If you've decided to end your marriage, there are many issues you'll need to resolve during the divorce process. For example, if you and your spouse have children, you'll have to decide which parent gets custody, who pays child support, and whether alimony is appropriate. You'll also have to divide your property and debts. You can resolve these issues by a divorce settlement agreement or you can leave things up to a judge to decide.
In order to start the divorce process without a lawyer, you'll need to complete some forms. The Arizona Judicial Branch publishes divorce forms online. Although these are standard Arizona forms, your county may have additional requirements. It's important to check with your local court clerk before filing.
You or your spouse must meet Arizona residency requirements before you can file for divorce in the state. Either spouse must have lived in Arizona for at least 90 days before filing. You're required to file for divorce in the county in which you or your spouse resides. If you're unsure where to file your case, you can locate your local county courthouse through the Arizona courts locator. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-312 (2019).
You'll find two different divorce packets on the Arizona Judicial Branch website. One is for divorcing couples with children, and the other is for divorcing couples 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 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. Fill out the forms on a computer if you can. If not, write or print neatly and legibly. 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 to file your forms, make two copies of each document. You'll file the originals with the court and make preparations to have the Summons and Petition for Divorce served on your spouse. You'll need to pay a filing fee unless you complete the "Application for Deferral of Filing Fee," which will be reviewed by the court. If the court agrees to a fee waiver 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 the courthouse.
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. Service of process in a divorce prevents one spouse from being unfairly surprised at a court hearing or trial.
If you're the petitioner, you'll have 120 days to serve your documents on your spouse under current Arizona law. If you don't serve the papers on your spouse within 120 days, the clerk of court will dismiss your case automatically. When your case gets dismissed, if you still want to get a divorce you'll have to start the process over.
If you're the respondent in a divorce, you also have an important obligation. Arizona residents have 20 days in which to respond to the divorce petition after being served. Your failure to file an answer (or otherwise respond) to the petition could allow your spouse to obtain a default divorce (meaning, the court may give your spouse everything requested in the petition, without input from you). Out-of-state respondents have 30 days to respond to a divorce petition.
If your spouse is appearing pro se (meaning, has not hired a lawyer) in the divorce, then you should serve your spouse directly at his or her home address. Conversely, if your spouse has hired a lawyer you can have the divorce petition delivered to the attorney's office.
You can serve your documents by having a deputy sheriff or a process server (non-party over 18) deliver them to your spouse. You can't deliver the documents personally by hand or by regular first class mail unless your spouse agrees to accept service and signs an Acceptance of Service form.
A process server will charge a fee for serving your spouse, but if you hire a deputy sheriff to serve the papers, you can ask the court to waive or reduce the sheriff's service fee. After your spouse has been properly served in the divorce, virtually all other documents in your case may be delivered by first class mail or hand delivery.
Different rules may apply if you're trying to serve a spouse in the military, who is hard to locate, or who is in jail. Check with your local court clerk for more advice in these unusual situations.
Both spouse must complete financial affidavits as part of the divorce. An affidavit is a statement sworn in front of a notary. In the financial affidavit, each spouse must include all information about their income, expenses, assets, and debts.
You may also have to provide supplemental documents, such as pay stubs, credit card statements, mortgage statements, or tax returns. This helps everyone to understand each spouse's financial picture and prevents one spouse from hiding assets. This financial information helps the spouses and/or a judge make fair decisions about alimony, property division, and child support. Make sure you are clear, detailed, and candid when you complete this form.
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.
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. The Arizona court system has also published a "Self-Service Guide for Divorce Cases," which provides self-represented people with extensive information about the divorce process.
Additionally, AZLawHelp is a collaborative project of a number of respected legal aid organizations and foundations. The website maintains a list of legal assistance programs and programs for which you may qualify.
Finally, if you need to look up an unfamiliar word, you can check Arizona's Family Law Glossary for more information.