement, you should speak with an experienced family lawyer to find out whether you qualify for any of the complicated exceptions in the law. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 25-1002, 25-1031 (2022).)
The best option for a DIY divorce—and basically the only option if you want to use an online divorce service—is to file for an uncontested divorce in Arizona. To do that, however, you and your spouse must have a marital settlement agreement (known as a "separation agreement" in Arizona) that covers all of the issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-317 (2022).)
If you aren't able to agree about all of these matters before you file for divorce, you can turn to mediation for help. Without a complete agreement, your case will at least start out as a traditional, contested divorce. Unless you're able to reach a settlement agreement later in the process—usually with the help of lawyers—you'll have to go to a divorce trial and have a judge make decisions for you.
For the vast majority of divorces in Arizona, there is only one legal reason (or "ground") for divorce—that your marriage is "irretrievably broken," which means you believe there's no reasonable chance of fixing it and getting back together. If you file for an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse should agree on this. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-312 (2022).)
Arizona's grounds for divorce are different for couples in what's known as "covenant marriages." You should speak with a lawyer if you have a covenant marriage (which is rare) and want to divorce. You won't be able to use the forms and procedures discussed below. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-903 (2022).)
In order to start the divorce process, you'll need to find and complete a number of forms (unless you use an online divorce service, which will provide the right forms and complete them for you).
The Arizona Judicial Branch publishes state divorce forms online. But you should know that several counties have their own forms and requirements. Check with the court clerk in your county or check here for online county divorce forms.
There are separate packets of forms for couples with and without children. Also, there are usually separate packets for the spouse who's starting the divorce process (the "petitioner") and the other spouse (the "respondent"). Depending on your county, there might be special forms and different procedures for uncontested divorce (often called "divorce by consent decree").
For instance, if you use the streamlined "summary consent decree" process for uncontested divorce in Maricopa County, both spouses will complete and sign a joint petition (which incorporates the response) as well as a completed "consent decree."
Select the packet that best fits your situation. Each packet includes instructions to guide you through the process. When completing the forms, respond to each question honestly and completely. If you have a separation agreement, attach it to the petition. Fill out the forms on a computer if you can. If not, write or print neatly and legibly.
Once you've assembled and filled out the necessary forms, make at least two copies (one for each spouse). Usually, you'll bring the papers in person to the court clerk's office in the county where the petitioner lives. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-401(13) (2022).) You might be able to file your paperwork by mail in some counties.
Courts charge a fee for filing divorce papers. These filing fees vary from county to county in Arizona, but they're usually between $200 and $300. If you can't afford to pay the fee, submit an application for a waiver or deferral with your other paperwork.
Check with the clerk's office in your county (either under Superior Court or Family Court) for locations, special filing instructions, and local filing fees.
When you give your documents to the clerk of court, they will be stamped with the date and time. Your signature on the petition (and some other forms) must be notarized, but the court clerk will do this for you at no cost if you're filing in person.
Service of process is an essential part of 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.
In most Arizona counties, the petitioner must serve the respondent with the divorce papers. If your spouse is cooperating with an uncontested divorce, the easiest way to do this is simply to mail or hand over the copies and have your spouse sign an Acceptance of Service form (in front of a notary). Otherwise, you may arrange have a deputy sheriff or other authorized process server deliver the papers personally. Or you may send the documents by mail or national courier service, as long as it requires a receipt signed by your spouse. Ask the court clerk about special procedures if you aren't able to find or serve your spouse by the normal means, or if your spouse is incarcerated or out of the country. (Ariz. Rules Fam. Law Proc., rules 40, 41 (2022).)
Note that these service requirements won't apply in Maricopa County if you and your spouse filed for a joint petition and response for a summary consent divorce. Otherwise, you should serve the papers as soon as possible in order to move your case along. If you don't file proof of service with the court within 120 days after filing the petition, your case will be dismissed—and you'll have to start all over—unless a judge extends the time for a good reason. (Ariz. Rules Fam. Law Proc., rule 40(i) (2022).)
Typically, your spouse (the "respondent") has 20 days to file a response to the divorce petition after being served (or 30 days if served out of state). Without a response, the petitioner may be able to get a default divorce decree—which will usually include everything requested in the petition. (Ariz. Rules Fam. Law Proc., rules 24.1, 44 (2022).)
If you're pursuing an uncontested divorce in some Arizona counties, there might be no need for a response to the petition. Check your county's instructions for details.
Depending on the issues and agreements in your divorce, both you and your spouse might need to file an Affidavit of Financial Information and exchange certain documents about your income, assets, and debts. If child custody is an issue, you'll also have to include information about recent treatment for substance abuse, anger management, or domestic violence, as well as any protective orders or criminal charges involving a household member.
These disclosures must be served within 40 days after the response to the divorce petition was filed (or after a joint petition for a summary consent decree divorce was filed in Maricopa County), unless you and your spouse have a written agreement to waive the requirement. (Ariz. Rules Fam. Law Proc., rule 49 (2022).)
If you have minor children, you will also have to complete a parenting education class unless the judge decides it wouldn't be in your best interests or that of your children. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-352 (2022).)
The process for getting your final divorce in Arizona will depend on your county and whether your case is contested or uncontested. In counties that have a process for divorce by consent decree, you may be able to get your final divorce decree without having to attend a hearing. However, you'll have to wait 60 days (starting from service of the petition or filing of a joint petition) before you may submit your consent decree and other final paperwork. If you're seeking a default divorce, you'll need to add on another 20-30 days to that waiting period before you may request a hearing. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-329; Ariz. Rules Fam. Law Proc., rule 45 (2022).)
With a contested divorce, the process could take much longer, because you'll need to go through the "discovery" process to gather evidence (including reports from experts like child custody evaluators or appraisers). There may also be various court hearings along the way before you get to the trial itself.
AZCourtHelp has more information about the divorce process in Arizona, including court locations and FAQs. The "Self-Service Guide for Divorce Cases," from the Arizona courts, also provides extensive information about representing yourself in a divorce case. If you need legal assistance but can't afford standard attorney's fees, you may apply for legal help through AZLawHelp.