Dissolving most marriages can become a complicated process touching on areas from finances to custody, with vast differences in legal requirements from state to state. Here is a general overview of Arizona law.
Must You Retain an Attorney?
Many individuals are capable of completing paperwork necessary in litigating dissolution, and required forms are available free of charge at some court Internet sites. Consulting an attorney to review documents, however, will help ensure that important matters are adequately addressed.
Possible Alternatives to Divorce
An annulment is permitted in Arizona only in situations where there are grounds for the marriage to be voided, such as marriage between relatives or an underage party, or marriage under duress or fraud. It is not the same as a religious annulment. Couples wanting to avoid divorce for religious reasons can formulate legal separation agreements.
Grounds for Divorce
Arizona is a no-fault state where grounds are not required before pursuing a dissolution, and only one party must assert that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Couples must be state residents for 90 days before filing a petition and live separately for 60 days prior to the divorce being finalized. Each petition automatically triggers an immediate preliminary injunction prohibiting sale of community property and requires that children not be removed from the state. Couples joined under a covenant marriage must cite grounds and undergo two-year waiting periods to dissolve the relationship.
If the respondent does not contest the dissolution, a consent decree will be issued incorporating the conditions the petitioning spouse requested. Often, couples are amenable to proceeding under consent decrees because this procedure minimizes both legal expenses and emotional upheaval. A spouses who does not want the divorce can request that the court order a conciliation meeting. Whether the respondent contests all the terms of the dissolution or just portions, the parties are permitted to mediate or negotiate terms before trial.
The divorce decree always addresses major matters such as property, custody, and support. If there is urgency involved in an issue, for example, the custodial parent refuses to let the non-custodial parent have visitation with the children, an attorney can request a temporary order. People who fear an estranged spouse might become violent can request orders of protection.
Property and Debts
In community property states such as Arizona, marital assets and debts are allocated evenly between the two parties. However, sometimes assets are not marital property. Property either bestowed as an individual gift during the relationship or purchased prior to the marriage remains individual property and is not subject to distribution.
Custody and Support
Some parents can keep their children's best interests in mind and quickly formulate agreements governing shared custody and visitation. Even for partners with amicable parenting arrangements, both parties must attend mandatory classes, however. Other parents require mediation to achieve resolution. If that fails, a judge will decide these matters.
Child and spousal support are separate issues. The state Department of Economic Security will assist parents in creating child support orders; state guidelines establish payments. Often, tax considerations are involved; child support is not taxable to the recipient, while spousal support is. Other tax ramifications after divorce include filing status and which spouse will claim dependents.
With the recent rapid escalation of medical costs, healthcare expenses often become major controversies in dissolutions. The decree likely will address who will provide health insurance and for how long, as well as who has responsibility for paying non-covered expenses.
The divorce is considered finalized after the judge signs the decree, but either party can return to court and request a modification if he or she later becomes dissatisfied with a requirement in the divorce order. Women may retain their married surname if they wish, but can revert to a previous name as part of the decree.
Remember, this article offers a general overview of Arizona divorce law. Consult a local attorney for specific advice.