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The Divorce Process in Arizona

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Going through a divorce is not easy, but that does not mean it should be impossible. Here, we want to give an overview of the divorce process in Arizona so that you have an understanding of what to expect and the issues involved. We strongly encourage you to work with a skilled Arizona divorce lawyer as soon as possible so that they can handle these issues for you.

Filing for Dissolution of Marriage

The first step towards gaining a divorce is filing a dissolution of marriage petition. The Arizona court system has provided instructions for filing this petition, including instructions for filing divorce when there are no minor children, as well as filing for divorce when there are minor children involved.

The dissolution petition will include requests for property division, child custody, child support, alimony, and legal fees.

Service to the Spouse

Either the filing spouse serves the papers on the other spouse, or a process server or sheriff’s deputy will do so. The non-filing spouse will be called the respondent at this point.

The Response

The spouse served with the dissolution petition could take a few steps.

Default

A default response occurs if the respondent fails to actually file a response. The filing spouse would apply for default in the mail or in person, request the default hearing, and then have the divorce or separation hearing that will ultimately lead to a divorce decree.

Contested

If the respondent files a response that contests any part of what was asked for in the dissolution petition, then this will be a contested divorce. This could include disagreements over child support, child custody, alimony requests, property division requests, and more. There will be a notice of a hearing. There will likely be attempts to resolve the issues, either through a resolution management conference, early resolution conference, or alternative dispute resolution process.

If both parties can reach an agreement during these alternative resolution processes, then the court will either agree or disagree with the final arrangement. If the court disagrees, a trial will be set. If the court agrees, the divorce decree will move forward.

If the two spouses cannot reach an agreement during the alternative dispute resolution processes, a trial will be set.

Uncontested (Consent)

They respond and could decide to agree with all requests made by the spouse that filed the dissolution petition. If they agree, this will be considered an uncontested divorce and will move forward more smoothly towards the divorce decree.

Temporary Orders

When a person files for divorce in Arizona, the judge may need to issue temporary orders (pendente lite orders) that will be in place as the divorce moves forward. This is much more likely to occur if there are minor children involved or if one spouse has significant unmet financial needs. These temporary orders can revolve around child custody, alimony, child support, who stays in the marital home while the divorce is ongoing, etc.

The Issues That Must be Finalized

There are various issues that must be finalized before the divorce decree can be signed. Some of these have briefly been mentioned above.

Child Custody

If there are children under the age of 18, then custody issues are inevitable. This involves both physical and legal custody. Physical custody revolves around which parent the child lives with. Legal custody involves which parent gets to make life decisions for the child, including schooling, religious upbringing, medical decisions, etc. For both physical and joint custody, parents can share custody, or one parent can have sole custody.

Child Support

Child support is mandatory in Arizona. All child support payments are processed through the Support Payment Clearinghouse, and typically, the total amount paid by the non-custody spouse will not be up for negotiation. Arizona uses the Income Shares Model, which considers the income of both parents and then calculates how much the non-custodial parent should pay the custodial parent.

Property Division

Arizona is a Community property state, which means that both spouses equally own anything acquired during the course of the marriage. This includes property, income, and debt. Property division can be complicated, and must be resolved before the divorce decree can be signed.

Spousal Maintenance

The courts in Arizona do have the power to require one spouse to pay alimony to another spouse for specified amounts of time. This spousal maintenance is designed to help a lower-earning spouse complete the training or education necessary for them to enter the workforce and support themselves. Spousal maintenance is meant to be rehabilitative and not typically permanent. Spousal maintenance could be ordered for a longer period of time for marriages that were long-term and where one spouse was dependent on the other during the course of the marriage.

The Discovery Process

If the divorce is going to a trial, then there will be a process called “discovery.” This is when evidence will be gathered by both parties’ legal teams. During the discovery process, you and your attorney can ask the other spouse to answer written questions and to hand over certain documents. Depending on the length of the marriage and the complexity of the divorce and assets, discovery could be shorter or longer.

Mediation

As mentioned above, there are situations where mediation will occur in order to attempt to resolve disagreements before a trial becomes necessary. Usually, a judge will not schedule a divorce until both spouses have at least attempted mediation. These mediators are neutral third parties that will not give legal advice. Individuals are not required to settle with their spouses at mediation.

Trial

If the issues cannot be resolved before trial becomes necessary, then the judge will get to hear both sides. The judge will listen to testimony, listen to witnesses, and examine documents. A judge will issue a final order that must be adhered to.

Signing the Divorce Decree

Regardless of whether or not a divorce involved a trial, there will be a final divorce decree signed that has the force of law.

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