Divorce Court AZ | Jurisdictional Limits to Court’s Authority

The Scottsdale Arizona divorce lawyers at Hildebrand Law, PC want you to know the limits to a judge’s authority in an Arizona divorce case. What limits does a judge have on what he or she can order in a divorce court in AZ? The Arizona Supreme Court addressed the issue of the limits of an Arizona divorce court’s authority to issue certain orders in the case of Weaver v. Weaver. The underlying facts of the case are relatively straight forward. At trial, the Wife, Joene Weaver, in the Arizona divorce trial presented evidence that her husband, John Weaver, caused $5000.00 damage to her sole and separate property during their marriage.

The husband accepted service of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, but he failed to file a timely response and an application for default was, therefore, filed by wife. Wife obtained a default Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. The issue on appeal concerned whether the Arizona divorce court had the authority (i.e., subject matter jurisdiction) to award a money judgment in favor of one spouse for damage to her sole and separate property in a divorce action or, alternatively, whether that cause of action needed to be pursued in a separate civil cause of action.

In addressing the issue, the Arizona Supreme Court addressed a prior Arizona Supreme Court ruling in the Proffit v. Proffit case. The Arizona Supreme Court distinguished the Proffit case from the Weaver case by pointing out the claim in Proffit was that the Wife cashed in her Husband’s sole and separate savings bonds. The Arizona Supreme Court in that case held the Court had jurisdiction to order Wife to turn over the money she received from those bonds because the court had the statutory authority to order a party to relinquish the sole and separate property to the spouse who has a sole and separate interest in that property.

The Proffit v. Proffit Ruling Explained

The Arizona Supreme Court concluded in Weaver that an Arizona divorce judge’s awarding of “damages” caused to a spouse’s sole and separate property is distinguishable from an order requiring a spouse to return sole and separate property to the other spouse. The Weaver court found that Arizona divorce actions are statutory actions; meaning the court only has such authority (i.e., jurisdiction) as is granted to the Court by statute.

Arizona divorce court’s, therefore, may only issue orders if there is a statute that grants the court authority to rule on such issues. Arizona divorce court’s may not issue orders, unless a specific statute exists permitting the court to do so. In the weaver case, there was no such statute permitting a trial court to award a spouse damage to his or her separate property and the trial court, therefore, exceeded its jurisdiction.

Vice Chief Justice Gordon concurred with the majority opinion, but added that divorce matters are not subject to the constitutional right to a jury; meaning there are no jury trials in Arizona divorce cases. Justice Gordon continued by pointing out Husband, however, had a constitutional right to a trial by jury on the damage claim, which the Arizona divorce court may not provide.


Divorce Court AZ | What Does It All Mean

The takeaway from this case is that a party in a divorce must point to a specific statute granting the Arizona divorce court with the authority to grant the relief requested by that spouse. This rule applies not only to the division of community and separate property, but to all issues including child custody, child support, spousal maintenance, Arizona orders of protection, and the payment of community debts.