Understanding Divorce in Arizona

Divorce is the legal process of ending a marriage. When spouses decide they can no longer be together as such, they can seek a divorce to dissolve their marriage legally. This process involves meeting several key steps and requirements, which can make an already emotionally draining process that much more complex. Handling the necessary tasks and making informed decisions during a divorce is difficult without the guidance of a lawyer. A knowledgeable divorce attorney can help you manage these challenges effectively, meet all legal requirements, and protect your interests.

Three Paths to the Divorce Process

There are three main ways to handle your divorce case in Arizona:

  • Doing It Yourself (DIY Divorce): If you opt for a DIY divorce, you’ll need to gather all the forms, fill them out, and manage the filing process independently. Some divorcing couples choose this route to save money, but doing so is risky. The complexity of the legal documents and the potential for mistakes can lead to delays, legal issues that complicate your divorce, or unforeseen and expensive problems in the future.
  • Using an Online Divorce Service: Many companies market online divorce services that can help you prepare your divorce papers using standard forms based on the information you provide. However, like DIY divorces, this option can backfire. Online services usually cannot tailor documents to your unique circumstances nor offer legal advice, which can result in inadequate settlements or future legal problems.
  • Hiring a Divorce Attorney: Hiring a lawyer is the most reliable way to pursue a divorce. A local lawyer will understand the specific laws in Arizona and can offer personalized advice and representation. They can also handle all the paperwork, negotiate a fair settlement agreement, and represent your interests in court if necessary. This is the best way to reach an equitable and thorough resolution in your divorce.

The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce

Legal separation and divorce both involve legally changing your relationship status, but they do so in different ways.

Divorce permanently ends a marriage. Once you finalize a divorce, you and your spouse are no longer legally married and are free to remarry. The divorce process involves dividing assets, determining maintenance (alimony), and settling custody and child support if you have children.

On the other hand, legal separation does not end a marriage. Instead, it allows couples to live independently while remaining legally married. Couples might choose this option with or without the intention to divorce later on, either for personal or religious reasons or to maintain certain benefits like health insurance coverage. In a legal separation, you must still address issues like asset division, alimony, child custody, and support, similar to a divorce.

Legal Annulment in Arizona

Legal annulment is another option to consider in Arizona if you wish to dissolve your marriage and meet its specific requirements. Unlike divorce or legal separation, an annulment treats the marriage as if it never happened legally. This means the court declares the marriage to have been invalid from the start.

To qualify for an annulment in Arizona, you must prove specific grounds. These grounds include situations like one spouse being underage, one being already married to someone else, or the marriage being based on fraud or coercion. In other words, the marriage must have a fundamental flaw that makes it inherently invalid.

Covenant Marriage in Arizona

A covenant marriage is a unique type of marriage available in Arizona and a few other states, offering couples an option that emphasizes a stronger commitment to lifelong marriage. Choosing a covenant marriage requires couples to undergo pre-marital counseling and agree to stricter rules for seeking a divorce or separation in the future.

Divorcing in a covenant marriage is different than in other marriages. The state allows divorce in a covenant marriage only for specific serious reasons, such as adultery, abandonment, physical or sexual abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, or both spouses agreeing to divorce after living apart for a specific period.

If you decide to get a divorce in a covenant marriage, you must prove one of these accepted grounds in court. This makes the process more complex and often requires the assistance of a lawyer to handle the legal process effectively.

Unhappy couple sitting next to each other with arms crossed

Who Can File for Divorce in Arizona?

To file for divorce in Arizona, you must meet specific residency requirements. At least one spouse must have lived in the state for 90 days before filing the divorce petition, which ensures that the court has jurisdiction over your case.

Once you meet the residency requirement, you can initiate a divorce regardless of your spouse’s location or agreement to the divorce. You start the process by submitting a divorce petition to the Arizona Superior Court serving the county in which you live, which formally requests the dissolution of your marriage.

What Are the Grounds to File for Divorce in Arizona?

Arizona is a no-fault divorce state, so there is only one legal ground (reason) for filing for divorce in a standard marriage – the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. This means that you do not need to prove that your spouse did something wrong to ask for a divorce. Instead, you must simply state that your marriage is beyond repair and that there are no chances of reconciliation.

The grounds for filing for divorce in a covenant marriage are more specific and limited than those for a standard marriage. If you are in a covenant marriage, you must demonstrate one of the following reasons to legally dissolve your marriage:

  • Adultery: Your spouse had a sexual relationship with another person.
  • Felony Conviction: Your spouse has been convicted of a felony and sentenced to death or imprisonment.
  • Abandonment: Your spouse has left you for at least one year and refuses to return.
  • Physical or Sexual Abuse: Your spouse has physically or sexually abused you, a child, or a relative living in your home or has committed domestic violence or emotional abuse.
  • Living Apart: You and your spouse have lived apart continuously without reconciliation for at least two years or expect to live apart for a minimum of two years. 
  • Living Apart After Legal Separation: You and your spouse have been living separately for a continuous period of one year following a decree of legal separation.
  • Drug or Alcohol Abuse: Your spouse has a habitual problem with drugs or alcohol.
  • Mutual Consent: Both spouses agree to a divorce after attending a counseling session required by the state.

Is Arizona a 50-50 State in a Divorce?

Yes. Arizona is a “50-50 state” in the context of divorce, which refers to how the state handles the division of marital assets during a divorce proceeding.  Arizona is a community property law state, which generally sees all assets and debts acquired during the marriage as jointly owned by both spouses. As a result, the courts divide these marital assets and debts “equitably, though not necessarily in kind.”

Understanding Property Division in Arizona

When you file for divorce in Arizona, the court will begin the property division process by identifying all community property. This includes wages either spouse earned, homes the couple purchased during the marriage, and debts they incurred together. Each spouse is then entitled to an approximately equal share of this community property. It’s worth noting that property either spouse owned individually before the marriage or gifts and inheritances either spouse received during the marriage typically count as separate property, which is not subject to division.

This division rule aims to ensure a fair settlement where each person leaves the marriage with an equal share of the assets accumulated during their time together. However, in some cases, the court might make adjustments based on factors like the economic circumstances of each spouse or contributions one spouse made as a homemaker.

How Does Spousal Support Work in Arizona?

Spousal support, also known colloquially as alimony or officially as “maintenance” in Arizona, is financial assistance that one spouse provides to the other during or after a divorce. The purpose of spousal support is to help the receiving spouse maintain a reasonable standard of living after the divorce, similar to what they had during the marriage.

The court considers several factors when deciding on spousal support. These include the length of the marriage, each spouse’s financial resources, their current earnings and earning potential, and whether one spouse sacrificed career opportunities for the marriage or to raise children. The relative age and health of each spouse are also important factors.

Spousal support can be temporary, lasting only during the divorce process, or long-term, continuing for years after the divorce is final. The court sets the amount and duration based on the needs of the receiving spouse and the paying spouse’s ability to pay.

Child Support Payments

Child support is a payment that one parent makes to the other to help cover the costs of raising their children after a divorce or separation. Arizona uses a standard formula to calculate the amount of child support payments. This formula takes several factors into account, including the income of both parents, the number of children, and the amount of time each parent spends with the children.

Additionally, the calculation accounts for costs like health insurance, medical expenses, educational expenses, and childcare expenses. The goal is to ensure that the children continue to receive similar financial support as if the family were still together.

Once the court determines the amount, the parent required to pay child support must continue paying until the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever comes later. In some cases, if a child has special needs, support payments might be necessary beyond this age.

Preparing to File for Divorce

If you’re preparing to file for divorce in Arizona, it’s essential to thoroughly understand the process and carefully organize all necessary information and documents ahead of time. This preparation not only provides clarity during a potentially stressful time but also ensures that you can effectively handle the challenges of the legal system. Educating yourself about the steps involved and the legal implications can improve the outcome of your divorce case. Planning ahead allows you to approach the process strategically, minimizing surprises and positioning yourself favorably as you move forward.

Before Filing for an Arizona Divorce

Before you file for divorce in Arizona, you should gather all of your important financial documents. This includes recent tax returns, pay stubs, bank and credit card statements, and any documentation related to debts and assets, such as homes, cars, and investments. A clear and comprehensive picture of your financial situation is essential for asset division and for determining things like alimony and child support.

Next, think about your living arrangements. Decide where you will live during the divorce process and consider the impact on your children if applicable. Planning your housing situation in advance can prevent less-than-ideal decisions under last-minute stress.

Finally, consult an experienced family law attorney. A lawyer can provide valuable advice on your rights and what to expect throughout the divorce process. They can also prepare legal documents on your behalf and represent you in court as necessary.

How to File for Divorce in Arizona

To file for divorce in Arizona, you must first ensure that you meet the residency requirement of living in the state for at least 90 days. Next, obtain the necessary forms from your county’s Superior Court website. Fill out the divorce petition and gather any additional documents as required. File these documents with the court and pay the filing fee. You must then serve the papers to your spouse to officially start the process.

How Long Do You Have to Be Separated Before Divorce in Arizona?

Arizona does not require you to be separated for any length of time before you file for divorce unless yours is a covenant marriage. The state allows you to file for divorce without any mandatory separation period. This means you can proceed with filing for divorce immediately if you decide that your marriage is irretrievably broken and cannot be repaired.

Do You Have to Go to Court for a Divorce in Arizona?

It depends. You might not need to appear in court if you and your spouse can agree on all divorce terms. This includes agreements on the terms for property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support. If both parties can reach such an agreement, they can file a “summary consent decree” to end their marriage without going to court. However, it’s worth noting that this is not an option for dissolving a covenant marriage.

A summary consent decree outlines all the agreements you’ve made regarding your divorce. After you complete and sign this decree, you must also complete all other required divorce paperwork, which varies depending on your county. After you prepare these documents, you submit them to the court.

Once the court receives your consent decree and other documents, a judge will review them to ensure the agreements are fair and in accordance with the law. If everything is in order, the judge can approve the divorce without requiring either spouse to appear in court.

Filing Process and Legal Requirements

Filing for divorce in Arizona involves meeting several requirements and following a specific process. Here’s what you need to know about the filing process and legal requirements for obtaining a divorce in Arizona.

Filing Divorce Papers in Arizona

When you’re ready to file for divorce in Arizona, you must prepare and fill out the necessary legal forms. Once you’ve completed these forms, you should make several copies. Then, bring these documents to the court clerk’s office in the county where you live. In some counties, you might also be able to file your papers by mail.

Your signature on your divorce petition and certain other forms must be notarized. If you file in person, the court clerk can usually notarize these documents for you at no extra charge.

You must also pay filing fees when you submit your divorce papers. These fees can vary by county, generally ranging from $200 to $400. If you are filing for a summary consent decree divorce, the fee is usually half the cost of the divorce petition and response filing fees combined. If you have concerns about filing costs, you can apply for a fee waiver or deferral when you file your divorce paperwork.

Arizona’s Requirements for Serving and Responding to Divorce Papers

Once you file your divorce papers in Arizona, you must “serve” them on your spouse, which means officially delivering the documents to them. This step, known as the service of process, formally notifies your spouse of the divorce action and gives them an opportunity to respond. 

If your spouse agrees to the divorce and is willing to cooperate, you can simply send them the divorce papers via mail or hand them over directly. Your spouse will need to sign an Acceptance of Service form in the presence of a notary to officially acknowledge receipt. Similarly, serving papers isn’t necessary if you file a consent decree since both parties have already signed and filed a combined petition and response, agreeing to the divorce terms upfront.

If your spouse is not cooperating, you can hire a deputy sheriff or a licensed process server to deliver the papers in person. Alternatively, you can mail the documents or use a courier service to obtain a signed receipt from your spouse acknowledging that they received the papers.

If you cannot locate your spouse, or if they are incarcerated or abroad, you might need to use special procedures to serve your divorce papers. For instance, you can request court permission to serve by publishing a notice in a newspaper or by posting it at the courthouse or online. These methods require you to prove to the court that you have already exhausted all reasonable means to serve your spouse.

After receiving the divorce papers, your spouse has a set period to respond. Specifically, they have 20 days to file a response if you served them in Arizona. If they are outside the state, they have 30 days to respond. This response should address the demands you made in your divorce petition, including the terms of property division, child custody arrangements, and alimony. If your spouse does not respond within this time frame, you can seek a default judgment from the court, which can allow the divorce to proceed without your spouse’s input.

Contested or Uncontested Divorce

A divorce can be either contested or uncontested, depending on whether the spouses agree to the terms of the divorce. An uncontested divorce is one in which the spouses agree on all important issues, such as asset division, alimony, child custody, and support. This type of divorce usually proceeds quickly because there are no disputes for the court to resolve. In some uncontested divorce cases, spouses can file a summary consent decree to avoid having to appear in court to finalize the divorce.

In contrast, a contested divorce is one where the spouses disagree on one or more terms of the divorce. These disagreements can be about property, debts, child custody, or other significant matters. A contested divorce typically takes longer to resolve because it involves negotiations and possibly even court hearings where a judge makes the final decisions. This process is significantly more stressful and costly than an uncontested divorce.

What Is the Waiting Period for an Arizona Divorce?

After you file for divorce and serve the papers on your spouse, there is a mandatory waiting period of 60 days before you can finalize your divorce. This pause, often called the “cooling-off” period, starts from the date you serve your spouse with the divorce paperwork. The purpose of this waiting period is to give both parties some time to reconsider their decision and ensure that divorce is truly the best course of action. If both parties still agree to the divorce after this period, the process can move forward with a final decree.

After Filing for Divorce

After you file your divorce paperwork in Arizona, you might need to attend court-ordered mediation sessions to negotiate any unresolved issues with your spouse. You might also need to prepare for any necessary court appearances or further legal actions. Your attorney can help you understand what to expect and prepare you for the next steps.

Next Steps in Your Arizona Divorce

After you file for divorce in Arizona, what happens next will depend on the nature of your case. If your divorce is uncontested and both parties agree on all terms, you could finalize your divorce relatively quickly, especially if you use a consent decree. If you and your spouse still have significant disagreements that lead to a contested divorce, your next steps will involve negotiations or mediation to try and resolve the issues. If these efforts fail, your case will proceed to a court hearing, where a judge will decide on any unresolved matters.

Preparing for Divorce Hearings and Divorce Litigation

You will need to prepare for divorce hearings and litigation if you have a contested divorce that is headed to court. Appropriate preparation allows you to present a clear and compelling case to the judge. 

Working closely with a lawyer during this preparation is key to a successful resolution. An attorney can help you understand what to expect, advise you on potential legal strategies, and organize your evidence. They can also represent you in court, arguing on your behalf and responding to any points your spouse’s attorney raises. Additionally, your attorney can negotiate with the opposing counsel to settle disputes outside of court, which can save time, money, and stress.

Divorce Mediation

Divorce mediation is a process where a neutral third party, called a mediator, helps divorcing spouses find common ground and settle disputes outside of court. This approach is often less confrontational, less expensive, and more private than going to trial.

Mediation might be necessary if couples disagree on matters like child custody, asset division, or alimony but want to avoid the lengthy and costly process of a court trial. It’s a useful option for those seeking a more amicable divorce and can lead to solutions that work well for both parties.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Final Divorce in Arizona?

The time it takes to get a final divorce in Arizona can vary widely depending on several factors. If the divorce is uncontested, meaning both parties agree on all terms, the divorce can be finalized immediately after the mandatory 60-day waiting period. This waiting period begins once you file and serve your divorce paperwork.

However, the process can take much longer if the divorce is contested. The time it takes to finalize a contested divorce depends on the complexity of the issues, the court’s schedule, and how long it takes to negotiate a settlement or complete a trial. Contested divorces can take several months or even years to resolve fully.

When Can the Court Deviate from the Child Support Guidelines?

In Arizona, the court typically follows established child support guidelines to calculate how much support one parent should pay to the other. However, there are specific circumstances when the court can deviate from these guidelines. If the standard calculation would be inappropriate or unjust in a particular case, the court may adjust the amount.

For instance, if a child has special medical needs or disabilities that require additional expenses, the court might increase the support amount. Conversely, the court might reduce the support if the paying parent has a significantly lower income or faces financial hardships. Other reasons for deviation could include high incomes for both parents, children who spend substantially more time with one parent, or unusual education expenses.

Legal Assistance and Representation

Legal assistance and representation are essential in Arizona divorce cases. Here’s why.

Getting Legal Help with a Divorce in Arizona

A lawyer can clearly explain all the legal rules and steps in a divorce, ensuring you understand your rights and responsibilities. They can prepare and organize your documents and evidence to present your case effectively in court. They can represent you during negotiations and court hearings, arguing your case and responding to the other side. They can also work to settle disputes out of court, which can save time and reduce stress. Managing a divorce without legal counsel can be overwhelming and could even lead to unfavorable outcomes that affect you and your family for years.

How to Hire the Right Divorce Attorney

When searching for a divorce attorney in Arizona, it’s important to look for someone who communicates well and understands your goals. Look for an attorney who is straightforward in their explanation of the legal process and responsive to your questions and concerns. 

Experience is another key factor to consider. Choose an attorney who has handled many divorce cases similar to yours and knows state law and court procedures well. This experience can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

You should also consider the attorney’s approach to handling disputes. If you prefer a more cooperative resolution, find someone who is skilled in mediation and negotiation. However, if your case is likely to go to court, you’ll need an attorney who is a strong and confident litigator. 

Finally, make sure you understand the lawyer’s fees and that they fit within your budget. Ask for a detailed explanation of their fees and any additional charges that might arise. Being upfront about costs at the beginning can help you plan financially for the duration of your divorce case and avoid financial surprises later on.

Contact an Arizona Divorce Lawyer Today

Looking to start your divorce proceedings in Arizona? Reach out to Cohen Family Law for guidance and support. Our team is here to provide the straightforward advice and effective representation you need. Contact us now for your free consultation to learn how we can help.

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