When marital problems turn your thoughts to the possibility of divorce, ordinary activities become more complicated. A spouse’s absence is increasingly awkward to explain away to the children, other family members, friends, and coworkers. Concentrating at work becomes more difficult because of unmanageable stress at home.
If you live in Arizona and are contemplating a divorce, or if your spouse has already served you with court papers, then you need the advice and representation of an experienced Phoenix divorce attorney (or “marriage attorney”). In many ways, your future and the impact of divorce on your children will depend upon the decisions you now must make.
Our team of dedicated Phoenix divorce lawyers always takes a personalized approach. Every family law solution involves careful consideration of a client’s unique circumstances. An attorney with Stewart Law Group will listen to your side of the story and discuss your goals. On accepting the case, your attorney will invest the time necessary to really learn about you and your concerns, about the children and their needs, and about your financial situation.
From there, your Arizona divorce attorney will strategize and develop legal solutions to resolve:
All with the best potential for a favorable outcome for you and your children.
What is a divorce? Well, from a legal standpoint, divorce is the method of terminating a marriage contract between spouses. Divorce gives parties the right to determine the future care and custody of their children; the right to divide their marital assets and debts; the right to arrange for child support and spousal maintenance (similar to alimony). Lastly, with the divorce final each is free to marry someone new.
While state laws vary in how they address these issues, the basic principles courts follow when considering requests for divorce are relatively uniform. If you are thinking about filing for divorce in Arizona, then speak to an attorney with our law firm. Every case accepted receives personal attention, careful meticulous preparation, skilled negotiation, and aggressive litigation. Our legal team of marriage attorneys will achieve the best possible solutions for you and protect your marital assets.
Before deciding on divorce, set time aside to learn how the dissolution of marriage proceeds in family court and the key issues that must be addressed. Divorce is uncharted territory for most people and can be intimidating, another reason to hire an experienced Phoenix divorce attorney in your area to guide you through each proceeding. Absorbing accurate information about the process could ease your anxieties considerably. At Stewart Law Group we have a wealth of knowledge and can help you deal with any type of divorce situation you might be dealing with including:
No matter what the circumstances at Stewart Law Group we can assist you, whether it be a contested or uncontested divorce.
One court rule tells us how to notify the other party of the divorce filing – Rule 4, Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 4, the divorce petition and court summons must be served on the other spouse for what is known as “service of process.” What if the service is improper? If the other party is not served as required by law, then the court’s orders are invalid and unenforceable! Service of process must be done right, whether the other party is served in Arizona or out-of-state.
Proper service is essential for the case to advance. The opposing party (the other spouse) is entitled to the legal notice of a lawsuit so a response can be filed within the requisite time period protecting that spouse’s rights and interests. Service of process ensures fairness in the proceedings. “Proof of service” is evidence filed with the court showing the other party was properly served by one of Rule 4’s methods:
Once the opposing party has been served with the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and summons, that spouse has 20 days to file a written response (30 days if served out-of-state). An extension of time is possible, so talk to a lawyer. The other party’s response acknowledges the divorce procedure has begun.
Before a divorce will be granted, there needs to be a clean slate. Matters of spousal maintenance, assignment of separate assets, division of community property and pensions, legal decision-making authority and parenting plans, and child support obligations, must all be resolved. Divorcing spouses who agree to a settlement, in writing, on all of those issues are likely to be granted an uncontested divorce, which avoids adversarial litigation and trial because there are no disputed issues for the court to decide. Settlement negotiations are an integral part of the divorce process.
Conversely, if spouses do not reach agreement on all the basic issues, then a contested divorce ensues. If the respondent disputes any matter raised in the petition, then the divorce is contested. In that instance, the parties proceed through all phases of litigation. The spouses may voluntarily participate in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), such as mediation, or they may be ordered into ADR by the court. Spouses with children will be required to participate in mediation.
Settled issues are removed from the trial agenda, while all outstanding issues are decided after a bench trial before the judge. There is no jury in an Arizona divorce trial! If a party disagrees with the trial court’s final judgment, then a timely appeal may be filed. Your Stewart Law Group attorney can handle the appeal as well.
First, certain statements in the divorce petition must be verified, meaning Petitioner swears under oath all statements are true, correct, and complete to the best of Petitioner’s knowledge and belief. Required verified statements include:
When seeking specific relief, the Petitioner may ask for joint legal decision-making or sole legal decision-making, and proposed parenting time schedule (including a request the other party have supervised parenting time). The Petitioner asks the court to assign each spouse his and her separate property and to divide all of their community property. The court is asked to order each party to pay marital debts as requested in the petition, and asked to “order each party to pay any and all other community debts unknown to the other party.” In many instances, the Petitioner will have specific requests for additional court orders.
Do you desire to change your name? To have your previous last name or maiden name restored, including a name change request in the petition. A former spouse may seek a name change after the divorce is entered, too, by filing an Application for Change of Name for an Adult as a separate civil action.
Before going any further, you need to know about the preliminary injunction in effect upon commencement of divorce proceedings. The preliminary injunction is a court order limiting the parties’ activities during the pendency of their divorce. This is an important protective measure. ARS § 25-315. Unless the other spouse consents in writing or permission is granted by the judge, each spouse is prohibited from taking unilateral action against the marital estate, among other things. Here are some examples of prohibited actions:
The settlement process in divorce is up next. Take a look.
In Arizona, every family law case is heard and tried by a Superior Court judge. Issues involving spousal maintenance, child custody and access, asset and debt division, and child support must be resolved before the divorce will be granted and a final divorce decree entered. Any or all of those key matters may be resolved by agreement and made binding on both parties. Rule 69, Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure (ARFLP).
Whenever spouses enter into a complete separation agreement addressing every issue in the case, their uncontested divorce avoids litigation. There’s no trial. A consent decree is entered by the family law judge and the marriage is dissolved.
What about a partial agreement? With partial agreement, the divorce proceeds through all phases of litigation, including trial. Because the settlement process is so important to the case, both spouses are expected to try their best to negotiate one solution at a time. By resolving what they can, they reduce the issues the judge must decide for them.
Throughout divorce, parties may participate in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), such as mediation. The spouses may do so voluntarily or they may be ordered into ADR by the judge. Mediating parenting plan matters is typical, either through the court’s Conciliation Services or a private mediator arranged by the parents with their attorneys’ assistance and judge’s approval.
Settled issues are removed from the trial agenda, while all outstanding issues are decided after a bench trial before the judge. There is no jury in an Arizona divorce trial! Should a party disagree with the family court’s final judgment or order, then a timely appeal may be filed. Your Stewart Law Group attorney can handle the appeal as well.
Default divorces are not uncommon in Arizona, particularly among spouses with no minor children. A default divorce could result from an “off the record” agreement between them. When in complete agreement on all family matters, the other party may simply refrain from filing a response. In other words, he or she has made a conscious decision to not file an answer to the divorce petition.
With no responsive pleading filed by the other spouse (who was properly served with process under Rule 4), the Petitioner files an Application and Affidavit for Default and waits at least 10 business days. The Petitioner must mail or hand-deliver a copy of the filed application and affidavit to the other party. Thereafter, the Petitioner schedules and appears at a default hearing. (Filing a request for default decree without hearing is possible in some instances.) The petitioner brings all required court papers to the hearing:
If the motion is granted, then the divorce process continues by mail. Once all documents are submitted and the court’s review process is complete, the default divorce is ordered and the final decree mailed to both parties.
Divorce often impacts employer-provided group health and dental insurance coverage for dependents. Insurance availability, terms of coverage, and replacement costs should be factored into the spouses’ divorce just like assets and debts are. For example, health insurance coverage should be discussed when parties negotiate spousal maintenance or a parenting plan for their children.
Furthermore, if a spouse’s employer is subject to the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) provisions, and not all employers are, then after the divorce is final health insurance coverage may be continued for dependents (children and a former spouse) as qualified beneficiaries. Both divorce and legal separation are qualifying events triggering COBRA.
As a qualified beneficiary under COBRA, the non-employee-spouse has the right to pay the premiums and continue under the former spouse’s employer-provided group health insurance. Insurance coverage can continue under COBRA for 18 months, 29 months, even 36 months after the divorce, depending upon the circumstances.
COBRA requires proper notice of the divorce or legal separation followed by an election period. The employee-spouse, non-employee spouse, or qualifying dependent must notify the group health benefit plan administrator. Thereafter, the qualified beneficiary must be given an election period of at least 60 days to choose continued health care coverage under the group plan or not.
The health benefit provisions in COBRA amended the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Internal Revenue Code, and the Public Health Service Act.
Maricopa County Superior Court has a website with do-it-yourself court forms for divorce and many other civil matters. Every spouse should consult with a Phoenix divorce lawyer before making important decisions about child custody, property division, and financial support. If you prefer to handle your divorce without legal representation from a divorce or paternity lawyer, then you can utilize these forms. Learn more about getting a DIY divorce in Arizona.
The Arizona Judicial Branch has a historical repository of divorce and child custody guidelines available to the public. ASU’s family law research guide also has information about divorce, child custody, child support, and spousal maintenance obligations in Arizona.
We also provide a FREE e-divorce handbook called The 7 Must-Do Items for Divorce Planning for more information on how to get started on a divorce, and other important information regarding divorce in Arizona.
“My attorney, Christa Banfield, was more knowledgeable and responsive than I ever imagined a lawyer would be. The divorce process is a long, complicated, nerve-racking endeavor where you can feel that the law isn’t fair and that you might lose everything, but Christa remained a confident, calming influence throughout the entire process. From my initial consultation to the final decree, I was sure that Christa had my interests protected. She is intelligent, honest and straightforward in her advice; exactly what you need a lawyer to be. She astutely informed me about my options and guided me through tough times where I focused more on emotion than logic. I suppose no one ever really “wins” in a divorce, but I am completely satisfied with Christa’s representation and recommend her highly to anyone going through this difficult process.”
Rating: 5/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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Stewart Law Group
202 E Earll Dr Ste 160
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Remember, the choice you make in hiring a family law attorney will greatly impact the outcome of your divorce proceedings. We help clients navigate complicated family law and divorce issues such as unmarried step-parent rights. Contact Stewart Law Group in Arizona today at 602-548-3400.
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