Legal Separation in Arizona FAQs

Learn more about the legal alternatives to divorce in Arizona.

Let’s be honest; divorce isn’t usually an easy or a quick process. Some couples know when to terminate the marriage, but others walk a line between reconciliation and ending the relationship for a long time. In other situations, divorce is inevitable, but spouses need something in place until the court finalizes the divorce. This article will help you distinguish between divorce and legal separation.

The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce

Most divorce cases begin when one spouse files an application for divorce. During the court process, the couple (or the judge) will create a divorce agreement that addresses property division, custody, and support issues. In the end, the court legally terminates the couple’s relationship, each spouse is free to remarry, and aside from the court orders, neither spouse must support the other.

Legal separation is different from divorce in that separated couples are still legally married to each other, even if each spouse lives separate and apart and carries on with their own lives. Divorce and separation are similar in that the court will address the same legal issues, but separated couples can’t remarry unless they ask the court for a divorce later.

Divorce is permanent, so couples can’t ask the court to reverse its decision. On the other hand, if the separated couple reconciles, either spouse can file a motion (request) with the court to vacate (overturn) the original order. The action tells the court that the couple reconciled and no longer needs the additional custody or support orders to remain in place.

The Choice to Separate Rather Than to Divorce Is Personal

We’ve all heard about celebrity divorces 72-hours or a few days after an extravagant wedding, but in most cases, divorce is a last resort that most couples take very seriously. Married couples may want to pursue a legal separation instead of a divorce for any of the following reasons:

  • as a trial run for a divorce
  • for one spouse to continue receiving medical or other insurance benefits from the other
  • the couple’s religious or social beliefs prohibit divorce
  • the couple doesn’t meet Arizona’s divorce residency requirements
  • either spouse believes reconciliation is possible and divorce is too permanent of an option, or
  • for either spouse to receive valuable tax benefits for married couples.

Legal Separation in Arizona

Arizona law allows married couples to request a legal separation instead of a divorce. If you have been a resident of Arizona for at least 90-days, you can file a petition (request) for legal separation (with or without children), in the county where you reside.

Like divorce, the filing spouse must provide a reason (or ground) before the court can grant your request for separation, which you can do by demonstrating the following:

  • your marriage is irretrievably broken, or
  • at least one spouse wants to live separate and apart, and
  • the other party doesn’t object to the separation (if either spouse objects, the court must allow a divorce).

The couple can negotiate the terms of the separation, or the court can decide. Before a judge approves your request for a separation, you must tell the court how you plan on handling custody, child support, and property division.

Legal separations are, for the most part, temporary and intended to be a placeholder for reconciliation or divorce. Life moves quickly, and it’s common for separated couples to request a divorce when one spouse plans on remarrying, which a party can do by filing a request with the local court.

What About a Trial Separation?

Divorce and legal separation are both scary legal procedures that alter your marital status. If you’re not ready for either process, you can participate in a trial separation, which is where you and your spouse live apart and reevaluate your marital situation, before asking for court intervention. In many cases, the couple can verbally agree (instead of a formal agreement) to the terms of the separation.

If you can’t afford to live in separate homes, some couples continue residing in the family home, but in separate bedrooms and without cohabitation (sexual relations). At the end of the trial separation, the couple can either reconcile, pursue a permanent separation, or file for divorce.

What Is a Separation Agreement?

A separation agreement is a legally binding contract created by the couple or a judge during the legal process. Every agreement should contain detailed information on how the couple will share or split custody and visitation of any children, whether either will provide the other with spousal or child support, and how the couple will divide marital assets and debts. Before signing the paperwork, both spouses must agree to the terms. If either spouse objects, the court will decide the disputed issues.

When couples have a physical document to reference after the court grants the legal separation, it prevents frivolous lawsuits that can tie up a judge’s calendar later.

Does the Court Handle Custody Differently in Divorce and Legal Separation?

The goal in every custody evaluation is to determine what is in the child’s best interest, and this standard remains true regardless of the type of marital intervention you request. If the couple can’t agree on how to divide parental rights and responsibilities, the court will decide using a set of factors to evaluate the parents’ ability to provide for the child.

Hiring an Experienced Attorney

It’s no secret that legal matters—especially those that involve emotional issues like ending a marriage—are complex and intense. While it’s possible to represent yourself in a legal separation case, it’s almost always in your best interest to seek advice from an experienced attorney who can explain your state’s requirements for separation and divorce.

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