What is an Uncontested Divorce?
The easiest and least expensive way to obtain a divorce in Arizona is to reach an agreement regarding all issues such as custody of the children, division of assets and debts, and child support and alimony, if appropriate in your case. A divorce in Arizona that has been completely resolved by an agreement between the parties is referred to as an “uncontested divorce.”
There are two ways to handle an uncontested divorce; specifically, by Consent Decree or Default Decree. The safest way to handle an uncontested divorce in Arizona is for one spouse to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, the other spouse then files a Response to a divorce petition, and the parties then draft and sign a Marital Settlement Agreement.
The Agreement will outline all of the financial arrangements, a separate Parenting Plan if the parties have children outlining their agreements relating to the children, and a Consent Decree for Dissolution of Marriage. Many issues should be addressed in these documents, so it is best to consult with an attorney to assist in drafting these final settlement papers.
Arizona has what is referred to as conciliation statutes that permit either party to a divorce to temporarily freeze the case to allow the court to appoint a therapist through the court to provide marital counseling to the parties. Both sides have 60 days from the date the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage was served on the other party to invoke these conciliation provisions.
As a result, neither party may file the settlement paperwork until at least 60 days have passed from the date the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage was served on the other party. You may sign all of the settlement paperwork before that 60 day period has run, but you cannot file the settlement paperwork with the court until the 60 day period has expired. Once submitted, the judge will typically sign the Consent Decree within two weeks.
Neither party needs to appear in court before a judge if a Consent Decree for Dissolution of Marriage is accepted and approved by the Court.
Uncontested Divorce Through the Default Process
A court may issue a Default Decree of Dissolution of Marriage when the person who is served with the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is served but fails to file a Response to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Upon filing an Affidavit and Application for Default and an additional short waiting period, the court may proceed with the divorce without any further notice to the person served with the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
The non-defaulted party will then call Court Administration and request the scheduling of a default hearing. The person filing for divorce attends that hearing presents a Default Divorce Decree to the court outlining how all the assets and debts should be divided, what custody arrangements should be ordered, and how much the other defaulted party should pay for child support, alimony, and attorney fees.
Although this process requires less paperwork, it is also fraught with very serious problems. Although your spouse may promise to submit a Default Decree that complies with agreements reached between the parties, a spouse could easily submit an entirely different Default Decree that the defaulted party may be very unhappy about.
Changing from an Uncontested Divorce to a Contested Divorce In Arizona
As you may have imagined, a divorce can change from an uncontested divorce in Arizona to a contested divorce if the parties do not agree on all of the issues. These contested cases still benefit from resolving as many issues as possible; thereby simplifying the number of problems that are contested.
A person involved in a contested case will need to file a Response to Petition for Dissolution of marriage and consider ways to resolve those disputed issues. Your options in dealing with disputed issues are to attempt to work through those disagreements through compromise or attend a formal mediation with an experienced Arizona divorce mediator. Not all contested issues have to be resolved by a trial judge. However, if the issues are still not resolved through mediation, you may have to take your case to trial.
You may have continuing legal obligations as a result of being married, such as payment of debts and other loans. Law also prohibits you from getting remarried until the judge signs your final divorce decree and filed with the clerk of the court. We have seen situations occur when a judge issues his or her final ruling in Minute Entry form and a spouse runs off and immediately remarries. That second marriage is void because a Minute Entry is typically not a signed Divorce Decree.
A divorce is a very formal process. To protect the parties’ interests in a fair trial and resolution of the issues in the case, many procedural rules and forms need to be complied with correctly. Although we explain all of the processes and procedures with each of our clients at the beginning of the case, we then inform them we are here to walk them through each process one step at a time.
How to Find the Right Attorney for Your Uncontested Divorce
An experienced and knowledgeable divorce attorney can make all the difference in how your case is handled and the outcome of that case. If you cannot afford an attorney, the law in Arizona allows you to represent yourself. However, neither the judge nor his or her assistants can give you any legal advice and are required to hold you to the same standards as a practicing attorney.
You will be required to know the statutes, appellate decisions, and rules of procedure that apply to your case. Not understanding the complexities of the law or procedure could result in dire consequences to your case. The court in Arizona is not permitted to appoint an attorney on your behalf, so finding the right lawyer you can afford is critical to your case. There are times, for example, when a person representing themselves will hire our law firm to provide them with essential information and guidance to navigate the divorce case on their own.
Feel free to contact any of our Arizona divorce attorneys to discuss your uncontested Arizona divorce case today by calling (480)305-8300.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article about an uncontested divorce in Arizona to ensure everyone has access to information about child support laws in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and child custody 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