Nobody gets married thinking one day it will lead to divorce. But if the end of your marriage is on the horizon, it’s time to get serious about protecting your legal rights and interests. Divorce is always complicated and difficult, regardless of the relationship between the spouses and the issues that have to be decided. Having experienced legal counsel can reduce the stress so you can move on with your life. Cohen Family Law is here to guide you through each step of your divorce.
The Basics of Arizona Divorce Law
Arizona law requires at least one of the divorcing spouses to have been a resident of the state for a minimum of 90 days. This requirement must be met for the court to have jurisdiction and issue a legally valid divorce. One spouse can also claim jurisdiction if he or she is a member of the armed forces and is stationed in Arizona for at least 90 days. However, there are different rules for these types of divorces, so be sure to let your attorney know if either you or your spouse is in the military.
Once the above jurisdictional requirement is met, one of the spouses can file a Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage. This legal document begins formal divorce proceedings in court and will contain certain information such as:
- Identifying information about the spouses and their children
- The date and location of the marriage
- Affirmation of meeting the jurisdictional requirement
- Whether domestic violence was present during the marriage
- A statement that the marriage is “irretrievably broken with no reasonable prospect for reconciliation” (because Arizona is a no-fault divorce state; additional criteria are required for divorces involving covenant marriages)
- Information about community (marital) and separate property and debts and how property should be divided
- Requests for alimony (spousal support)
- Whether child support has been ordered
- Whether the parties have agreed on parenting time
- Whether the required Parenting Information Program has been completed
- Whether a written agreement is in place regarding the terms of divorce
- The relief requested by the spouse (e.g. dissolving the marriage and restoring a spouse’s former name; an order for child support; etc.)
Divorce is More Than the End of the Marriage
As indicated by the list above, divorce is much more than simply the legal termination of a marriage. The spouses must agree, or have the court decide, a number of other issues. They include:
Property Division. Arizona is a community property state, which means any property or assets acquired by either spouse during the marriage is generally considered the property of the marriage (“community property”). In most cases, property and debt will be divided 50/50 between the spouses upon divorce. Some items of property are recognized by law as separate and are not subject to this division. It includes:
- Property owned by either spouse before the marriage
- An inheritance or gift received by either spouse during the marriage
- Property acquired after the divorce petition is filed
The marital residence, automobiles, retirement accounts, bank accounts, stocks, family businesses, and numerous other types of community property can be divided. The same applies to marital (community) debts.
Parenting Time and Legal Custody. Parenting time, which was at one point known as visitation, mainly concerns which parent the child will spend time with. It includes regular time during a given week as well as special times such as holidays and vacation time. In certain cases, one parent can ask that the other parent be allowed only supervised visitation or no visitation with the child.
Parents often disagree on how parenting time should be split. If they cannot come to an agreement, the court will have to make a decision with the child’s best interests in mind. That means the judge will consider a number of factors, such as:
- The child’s existing relationships with both parents
- Which parent is best to take care of any special needs the child has
- Any evidence of parental abuse, neglect, addiction, or criminal behavior
- Which parent has been the primary caregiver during the marriage
- The respective physical and mental health of the parents
- Which parent can best help the child maintain relationships with friends and grandparents
- The preferences of the child, which can inform the judge’s decision but are not definitive
Legal custody is the authority to make decisions for the child. These decisions concern major issues such as the child’s education, health care, religious upbringing, and personal care. The parents may share this authority or the court may decide that only one parent should have it.
Child Support. One parent will typically be required to pay the other child support, even if the two share parenting time with the child. Child support is decided according to a set of state guidelines that take several factors into consideration, including:
- The parents’ respective incomes
- How much time the child spends with both parents
- The educational, medical, and other needs of the child
- Health insurance costs for the child
- The child’s standard of living that he or she enjoyed during the marriage
- Childcare costs
- Unusual expenses the child may have
- Requested deviations from the child support guidelines
Spousal Maintenance. Also known as alimony or spousal support, the purpose of spousal maintenance is to prevent a spouse from experiencing the negative financial repercussions that often attend divorce. The spouse seeking maintenance must show the court that he or she is in need of it. In deciding how much alimony to award, and for how long, the judge will consider (among other criteria):
- The duration of the marriage
- The age and health of the spouse seeking alimony
- The spouses’ respective incomes
- The educational background and/or occupational training of the spouse seeking alimony
- The job prospects and earning power of the spouse seeking alimony
- The abilities of both spouses to care for their children after divorce
Will My Divorce Go To Trial?
Many spouses are able to resolve most or all issues arising out of their marriage without the need for a judge to decide. While the court will be involved in your divorce to some extent (for example, only the court can issue a divorce decree that officially ends your marriage), the parties are free to decide most of the above issues as they see fit. If they can agree on these matters they can enter into a written separation agreement.
One alternative to trial is mediation. This is an out-of-court procedure in which a neutral third party known as a mediator helps the spouses resolve property division, parenting time, and other issues related to their divorce. An attorney can assist and represent you during this process, advocating for your interests and helping you understand the benefits of settling the above matters instead of taking them to trial.
Contact Our Phoenix Divorce Attorney
Divorce is a significant event that demands serious legal representation. At Cohen Family Law, we understand the issues involved and the emotional and financial challenges you are facing as your marriage comes to an end. We represent divorce clients with the compassion and legal skill they deserve. Give us a call today to learn more.