Divorce proceedings can be considerably hectic, not only because of the fact that they are indicative of the end of a union, but also because they usually involve numerous steps and requirements.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that the divorce process is different in every state. The laws and regulations of some states allow couples to divorce over the internet, a process that most couples favor given the fact that online divorce is fast and affordable. Online divorce is also a more convenient method, as the documents can be completed, signed, and submitted from any part of the country, or the world for that matter. This also comes in handy in reducing the cost of the divorce.
Regardless of the method you are using to get a divorce, there is some basic information that remains the same. We want to help make your divorce in Arizona easier to understand by sharing some important information that you need to know.
Before filing for a divorce, a couple must first meet the general residency requirements for the state of Arizona. Arizona requires that at least one of the spouses lives in the state for at least 90 days before filing for divorce.
As long as the residency requirements are met, the couple may then proceed with filing the proper forms for their case.
Legal basis for Marriage Dissolution
The state of Arizona has been recognized as a no-fault state. As such, the spouses are not required to demonstrate blame or assign responsibility in order to dissolve a marriage. For a normal marriage, a couple only needs to state that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” In other words, the marriage isn’t working and it can’t be fixed.
Please note, however, that this only applies so long as the couple hasn’t entered into a covenant marriage.
In the case of covenant marriage, the dissolution would be granted on the basis of:
- a felony offense that has imprisonment or death sentence
- sexual or physical abuse
- abandonment for a minimum of a year prior to filing for divorce
- separation for a minimum of two consecutive years prior to filing
- regular substance abuse
Filing for Divorce
The first step of the actual divorce process is filing for the divorce. One of the spouses (known as the petitioner) must complete and file the divorce papers (including the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage) with the Superior Court within the county that they live. There will be a mandatory filing fee that must be paid at the time of the submission in order to begin the process.
The petitioner is then expected to serve a copy of the paperwork to the respondent (non-filing spouse). You can serve your documents by having a deputy sheriff or a process server (non-party over 18) deliver them to your spouse.
The respondent will then have the option to respond to the petition. If they live in Arizona they are given 20 days from the date of service to file a response. If they live out of the state, they are given 30 days to respond.
The court requires a 60 day waiting period following service of court papers prior to granting dissolution. In cases where the notice goes unanswered within the stipulated timeframe, it would be considered an uncontested divorce and the petitioner’s requests can be granted by default at the end of the 60 day waiting period. The petitioner is required to file an application form called Notice of Default or Application for Default, which would be served to the respondent.
If the respondent does respond, there are basically two ways things can move forward – as contested or uncontested.
Couples that have decided to divorce amicably and have reached an agreement on all the terms of their divorce, need to draw up and sign a settlement agreement defining all the key points of their separation. At the end of the 60 day waiting period, they can then file a joint Consent Decree for Dissolution of Marriage asking for the judge to sign the order officially ending the marriage.
The advantage of an uncontested divorce is that it can very well be taken care of as an divorce online saving on costs associated with attorney fees and court visits. Nevertheless, as much as the DIY divorce option offers many advantages, you may still need to consult an attorney to ensure that you are doing everything correctly.
If your divorce moves forward as a contested divorce, because your spouse either does not want to get divorced or does not agree with you about some of the terms of the divorce, you will definitely need to hire an attorney and prepare yourself for the possibility of a long and difficult divorce process with lots of court hearings and possibly a brutal trial.
Contested or not, the issues that need to be addressed in any marriage include property division (all assets and debts of the marriage), spousal maintenance, and child custody and support.
One of the most contentious issues in cases of divorce is property division. Arizona is recognized as a community property state. This means that the court will divide the marital property (any property obtained during the marriage) fairly, which does not necessarily mean equally (50/50). Separate property (not of the marriage), which includes anything obtained by the couple before the marriage as well as any gifts or inheritances given to just one of the spouses during the marriage, stays with the owner.
If the couple has agreed on an equitable split of the marital property on their own, the court will usually accept this agreement. If they cannot agree, the court will decide how the marital property should be split for them. For the most part, the state of Arizona will keep the division of property close to a 50/50 split, but in cases where one spouse is guilty of irresponsible spending or waste, leading to debt or unfairly hurting the financial situation of the other spouse, the judge will consider something other than a 50/50 split to be more fair. That way the more responsible spouse doesn’t have to suffer for the reckless actions of the other.
Factors such as marital misconduct typically do not have any bearing on property division, although courts could consider abnormal or excessive utilization of the property such as concealment, destruction, and acts of fraud.
Arizona courts may order maintenance (also known as alimony or spousal support) for either of the spouses based on the fulfillment of certain stipulated conditions listed below.
- If the spouse is deficient of property that would provide for reasonable needs.
- If it is impossible for the spouse to be autonomous via a suitable occupation or if the spouse is unable to work because they are the custodian of a child with special needs.
- If the spouse is seeking educational opportunities they were unable to achieve during the marriage.
Spousal support can also be awarded in cases where the requesting spouse had a lengthy marriage and is at an age that precludes them from gainful employment that would be sufficient for self-maintenance.
Child Support and Custody
Children caught in the crossfire of a divorce are also significantly impacted by the event. In the case of child custody, the Arizona court makes a determination on the basis of the welfare and best interests of the child. Nevertheless, varying factors would be considered in this regard, including:
- The preference of the child with regard to the custodian
- Th wishes of the parents
- Adjustment of the children to community, home and school
- The physical and mental health of the stakeholders
- Interrelationship and interaction between the child and their parents, siblings, and other people that could have a bearing on their best interest
- The likelihood of the parents to allow the other parent to have meaningful and regular contact with the child
- Provision of primary care for the child
- Any history of child abuse or domestic violence
The court assumes that the parents know what is best for their child, so if the parents can come up with their own agreement on child custody, the court will usually favor that agreement. The parents would be required to submit a proposed parenting plan, including specifics pertaining to the responsibilities and rights pertaining to the care of the child, as well as decisions pertaining to healthcare, education, and other elements of the life of the child, and a visitation schedule.
In instances where the couple cannot agree over the custody of the children, the court will make their own conclusion based on every relevant factor. The court may grant either sole or joint custody.
Child support, on the other hand, would be determined on the basis of the Income Shares Model which takes into consideration both parents’ gross income. Either of the parents could be ordered to pay child support irrespective of marital misconduct.
Varying factors would be considered when determining on the appropriate amount of child support to be awarded, including:
- The needs and financial resources necessary for the child
- A medical support plan for the children
- The noncustodial parent’s financial needs and resources
- The emotional and physical health of the child
- The educational needs of the child
- The standard of living that the child would have been provided if the marriage had remained intact.
Child support typically lasts until the child reaches the age of 18 and has completed secondary school, but it could continue past this date in cases where the child has been physically or mentally disabled to the extent that he or she is incapable of living independently.