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Arizona Divorce 101

Divorce is complex, and the process can not only be challenging to navigate but also a source of frustration. In part, this is often due to the highly personal nature of divorce. When a couple begins a relationship, they do so without anticipating that it might someday end. As their lives grow together, they build a family, collect property, invest, and much more. Unfortunately, what was once an atmosphere of love and partnership can sometimes turn into one of constant bickering, blame, and division. Worse, the emotions and disputes experienced during divorce could hinder their ability to navigate the process efficiently.

Knowledge about divorce in Arizona can not only ease your mind about the legal requirements you are facing but also minimize disputes and streamline the process. At Desert Legal Group, we know how essential it is that you understand the basics of divorce law in Arizona so that you can feel empowered to pursue an equitable decision.

With this Arizona divorce guide, our team can help you prepare to fight for custody of your children, protect your interests in spousal support determinations, and ensure an appropriate division of all assets accumulated during the marriage.

The Arizona Divorce Process, Explained

Divorce Process in Arizona Explained

Divorce is the process by which a legally recognized marriage is officially dissolved. It’s important to note that this differs from a legal separation, which does not dissolve the marriage – neither spouse is permitted to remarry after a separation, as they remain legally married.

However, as separation also occurs when both parties choose to live apart from one another, the processes do share some similarities in how they are approached. Ask our seasoned divorce and separation attorneys whether divorce or legal separation is best for your family.

Before filing for divorce, the couple must first meet the minimum qualifications to do so. These requirements include:

  • One spouse must have lived in the county in which the petition is submitted for a minimum of 90 consecutive days.
  • When children are involved, the children must have lived in the county where the petition is filed for a minimum of 6 consecutive months
  • The marriage must be declared irretrievably broken, also known as “grounds for divorce.” Though you can name other grounds for divorce, assigning fault for the divorce is not required in the state of Arizona.

Step 1: Petitioning for Divorce

To obtain a divorce in Arizona, a couple will need to follow a specific set of steps. These are initiated by one spouse, who is known as the petitioner. The petitioner will then submit a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage to the Clerk of the Superior Court located in the county in which they reside. The purpose of the petition is to officially request that the court legally end the marriage. It will also request that the court create a divorce order resolving the standard divorce issues that must be determined, such as spousal support, asset and debt division, child support, and child custody.

To justify these requests and initiate the court’s consideration of the above issues, the petition will also provide information about:

  • When and where the marriage took place
  • A statement acknowledging that the marriage is irretrievably broken
  • If any children are involved, the names and birthdates of each
  • The address where the children have lived for the last five consecutive years prior to the petition being filed
  • Child support statements
  • Spousal support statements
  • Debt and asset division statements
  • A statement acknowledging who should pay attorney fees

Accompanying the petition will also be several other documents. These include:

  • A summons
  • Notice of Right to Convert Health Insurance
  • A preliminary injunction
  • A notice to creditors
  • A family court cover sheet

In addition, if the couple shares any children, the petition must also include documents, including an Affidavit Regarding Minor Children and an Order and Notice Regarding the Parent Information Program. Three copies of these documents will be created, with one submitted to the court, one for the respondent, and one for the petitioner.

Step 2: Notify Your Spouse

Under Constitutional law, all persons named in a civil suit must be notified prior to the claim being put into motion. Divorce is considered one of those protected suits. For the process to continue, the documents prepared in the first step must be served to the other spouse within 120 days of filing the documents at the Clerk of the Superior Court. Without documentation of this crucial step filed with the Clerk of the Superior Court, the divorce process cannot proceed and is considered null and void.

Step 3: Responding to Notification

The serving spouse is referred to as the petitioner, and the other spouse is referred to as the respondent. Once they are served with the documents listed in step 2 from the petitioner, the respondent has 20 days to file a response. This timeline is for those who live in the same state as the petitioner. If they live in a different state, they will have up to 30 days to respond.

If there is a failure to respond, the petitioner can file for a default decision. In this case, the divorce can be declared finalized by the court, and the legal dissolution of the marriage will continue. The final dissolution will be subject to the rules and regulations described in the law, but will likely favor the petitioner.

Step 4: Waiting Period

As long as there is a response from the respondent, the case will continue to the mandatory waiting period. Under Arizona law, 60 days must elapse from the date the petitioner served the divorce notice and documentation to their spouse. During this time, several things may occur, including:

  • Potential reconciliation of the marriage
  • Agreement to terms of the divorce
  • Continued disagreement on key divorce elements
Once the waiting period is over, if terms are agreed upon or the divorce proceeds to a default decision, then the divorce can be finalized quickly.

Step 5: Disclosure and Initial Arguments

In this stage of the divorce, research, investigations, and disclosures will take place. Both spouses will need to identify their assets to the other party, as this ensures that all marital assets are listed for their eventual division. After that, the court will provide temporary orders that both parties must adhere to throughout the process. Under these orders, there will be decisions on child support, child custody, and spousal support that must be made throughout the process.

If deemed necessary and appropriate, the court may conduct interviews with any children the couple share to gain insight into how they feel about different aspects of the process. This allows the court to gather information on their relationship with both parents, their relationship with their community, and their feelings overall. However, this step is not required.

Step 6: Negotiation or Mediation

While simple divorces can often be negotiated by the couple and their attorneys, couples with extensive assets, children, or other complicating factors may need more structured dispute resolution. Couples may be encouraged to enter into mediation, in which they will work out the details of their divorce with the help of their attorneys and a neutral, third-party mediator. Reaching an agreement with a mediator can result in a smoother divorce proceeding and quicker approval by a judge.

Additional disclosures and requests may be made by both parties to ensure that all assets and information have been taken into account.

Step 7: Trial

Even if a couple is able to reach an agreement in mediation, the couple and their attorneys will attend a hearing with a judge, who will present the terms that the couple either agreed on or requested individually. This helps the judge to determine the next steps of the trial. If the couple is unable to reach an agreement, the divorce will move into the trial phase, and each dispute must be presented to the judge. The decision may require the provision of evidence, witness testimony, and more. This process could take a couple of days, weeks, or even months, depending on the couple and the circumstances of their assets.

Step 8: Final Decree

Once all aspects of the divorce are settled, the judge will make a determination for each, known collectively as the final divorce decree. It will outline an equitable distribution of assets and debts. Child custody decisions will be made in the best interests of the children, including those involving child support. If applicable, spousal maintenance will be awarded in an amount and duration that is seen as necessary and reasonable. Once the judge issues the decree, its terms are considered to be court-ordered, and the divorce is legally finalized. The couple’s marriage is no longer legally recognized, and both parties are free to remarry if they so choose.

Elements of Divorce in Arizona

Elements of Divorce

Perhaps the most complex stage of a divorce is separating the two lives in an equitable way that also ensures that the contributions of both parties to the marriage are taken into account. Sometimes, one spouse may feel that, because they make more money, they are entitled to more in the settlement since they contributed more to physical expenses. However, Arizona courts prioritize equitable division, which means that while the division of assets will rarely be precisely 50/50, it is as close as possible while maintaining fairness. Thus, the law typically looks at lopsided wage-earning couples from multiple angles, often determining that the higher-wage-earning spouse was able to do so because the other spouse contributed to the marriage in nonfinancial ways.

For example, if one spouse is a stay-at-home parent, they are able to contribute to the upkeep of the home and rearing of the children while the other earns wages. If that spouse did not stay at home, then the higher-earning spouse’s capacity to earn those wages would be different, as they would have to invest their time differently. This is just a single example of the complexities involved in separating the lives of two people. Finalizing a divorce requires many such decisions, but the most critical of these are asset division, spousal maintenance, child custody, and child support.

Property, Asset, and Debt Division

Arizona is one of nine states that are considered a community property state. As mentioned, under this principle, couples who divorce will split most assets, debts, and physical property equitably – or as close to 50/50 as possible. This property includes all:

  • Financial portfolios
  • Business assets
  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Investments
  • Home equity
  • Income
  • Vehicles
  • Any other property, such as furniture, collectibles, etc.
This division also includes debts, such as taxes, credit cards, and loans, that either spouse accrued during the course of the marriage. Any of these assets or debts that were accrued prior to the marriage or through inheritance are considered individual property and are typically not subject to division.

Spousal Support

As mentioned, there is a misconception that when one spouse earns a higher income than the other spouse, they will receive more property in the divorce. A related myth is that the higher-earning spouse will always be subject to paying spousal maintenance. However, there are many factors that apply to the court’s decision to award spousal support.

One factor that is not considered when determining spousal support payments is who is considered at fault for the failure of the marriage. Arizona is a no-fault state and therefore, any claims of wrongdoing are not taken into account when awarding spousal support.

There are five considerations made when determining spousal support:

  • Does one spouse lack property that would allow them to provide for their reasonable needs?
  • Does one spouse lack the earning potential to be self-sufficient?
  • Does the age or condition of the spouse who has primary child custody prevent them from being employed outside the home?
  • Has one spouse’s income contributed significantly to that of the other spouse, thus reducing the first spouse’s career advancement or income?
  • Has the length of marriage impacted one spouse’s ability to gain employment, thus allowing them to be self-sufficient?

Child Custody and Child Support

Courts will make a determination regarding child support and custody based on the best interests of the child. They will consider factors such as the child’s involvement in school and their community, along with their relationship with both parents. These factors will be used to determine how much parenting time each parent receives as well as who will make major decisions in the child’s life. During the divorce process, parents will be required to attend a parenting class that will also be used when making this determination. In most cases, the court wants both parents to remain active in the child’s life and seeks to determine which arrangements would provide for that.

In terms of child support, the higher-earning spouse does not automatically have to pay child support. That determination is made based on parenting time and what will continue the child’s current lifestyle including their basic needs, their medical needs, the cost of their education, and any other reasonable needs.

Arizona Divorce FAQs

FAQs about divorce in Arizona

If you are divorcing in Arizona, you likely have many questions. Here are answers to a few of the most common questions we receive.

Can I Get Divorced Without an Attorney?
Arizona does not require attorney representation during a divorce. However, pursuing divorce alone is not advisable from either a legal or a financial standpoint. While it may seem advantageous and cost-effective to forgo the use of an attorney during your divorce, seeking the legal help you need from an experienced and knowledgeable attorney can help you ensure that deadlines are met and that your interests are a priority.
How Do I Get an Order of Protection or Injunction Against Harassment?
Commonly referred to as a protective order, these may be needed in the divorce process to gain necessary protections for you or your children against an abusive or threatening spouse. You can file a motion to receive a protection order at the courthouse. Your attorney can help you file this motion. Once the order is served, it remains active for one year.
Can a Dissolution of Marriage Case Be Dismissed?
The petitioner of a divorce case can file to dismiss the motion as long as the divorce process has not been finalized. This can also be done if both parties agree to dismiss the dissolution. Either party can file another divorce petition at any time.
How Do I Modify a Divorce Decree?
Divorce decrees are the terms by which a court orders both spouses to abide post-divorce and include determinations regarding the division of assets, parenting time, child support, and more. However, they can be modified should the circumstances of either spouse change on a significant and permanent basis. A common mistake that many people make is to simply self-modify, which can mean they are violating a court order. Never modify a divorce decree without obtaining a new court order. An attorney can guide you through the process of filing for a reconsideration of a divorce decree.
How Long After a Divorce Do I Have to Wait to Marry Again?
Arizona does not have a required waiting period for remarriage once the final divorce decree has been issued. You are free to marry at any time.

Skilled Arizona Divorce Attorneys

Divorce is a complicated and often frustrating process. Nevertheless, finding a new path to happiness in life may mean that it is a necessary one. Get the answers and help you need from attorneys you can count on. Contact Desert Legal Group today.

 

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published Mar 15, 2022 and has been updated April 1, 2024.