Divorce in Arizona – What You Need to Know
Table of Contents About Divorce in Arizona
- Process of Divorce
- Requirements of Divorce
- Child Custody in an Arizona Divorce
- Spousal Maintenance in a Divorce in Arizona
- Division of Property and Debt
- Payment of Attorney Fees
- Discovery and Disclosure
- Temporary Orders in an Arizona Divorce
- Resolution Management Conference
- Divorce Trial
Divorce in Arizona starts with one of the spouses filing a petition for dissolution of marriage and related document with the Superior Court in the county where one of the spouse’s lives. Once those documents are filed with the court, Arizona law requires them to be served on the other party by a private process server.
The period of time that person has to file a response to that divorce petition if they were served in the State of Arizona is 20 days. If they were served outside the State of Arizona, they have 30 days to file a written answer to that divorce petition.
The parties have the option of requesting a “temporary orders” hearing be scheduled. , where the court will issue temporary orders regarding child support, custody of minor children, family support, things like that. Prior to a temporary orders hearing, however, the court’s going to set what’s called a resolution management conference.
Just kind of a fancy way of saying a status conference. The court wants to meet with the parties to determine if the parties are able to settle any of the issues in the case and as to the remaining unsettled issues, the court’s going to refer you out for mediation prior to setting you for trial.
Some judges will set you for a divorce trial as well as private mediation but typically they’re going to set another status conference after the mediation to determine if the issues have been resolved or narrowed, and at that point, the court will set you for trial. Once you have your final trial, the court has up to 60 days to issue a ruling in your case. Typically, it takes four to six weeks to get your ruling but it could take as much as 60 days. That’s the basics of divorce in Arizona.
If you are considering a divorce in Arizona, you should be familiar with the Arizona divorce laws and processes you need to navigate to complete your divorce. We should first address the various issues you are likely to face in your divorce. We will discuss the laws that apply to these matters. We will then follow up with an explanation of the entire divorce process to provide you with a robust framework to deal with a divorce in AZ.
I’ve been practicing family law now for more than 20 years. Our team of attorneys has handled literally hundreds and hundreds of divorce and family law cases in Arizona. Our attorneys won’t encounter a single issue in your case that we haven’t already handled many times over.
We sit down with you to discuss the entire Arizona divorce process from beginning to end to make sure you understand everything that’s going to happen in your case, when those things will occur and what we will do to help you navigate through that process.
Every one of our clients understands our process from beginning to end. We talk about temporary orders hearings, whether it’s appropriate to ask the court to set a temporary order hearing. We’ll talk about a Resolution Management Conference and how we prepare for that hearing. We’ll talk about Alternative Dispute Resolution and mediation and how we can use mediation to try to resolve your case.
We accumulate all the evidence to determine what is fair and if the other side is not fair we will take your case to trial. We’ll talk about using Parenting Coordinators and how they may benefit you. We’ll talk about Special Masters and how they may benefit your case.
We’ll talk about working with child custody evaluators and how we work with them. If there is a family business involved, we’ll talk about hiring a business appraiser and how we work with them.
If spousal maintenance is an issue in a case we’ll talk about hiring a vocational expert to testify at your trial. Feel free to watch all the videos below, discussing each of the steps I’ve outlined here to learn more about how we can help you.
Each divorce is unique. The issues you face in an Arizona divorce may not be the same problems another family may face. Differences in having children versus those families that do not have children are handled differently because the former will not require you to address child custody or child support issues whereas the latter would include these matters.
Also, spousal maintenance sometimes referred to as alimony, may or may not be a problem depending upon each spouse’s respective ability to support themselves. Lastly, the court has the authority to issue an award of attorney fees to one spouse or the other. A request for attorney fees may or may not be an issue in your case depending upon each spouse’s respective incomes and financial resources and their respective reasonable or unreasonable positions in the divorce case.
The dissolution of the marriage itself is the easiest issue to resolve. All the court needs to hear is the testimony of one spouse that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Arizona is what is referred to as a “no-fault” state, which means neither spouse needs to explain why the marriage is irretrievably broken.
One of the parties must have a residence in Arizona for at least 90 days to be entitled to file for divorce in Arizona. There are no other limitations regarding when you may file for divorce unless you have a coveted marriage. In a minority of situations, there may be strategic decisions affecting when you should file for divorce. See, you should speak with a qualified Arizona divorce attorney about your specific situation, to determine if there are reasons in your case to expedite filing for divorce or holding off on the initial filing.
To provide just a few examples, a parent may want to expedite filing for divorce if the other spouse is in the process of moving with the children to another state and you want to stop that move. Another example may be that you would prefer to enter into mediation to resolve the issues before filing a divorce and hope that mediation without the immediacy of having to meet legal deadlines will make your mediation more successful.
Judges can sometimes be creative in crafting parenting plans for families, but at all times, they must craft them with the best interest of the children in mind and by considering all relevant factors governed by law. Sometimes a court will order that one parent is designated as the primary residential parent.
For instance, if a child is a school-aged and attends school closer to one parent’s home. In other cases, the court might order equal parenting time, but in all cases, courts must order parenting plans that maximize each parents parenting time with their children.
The court cannot consider the gender of a parent or child, but will consider any claims of domestic violence. The term maximize is a relative term that can apply differently to different parenting time situations. For example, it can mean that parents with unusual work schedules, like firefighters or nurses, should still get the most time with their children when they otherwise might lose that time due to their schedules.
A common parenting plan schedule is the 5225 schedule where a mother and father are each designated two consecutive weekdays each week and they then alternate weekends, Friday through Sunday.
In long-distance parenting time plans where one parent lives out of state, courts will grant the out of state parent with the greater share of the child’s summer break or school break in order to maximize that parent’s time. Child custody issues can be a very emotional issue for mothers and fathers.
Ultimately, the court will make a decision, if the parents cannot agree upon child custody arrangements, which are in the best interests of the children. The court is required to consider the factors outlined in Arizona Revised Statute Section 25-403 before deciding child custody issues in divorce in Arizona.
Once the issue of custody, now referred to legal decision making and parenting time, is decided the court must decide which parent will pay child support to the other parent, as well as the amount of that child support. Child support in Arizona is governed by the Arizona Child Support Guidelines and is dependent upon the parents’ respective incomes, the cost of health insurance for the children, daycare cost, the parenting schedule, and a few other factors. The Guidelines change from time to time, so it is important to check to make sure you are using the current Guidelines when calculating child support in your case.
Sometimes clients will ask how long they have to be married until they’re eligible for spousal maintenance. There are no specific requirements for the length of the marriage for a spouse to be eligible to receive alimony or spousal maintenance. As a general rule, the longer you’re married the more likely the court will consider awarding spousal maintenance in Arizona.
A court has the authority to award spousal maintenance to a spouse in divorce in Arizona. The court will only do so if the tribunal finds the spouse is entitled to spousal support. The court was granted this authority in Arizona Revised Statute Section 25-319. The amount and duration of a spousal maintenance award will vary depending upon the factors listed in the statute.
In Arizona, all property is characterized as community property or separate property as well as joint or common property. The legal characterization of your property may have a significant impact on the court’s decisions regarding possession, management, or control of the property, as well as the division of the property.
The term property generally refers to all forms of real and personal property including, but not limited to, real estate, including homes in undeveloped land, bank and other financial accounts, IRAs, for one case, pension plans, and other retirement accounts, stock options, vehicles, and other personal property items.
The Arizona community and separate property rights are defined by statue. Community property generally describes all property acquired by either spouse during the parties marriage. Typically, it does not matter whether the property is titled in one or both spouses names so long as the property was acquired by the other spouse during the marriage.
The most significant exception to this general community property rule pertains to property acquired by gift to a particular spouse or through a spouse’s inheritance during the marriage.
Spouses generally have equal management control and disposition rights over their community property. Separate property generally described as spouses property which is owned by that spouse before marriage or was acquired during marriage by gift or inheritance.
It also includes the increase rents issues and profits of that property. In addition, property which is acquired by a spouse after service of a petition for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or annulment, is also the separate property of that spouse, if the petition results in a decree of dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or annulment. Each spouse generally has the sole management control and disposition rights of each spouse’s separate property.
The court is required to assign to each spouse their sole and separate property and to equitably divide the parties’ community property, according to Arizona Revised Statute Section 25-318. You will need to identify which items of property were owned by either spouse before marriage, or received as a gift or inheritance, to determine what property should be awarded to each spouse as their sole and separate property. You will then need to determine what other assets were acquired during the marriage to determine what property is community property.
Lastly, you will need to determine what items of community property will be awarded to each spouse. If the items are divided equally, you can resolve the division of assets. If one spouse receives property at a higher value than the other spouse, you may have to agree to a community property equalization payment from the wife or husband with more value to the wife or husband of less valuable property.
The court has the authority to order one spouse to pay some or all of the other spouse’s attorneys fees, court costs, and expert witness fees according to Arizona Review Statute 25-324. The court may do so if the court finds one of the spouses has significantly greater income or financial resources than the other spouse and/or if one spouse has been unreasonable during the case.
Each party is required to disclose certain information and documentation to the other party, according to Rule 49 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure. The rules also provide for each party to take the deposition of the other party and to request additional information and documentation to either prepare a settlement offer or get the case ready for tri
The court may set the temporary orders hearing on the motion of either party. The issues that can be decided that that temporary orders hearing include temporary child custody and parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance. The court can grant one of the two spouses exclusive use of the community residence.
The court can even order the division of the parties debts and at times the court can order attorney’s fees be paid from one party to the other party. Now understand, these temporary orders are only going to exist during the tenancy of your case until final orders are issued.
If the parties do not agree on the issues in the divorce, either party may file a Motion for Temporary Orders. The court will issue orders about child custody, child support, alimony, the payment of attorney fees, the payment of community debts, and the use of community property by one spouse or the other during the pendency of the case.
The court may set the temporary orders hearing on the motion of either party. The issues that can be decided at that temporary orders hearing include temporary child custody and parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance.
The court can grant one of the two spouses exclusive use of the community residence. The court can even order the division of the parties debts and at times the court can order attorney’s fees be paid from one party to the other party. Now understand, these temporary orders are only going to exist during the rest of your case until final orders are issued.
If either party files a Motion for Temporary Orders or requests the court set the case for trial, the court will likely schedule a Resolution Management Conference. This hearing is scheduled to allow the court to hear what issues have been settled and which issues have not been settled. It is likely the court will schedule the parties to attend mandatory mediation after which time the court will schedule a trial to decide the contested issues.
If the tribunal sets your case for a final divorce trial, the court will schedule deadlines by which both spouses will be required to submit a Pretrial Statement outlining the issues in the case, the parties’ position on these matters, the witnesses that will be testifying and the exhibits that will be used at trial. The court will also set a deadline by which exhibits must be delivered to the tribunal before the trial and timelines for the completion of discovery and disclosure in the case.
Now it’s the day of your trial, what’s going to happen? You’re going to go into the courtroom, you’re going to sit down with either yourself if you’re unrepresented or with your counsel if you are represented by an attorney.
The judge will then enter the courtroom, the bailiff will tell everybody, “Please rise.” Both parties and counsel will stand up as well as any witnesses or anyone else observing the trial. The judge will then, after he sits, tell you to be seated.
At that point, the judge is going to address the Petitioner’s attorney first and ask if there are any agreements that have been reached. If there have, you recite that agreement on the record.
The judge will most likely accept them. The judge has to find if the agreements are fair and equitable if it has to do with debts or property or that it’s in the best interest of the children if that has to do with custody or parenting time or child support. It’s very rare the judge doesn’t accept the parties agreement. As to the remaining issues that are contested, the court’s going to turn to the petitioner and tell them to proceed.
They’re going to present their witness, put them on the stand, subject to cross-examination from the respondent after they’re done questioning that witness. Then the petitioner will have a chance to ask rebuttal questions of the witness. They’ll ask the questions, the other side gets to cross-examine, then they’ll come back and ask their third round of questions. That lawyer will continue to do that until his or her case is closed.
Once the Petitioner is done presenting all of their evidence, the Respondent then gets a chance to start their case and they do the same thing. The same thing happens with witnesses and producing exhibits or moving them into evidence. When that’s done, the court is going to give both parties or their counsel a chance to make a closing argument to tell the judge why your position is the right position or the fair position or in the children’s best interest.
When that is concluded, the case is over at that point except to the extent that the judge has to make a final ruling. It’s very rare that the judge is going to rule from the bench. They just don’t want to upset the parties or the witnesses by issuing an immediate ruling. They want both parties to leave the courtroom peacefully and they issue the decision thereafter.
Now, a judge has up to 60 days to issue a final decision. If the ruling is in the form of an unsigned Minute Entry you are not divorced yet. Your lawyers will need to draft a Divorce that mirrors the rulings the judge made and then the judge has to sign that Decree. Sometimes judges do sign their Minute Entries in which case that is a final order and your divorce has been finalized.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article about divorce in Arizona to ensure everyone has access to information about divorce in Arizona. Chris is a divorce attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce.
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