In Arizona, the divorce procedure for married couples without children (also called a “non covenant marriage”) usually follows a predictable set of legal steps that ultimately result in the Court’s official ruling to end the marriage. There will always be unique variables, such as a prenuptial agreement in Arizona, and not all stages are necessary included in every divorce. However, this step-by-step overview provides a fairly accurate snapshot of what to expect when going through a divorce where no children are involved.
Some divorces begin with a Legal Separation. In these cases, there is often hope that the marriage can be saved, making a divorce feel unnecessary. For the legal separation to be enacted, it must be petitioned for by one party and decided by the Court, whereupon a Decree for Separation will be implemented. This decree may specify matters such as spousal maintenance; however, all legal rights and responsibilities that resulted from the marriage remain unaltered, clearly differentiating it from legal divorce. Furthermore, the decree sets out expectations for property division in Arizona, as all assets still legally belong to both parties. If a petition for legal separation is contested or skipped altogether, the next step is…
…Petition for Divorce/Dissolution of Marriage. In order for divorce proceedings to begin, its dissolution must first be petitioned for by one party (the Petitioner) and delivered to the other party (the Respondent). The Petitioner must serve the Respondent within 120 days of filing the Petition for Dissolution. Once the petition documents are served, the Respondent has a deadline to file a response to the Petition for Dissolution (this ranges form 20-30 days depending on whether the Respondent lives in- or out-of-state; another option is for the Respondent to sign an Acceptance of Service form). If the Respondent does not respond to the petition within the given time, the divorce may proceed to court by default.
A Default Hearing occurs when the Court decides to hear a divorce case and grant the Petitioner’s requests without the Respondent being present/participating. This may only be done when no written response was received from the Respondent, and the default hearing may only be set after 61 days of the Petition for Dissolution being served (state law requires that no divorce case may begin until after 60 of the petition’s service has passed). The Respondent has 10 days to respond to a Notice of Default, otherwise the trail proceeds and the Judge hands down a final judgment and a Decree for Dissolution. Should the Respondent so choose, a Motion to Set Aside Default may be filed, and the process is reset. If the Respondent did respond to the Petition for Dissolution within the allotted time, the case either goes to trial or terms for the divorce may be settled through other outlets, such as divorce mediation in Arizona or with the assistance of a family attorney. When spouses settle the terms of their divorce without a trial, it is called a Negotiated Settlement. In such cases…
…a Consent Decree will be signed and filed by the Court. A Petition for Dissolution must still be completed, and there is a waiting period of 64 days from the petition form being filed to the Consent Decree being allowed for consideration. Once signed by the judge, the Consent Decree will assign assets and property as per marital property rights in Arizona, as well as the agreed upon spousal maintenance, as per Arizona Supreme Court Guidelines for monetary calculations. (see below: During the Trial)
If the case goes to trial, some parties may feel it necessary to file for Temporary Orders. These detail matters such as where each party will stay during the hearing, how shared bills will be paid, and what type of behavior each must exhibit. However, to save the Court’s time and minimize personal stress, it is the best interest of both parties to work these matters out on their own. Temporary Orders are typically only used in divorces with children where the Court automatically issues them to determine issues such as parenting time and legal decision-making in Arizona.
Before the trial, there is a Discovery Process where the Petitioner and the Respondent may present facts and/or evidence to support their individual cases. Sometimes quick and painless, sometimes dragged-out and costly, the discovery process can either be done informally with lawyers (which is always less expensive), or in the following three forms:
- Request for Production: Asking the spouse to produce documents.
- Interragorities: Sending a list of questions requiring mandatory written answers.
- Deposition: Asking spouses and other relevant parties questions under oath. Typically takes place in a lawyer’s office, with the lawyer asking questions and a court reporter taking a transcript. Advance notice of a deposition must be provided so both parties may prepare.
During the Trial, both parties will present their cases to the judge with the help of a divorce attorney in Phoenix. Testimonies, witness, and documents (or “exhibits”) may be presented as evidence. Here, the matter of Spousal Maintenance in Arizona will be decided by the Judge. The allocation of spousal maintenance is meant to help the receiving party maintain a suitable lifestyle and standard of living not unlike, but not necessarily the same standards of, what they became accustomed to during the marriage. The judge will consider things like the ability of the receiving party to support him/herself through employment, the earnings of both spouses during the marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, and the length of the marriage, to name a few. Property Division in Arizona will also be determined. Arizona is a “Community Property” state, meaning all property and debt acquired from the first day of marriage to the cut-off date is considered equally shared. As such, the Court tends to equally divide the community, joint tenancies, and other shared properties- even if there was misconduct on behalf of one of the parties. However, the Court may order specific responsibility of a certain property or debt to one of the parties. Even so, both parties are still responsible for the extended relationships attached to these assets and/or debts, such as banks, credit unions, medical companies, etc.
Putting the fate of a divorce in the hands of a judge is always a risk, as they are human beings with personal viewpoints handing down decisions on incredibly intimate and personal matters such as the division of income and the general restructuring of lifestyles. And even once the ruling is handed down and Decree of Dissolution is issued to finalize the divorce, the case may not be closed: decisions can always be appealed to a higher court and motions to modify can be filed, thereby extending the process- and all of its costs- out further.
Divorce is never easy, even when there are no children are involved. Whatever route a particular divorce takes, the dedicated and aggressive divorce attorneys at Simon Law Group of AZ can help. From free one-on-one consultations right through to bench trials, the attorneys at Simon Law Group are committed to getting fast and fair results for all clients. Call 480-745-2450 to speak with a divorce lawyer from Phoenix 24 hours a day.