Filing for Legal Separation in Arizona - Legal Separation vs Divorce - Learn How to File for Legal Separation in Arizona

Legal Separation in AZ

Legal separation in Arizona is not the same as divorce and understandably is one of those family law topics people sometimes find confusing. Actually, it really is quite simple. The result of legal separation in Arizona is essentially the same as divorce, but for one very important thing – the parties cannot marry other people because they are still married to each other. And as with a divorce, sometimes it can get complicated and that’s where a legal separation attorney can help.


How to File for Legal Separation in Arizona

Legal Separation ArizonaLegal separation is not divorce. However, despite the marriage remaining intact, filing for legal separation in Arizona is almost the same as divorce proceedings, here’s how.

To file for legal separation in Arizona you must obtain a decree of legal separation, which is a petition that is filed by one spouse and then answered by the other. Hearings are held for temporary orders, including child support and parenting time. Spouses then negotiate a separation agreement. If an agreement can’t be reached there may be a trial and the family law judge makes determinations and enters final orders. A family lawyer can help mediate the process in any of these steps.

Spouses filing for legal separation may participate in mediation to resolve issues, including the terms of their parenting plan. Legal decision-making and parenting time must be determined, often after a child custody evaluation. Child support is calculated using the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. Spousal maintenance may be awarded to support the economically dependent party. Community assets and debts are divided (discussed below). But the marriage is not dissolved.

The fact that the marriage continues after the decree of legal separation is entered could, at least arguably, influence the proceedings in the sense the spouses could reconcile someday. Yet that is not a factor the court considers in, for example, determining which parent the children will live with most of the time. Reconciliation is always a possibility given it’s a legal separation, not a dissolution of marriage.

A quick note about legal expenses. Because essentially the same family court proceedings take place with both divorce and legal separation, expect the cost to be comparable as well. Take a look at our money-saving tips for Arizona divorce and for hiring a lawyer; they apply equally to saving money in your legal separation.


Legal Separation Is Not Annulment

Legal separation is not a quickie divorce. Nor is legal separation some kind of annulment. In Arizona, annulment is only available in cases where the marriage was adjudged “null and void” because some impediment rendered the marriage void or invalid. For example, bigamy renders a second marriage void because the first marriage was never legally dissolved. (Bigamy is also a crime.) In contrast to an annulment, legal separation can only be obtained from a valid marriage. That spouses are unwilling, unable, or reticent to divorce, choosing to legally separate instead, does not diminish the validity of their marriage in any way.

A Phoenix divorce lawyer can help you navigate the differences in each of these scenarios vs a legal separation in Arizona. Contact us.

Arizona’s Legal Separation Statute

Legal Separation Lawyer Phoenix ArizonaThe Arizona legal separation statute is ARS § 25-313 which sets forth the findings necessary for the court to award a decree of legal separation:

The court shall enter a decree of legal separation if it finds each of the following:
1. That one of the parties at the time the action was commenced was domiciled in this state or was stationed in this state while a member of the armed services.
2. The conciliation provisions of § 25-381.09 and the provisions of article 5 of this chapter either do not apply or have been met.
3. The marriage is irretrievably broken or one or both of the parties desire to live separate and apart or, if the marriage is a covenant marriage, any of the grounds prescribed in § 25-904.
4. The other party does not object to a decree of legal separation. If the other party objects to a decree of legal separation, on one of the parties meeting the required domicile for dissolution of marriage, the court shall direct that the pleadings be amended to seek a dissolution of the marriage.
5. To the extent it has jurisdiction to do so, the court has considered, approved or made provisions for child custody, the support of any natural or adopted child common to the parties of the marriage entitled to support, the maintenance of either spouse and the disposition of the property.

In what is a no fault legal separation (as with no fault divorce), the court will enter the decree if the marriage is irretrievably broken.


Physical Separation or Legal Separation?

When a marriage is in real trouble, many people assume the only option is to file for an immediate divorce. (Sometimes because they’ve been told the “first to file wins.”) Not so. Many spouses separate and live apart, at least for a time, and reflect. As a first step, physical separation happens because there are genuine problems in the marriage, but it is not necessarily irretrievably broken.

One spouse’s moving out of the marital home is always an alternative to divorce. Maintaining two residences could be a temporary solution to the couple’s problems (a trial separation period), which could become a permanent separation when spouses are estranged.

Trial separation either results in reconciliation or it does not. Regardless, the experience typically solidifies the spouses’ decision on whether to petition for dissolution of marriage or petition for legal separation. The day their trial separation began is often the official date for dividing the marital estate in the legal proceedings thereafter.

By separating permanently the spouses exhibit no intent to reconcile and get back together. When the break-up is reasonably amicable, each spouse takes his or her separate property along with a fair portion of the community property. They often work out informal agreements over a number of family matters, from childcare arrangements to paying the household bills.

In Arizona, separated spouses still own an equal share of community property and are still equally responsible for community debts. They retain equal ownership of the marital estate, regardless of whether property is titled in one spouse’s name or in both names. On the one hand, the spouses may remain physically separated and married until death, never taking legal action (“until death do us part”). On the other hand, either spouse may petition the Superior Court for Maricopa County, or some other, for a decree of legal separation.


What Should You Know Before You Get Divorced in Arizona

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What is an ARS 25-317 Separation Agreement?

A Separation Agreement, as defined by ARS 25-317, is a written document that can be created by married couples who wish to resolve any disputes in a peaceful manner upon their separation or divorce. The agreement outlines various provisions such as the distribution of property owned by either party, financial support for either party, and arrangements for child support, custody, and visitation. It serves as a way for couples to come to a mutual agreement regarding these important matters without the need for court intervention. It is worth noting that a Separation Agreement can include a clause that states its maintenance terms cannot be changed.

Binding Nature of Separation Agreements in Arizona

In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation, the terms of the separation agreement, except those providing for the support, custody, and parenting time of children, are binding on the court unless it finds, after considering the economic circumstances of the parties and any other relevant evidence produced by the parties, on their own motion or on request of the court, that the separation agreement is unfair.

Court Actions Regarding Separation Agreements

If the court finds the separation agreement unfair as to the disposition of property or maintenance, it may request the parties to submit a revised separation agreement or may make orders for the disposition of property or maintenance.

If the court finds that the separation agreement is not unfair as to the disposition of property or maintenance and that it is reasonable as to support, custody, and parenting time of children, the separation agreement shall be set forth or incorporated by reference in the decree of dissolution or legal separation and the parties shall be ordered to perform them. If the separation agreement provides that its terms shall not be set forth in the decree, the decree shall identify the separation agreement as incorporated by reference and state that the court has found the terms as to property disposition and maintenance not unfair and the terms as to support, custody and parenting time of children reasonable.

Enforceability and Modification of Separation Agreement

The terms of a separation agreement that are outlined or referenced in a court decree are legally enforceable through any means available for enforcing a court judgment, such as contempt. However, modifications to the terms of the decree and any property settlement agreement are generally not allowed after entry of the decree, with the exception of terms related to maintenance, support, custody, and parenting time of children. Additionally, if a separation agreement contains a clause stating that its maintenance terms cannot be modified, the court is prevented from modifying those terms even if the decree was entered before July 20, 1996.

First Steps to Legal Separation in Arizona

Similar to a decree of divorce, a decree of legal separation is enforceable as a final judgment. Either party can seek to enforce court orders (as when a party is ordered to pay monthly spousal support for a number of years, but has not done so). A decree of legal separation is one step short of divorce, yet it’s a big step.

With a legal separation, the marriage remains intact, but every other issue is decided just as if they divorced. This type of separation is officially recognized when the judge makes a ruling on the division of property, spousal maintenance, child custody, and child support. Although legal separations are less common than divorces, filing for legal separation involves essentially the same steps as filing for a divorce. Download our free e-book, Getting Started: 7 Must-Do Items for Divorce Planning. Learn what you need to do initially to pursue either legal separation or divorce.

Legal Separation Requires Community Property Division

When it comes to the disposition of property in Arizona legal separation, follows the same law as with divorce. ARS § 25-318(A) provides in pertinent part:

In a proceeding for dissolution of the marriage, or for legal separation, … the court shall assign each spouse’s sole and separate property to such spouse. … [I]t shall also divide the community, joint tenancy and other property held in common equitably, though not necessarily in kind, without regard to marital misconduct. For the purposes of this section only, property acquired by either spouse outside this state shall be deemed to be community property if the property would have been community property if acquired in this state.
[Emphasis added.]

What are the consequences of a decree of legal separation in Arizona?

When court proceedings result in a final decree of legal separation, property acquired after the petition was filed will be the separate property of the spouse who acquired it. In other words, there is no further accumulation of community property once the decree is entered. Understand that the spouses may still buy real estate together as joint tenants or tenants in common, for instance, just as other competent adults can do. But any post-petition property acquisitions are separate assets and debts, not community.

Why file for a legal separation in Arizona? 

Why not get a divorce if the only difference in the outcome is the ability or inability to marry somebody else? There are several reasons why legal separation is chosen over divorce. For some spouses, it is not about being free to remarry. Religious beliefs may prevent them from dissolving their marriage, leaving legal separation as the only alternative when things go sour.

Maintaining health insurance for the spouse who’s employer does not provide that benefit may be another reason. This may be an option, for instance, when the supported spouse is a stay-at-home parent and the children’s primary caregiver. By staying married, the employed parent can continue insurance coverage by paying premiums for the other spouse, despite their having been legally separated. (Check and make sure the health insurer will cover both spouses after legal separation.)

Many people have strong beliefs about children growing up with their still-married parents. Religious beliefs aside, parents may reject the notion of a “blended family.” So long as both parents are still living, they prefer their children be raised inside the marriage without any possibility of a future step-mother or step-father.

Which Is Best, Divorce or Legal Separation?

Legal separation is a choice. If spouses are uncertain about divorce, they may obtain a decree of legal separation. They can hold back from obtaining a divorce decree for personal reasons, whatever those may be.

Depending upon religious, financial, and various personal factors, divorce may not be the best option for a couple struggling in their marriage. Those factors directly influence the type of separation a couple ultimately pursues. A legal separation has the same requirements as divorce, including custody issues, property division, child support, and other financial matters.

Benefits of Legal Separation in Arizona: 
  1. If your religious beliefs forbid divorce, legal separation is a good option. 
  2. You can keep your finances separate without fearing responsibility for the spouse’s future debt. 
  3. Removes the stress of negotiating divorce agreements. 
  4. Spouses cannot get remarried, so managing parenting with step-parents is out of the equation. 

A family lawyer can help in these matters by making sure all the eventualities are covered adequately. Should the other spouse object to legal separation, then the petition automatically converts to a dissolution petition. (Which the petitioner can also do at any time, even after the legal separation is finalized.)

The primary difference between divorce and legal separation, though, is that at the end of legal separation a person cannot remarry. Generally, a long separation does not cause a person to lose his or her rights. But it can diminish certain legal arguments, such as the need for spousal support. Or that a parent should have equal parenting time, yet he or she has not been an active participant in the children’s lives during the entire period of physical separation. Have a plan.

How to File for Legal Separation in Arizona Without Minor Children

  1. Consult a lawyer before filing out documents to avoid unexpected results. Family lawyers help to explain all options when filing for Legal Separation. 
  2. Fill out the following forms and make 2 copies (original set plus two copies): 
    1. “Summons”
    2. “Preliminary Injunctions” 
    3. “Petition for Legal Separation Without Minor Children”
    4. “Notice Regarding Creditors”
  3. Separate Your Documents into Three Sets.
  4. File your paperwork and pay the filing fee at the courthouse at least two hours before closing. 
  5. Serve papers on your spouse. 
  6. If your spouse does not want a Legal Separation, the court will not order a legal separation. The court can change the Petition for Legal Separation into a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (divorce), if for the last 90 days prior to filing the Petition for Legal Separation, you and your spouse lived in Arizona. 

How to File for Legal Separation in Arizona When Having Minor Children 

  1. Consult a legal separation lawyer before filing out documents to avoid unexpected results. A family lawyer can help to explain all options when filing for Legal Separation with minor children. 
  2. Complete the “Family Department Sensitive Data / Cover Sheet.”
  3. Complete the Child Support Worksheet online using ezCourtForms (Print 1 copy of the completed worksheet). 
  4. Make 2 copies of the following documents: 
    1. “Summons”
    2. “Preliminary Injunctions” 
    3. “Petition for Legal Separation with Minor Children”
    4. “Affidavit of Minor Children”
    5. “Order and Notice for the Parent Information Program” 
    6. “Notice Regarding Creditors”
    7. “Parenting Plan” 
    8. Child Support Worksheet” 
  5. Separate your documents into three sets. 
  6. Go to the courthouse and file your paperwork at least two hours before closing. 
  7. Serve papers on your spouse. 
  8. File Affidavit or Acceptance of Service as soon as your spouse is served. 
  9. If your spouse does not want a Legal Separation, the court will not order a legal separation. The court can change the Petition for Legal Separation into a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (divorce), if for the last 90 days prior to filing the Petition for Legal Separation, you and your spouse lived in Arizona. 

Legal Separation from Covenant Marriage

Do you have a covenant marriage?

Consult an attorney with the Stewart Law Group about whether legal separation or divorce from a covenant marriage is the better alternative given your specific circumstances. Everyone’s situation is unique.

More complicated, but not complex, legal separation from a covenant marriage has additional statutory requirements. Under <atarget=”_blank” href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>ARS § 25-904, the judge may enter a decree of legal separation from a covenant marriage after making any of the following findings:

1. The respondent spouse committed adultery;
2. The respondent spouse committed a felony with a sentence of death or imprisonment;
3. The respondent spouse abandoned the matrimonial domicile for a year or more;
4. The respondent spouse committed domestic violence or abuse;
5. The spouses have been living separately and apart continuously for at least two years;
6. The respondent’s habitual intemperance or ill treatment makes living together insupportable; or
7. The respondent habitually uses drugs or alcohol.

The petitioner, or innocent spouse, must allege one or more grounds for legal separation from a covenant marriage and prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence. All but one of the above-mentioned grounds requires an allegation of fault or marital misconduct.

<atarget=”_blank” href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Divorce from a covenant marriage also requires allegation of fault, but spouses may agree to divorce without any requirement that they live separate and apart for two or more years. This is an important distinction between legal separation and divorce from covenant marriage.


Property Settlement in Separation Agreements

With legal separation, all marital assets and debts are equally divided between the parties. In Arizona, assets and debts acquired during the couple’s marriage are presumed to belong to the community. Therefore, each spouse owns an undivided one-half interest in the assets and shares equal responsibility for marital debts. The court will divide community property equally between the parties unless there is reason for an unequal division (such as a separation agreement with different terms). The judge has broad discretion over the final division and distribution of community property. Knowing this, spouses often prefer to negotiate and arrive at a voluntary separation agreement.

The judge can depart from the presumed 50/50 split of community assets and debts when the couple has a separation agreement providing for an unequal division of their marital property. Every legal separation involves negotiation and settlement. Spouses may freely designate any of their assets as “community property” or “separate property.” Whenever a separation agreement is silent on an issue, however, the judge must make a determination that binds both parties.


Separate Property Is Not Divided in Legal Separation

Equitable Settlements in Arizona Divorce

Because separate property belongs to only one spouse, identifying separate assets and debts is the first step in determining what each party has the right to keep. A pre-marital asset will not lose its separate property character just because the owner later married.

Generally, the circumstances surrounding the asset’s acquisition will establish its character. Assets acquired before the marriage or given to one spouse during the marriage as a gift or inheritance are the separate assets of that party. What the spouse does with his or her assets thereafter may change the character, transmuting separate property into community property. The transmutation of property occurs by agreement between the spouses, by gift from one spouse to the other during the marriage, or by co-mingling separate property with marital property rendering it indistinguishable.

Always be mindful that if the other spouse wants a divorce, then the court cannot continue under the petition for legal separation. The case will be converted to a divorce or, alternatively, must be dismissed.

Talk to an experienced divorce attorney with Stewart Law Group about legal separation and the proceedings involved. Ask questions. Find out whether keeping the marriage intact or, alternatively, dissolving the marriage would be best given your specific circumstances.


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Video Transcription

There this is Erica Merrill, I’m the founder of Perfect Legal Video, and I’m very excited to have with us today attorney Melissa Bower. She is with the Stewart Law Group out of Phenix, Arizona, and they are a family law firm.

And she is here to tell us about herself and a little bit about how she handles family law and what she sees out there. We are very excited to welcome you to the show for the first time. Thanks for having me.

Absolutely. So can you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to become a lawyer in the first place?

Well, in all honesty, it was one of those things that I was always told I should be a lawyer and therefore I became a lawyer. I went to law school after graduating from undergrad, and then as I evolved through my law school career, I realized it’s really where I needed to be. Law school was one of the first places that I really, truly felt challenged and that I was getting, you know, gaining knowledge that I was never getting before, and then I actually never, ever intended on practicing family law. That was the furthest thing from my initial thoughts of my career. I was originally going to move on to as part of the environmental law aspect of the law.

I really enjoyed that. But then I moved to Philadelphia for a year with my fiancee, and I got a clerkship with a family court judge out there and just absolutely fell in love with the profession in that area of law.

Wow, that’s really that’s a great story, and it’s good to see that you have found your place, you’ve found the place that you love to be, and you’ve been here all this time. So I’m sure that within the years that you’ve been practicing in the family law area, they’ve seen a lot.

And I’m wondering, what are some of the questions that people tend to ask you first when they come in for that first consultation? And they are just now either they found out they’re getting divorced. It was, you know, might have been a surprise. It might be something that they’re planning on doing in the future. What are some of the things that people ask first and what do you tell them?

The question, obviously, everybody’s case is a little bit different, you know, you have people that come in who haven’t anticipated that they’re going to be going down this road and they are blindsided, for lack of a better word. Some people have been planning it for some time, and they knew that this was going to be the event and the eventual end of their relationship, whether short or long.

The first thing I always recommend them doing is making sure that they’re emotionally ready for this proceeding. It can be a very emotionally draining process, and the stress that it causes can be really difficult. So being emotionally prepared and actually ready to do this, whether that being exhausting your options or trying to reconcile your marriage through marriage counseling or individual counseling, also from a perspective of being ready for the gathering of information component of it, of a divorce case, making sure you have all the information prepared before you actually decide to make these changes in your life, because it can be very difficult to gather some information that you may not be able to obtain otherwise. So those are the first things I really recommend emotionally ready and actually ready to a certain extent of having some information and knowledge before you actually make this really, really big, important decision for your life. Yeah. And, you know, it’s so interesting because even the most intelligent and well put together, people may not know what the assets are and what their spouse is making. There’s sometimes there’s no way of knowing what’s hidden. There are ways to try to search it out.

But you probably find people coming in and you’re asking them simple questions that they don’t know the answers to. And they should or what they think it is, is completely wrong. Do you find that half the people are surprised when they start going through the process? Most definitely a lot of people, you know, we tend to form typical boundaries in a relationship and can go and create different roles within the relationship.

So therefore, when one party may not know certain aspects of their marriage because they provided that level of trust to the other spouse, they took care of X, Y and Z, and then they took care of A, B and C. That’s very normal.

That’s what partners typically do. They divide and conquer, especially when you have kiddos involved. You tend to do that divide and conquer role. And then what you’re going through a divorce or starting a divorce process, and you don’t know what kind of retirement assets your husband or your wife have or you don’t know your children’s medical history or school and things of that nature, just by partially despite the functions of your roles that you have created in your relationship. And so one thing that we really do here is we really try to have our clients hit the ground running on, trying to gather that information so that they are informed.

And the more informed you’re going to be during your litigation and or even through a mediation process, the more informed that you’re going to be, the better off everybody is going to be in the long run. And there’s going to be more comfort and more likely more amicability in the long run as well.

And that makes a lot of sense, I mean, because it is it’s definitely an emotional situation and you know, having it be that in addition to not knowing what your family’s been doing, especially when one person has been less than honest, or maybe they both are less than honest, and you just the stuff just comes out and then people start getting very emotional about it. With that in mind, when the breakup happens, sometimes explosive things go on like, hey, I’m moving out. I mean, those are like there are some big mistakes that people make and sometimes it can cost you money for years to come.

Or it could cost you a huge lump sum, like if you move out and you shut it. I mean, what are some of those mistakes that people make that you think are the most costly?

Well, there really aren’t any specific, hey, you cannot do X, Y and Z mistake type things that I can think of. Everyone has. I’m going to give you the lawyer answer. It depends. So, for example, like moving out from moving out of the marital residence, sometimes that’s what you need to do to preserve your mental physical safety. And so sometimes that’s what you need to do.

And sometimes it’s not a good decision. So I think having well-informed decisions, whether that be provided with help of your attorney or your therapist or, you know, not necessarily Google, of course, but, you know, having that inform the making those informed decisions, I think will help you with those with those, quote unquote, mistakes.

One of the things that I really recommend you doing, especially when you have counsel, is before you’re going to make a big decision, consult with your attorney beforehand. Don’t consult with us after the fact when the decision has already been made or you’ve already told your soon to be ex.

I’m going to be doing X, Y and Z, and then you’re creating more problems than necessarily may need to happen, because your choice may not be the right choice for your situation at that time. So consulting with your counsel beforehand, especially before you make those big decisions, is a really important thing for you.

I think that’s probably one of the biggest mistakes, to be honest with you. If I can piggyback off of our previous question line, you not assuming that you don’t need to talk to your attorney about a certain issue or think of, you know, brainstorm some jumping out.

I think not doing that and making those rash decisions, typically they’re done out of emotion and not having a more thought-out plan beforehand. I mean, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, there was one that I was thinking of, and I think almost if you have anything in writing that, then that’s OK.

If you have it in writing, everybody knows, hey, you know, I’m going to do X, Y or Z, but it’s not going to cost me the house if I move out, it doesn’t mean that I’m abandoning my asset.

You know, that kind of a thing. It’s certainly having some of those things. And writing is really good. But if you can talk about, you know, what would not be good to have in writing. I mean, I’ve seen some doozies on that one, to be honest.

I knew you had, I think one of the most important things, especially in this day and age, we have most of our communication is done electronically. It’s so much easier to sit behind a phone or a computer and, you know, just have warfare with the other person.

So I always tell my clients when I see these communications come in because I see it after the fact. Hey, I need you to ratchet that down. I need you to look at this more of a business transaction in a business.

Business communication, as opposed to an emotional communication with your soon to be spot, soon to be ex, your former boyfriend, former girlfriend. If you just approach it more from a business perspective, as you like, you be talking to your boss.

Would you say those things to your boss? Most definitely not. You would not say those things to your boss. There’s no way you would do that. So don’t do it now, because the court is eventually going to see these communications.

And if they see every expletive in the world and name-calling and berating and all those kinds of things, it may not necessarily impact an order that may come into play for like Decision-Making or parenting time. And it may, but it may not.

But it also decreases your credibility. And if you’re in front of a judge, the last thing you want is for the judge to not like you and find that you are not a credible, upstanding person. And you probably are.

You are probably a really, really, really good person. You’re just in a really, really, really bad moment in bad stage and bad stage of your life. When I was clerking back eons ago, I asked Mike, Judge, you know, when she was transferring over to a criminal, I was like, oh, my gosh, are you afraid of working with the criminals and being on the criminal bench? And she goes, I’m more afraid of the family bench. And I go, right. And she goes, the people on the family bench, they’re really, really good people, but they’re at the worst time of their life.

And so they a lot of them just hatch. They are feeling such ugly emotions and therefore they’re not able to act rationally. Criminals are more likely than not very good people, but they’re on their best behavior at that moment because they don’t want to get the full punishment.

So, you know, I carry that a lot with my clients when I see I see them getting really upset. I understand you’re upset. I understand you’re frustrated. I get it. Take my lawyer hat off and put my wife hat on.

I totally hear you when I hear your frustrations, but not the right way to communicate it. So so those communications are super important. Oh, yeah, I absolutely agree. I have heard people advice be like not even just your boss, but pretend that the judge is going to see every single thing because they may.

Well, and that’s going to be one of the first pieces of evidence that would probably be used to show that, you know, you’ve an inability of co parenting or, you know, whatever issue that might be coming up. It’s.

Yeah. Just keep it simple. So what would your advice be? You just mentioned kiddo’s a few times, and sometimes it can break up. You’re not even going through a divorce, but there’s a breakup and there are kids involved.

So whether you’re going through a divorce or not. Kids make things much more complicated. And what are some of the things that you would say to make it easier for the kids and some of the advice around? You know what, what you should do when kids are involved in this breakup.

Unfortunately, the kiddos tend to get intentionally or unintentionally caught in the middle, and that is a really, really hard thing. You’re going to be co-parenting with this person for the rest of your lives, whether your children are 18 or they’re going to be 35, 40 years old, you’re still going to be cooperating to some certain extent. Yes. You’re not legally required to make decisions for them anymore or anything like that, but you’re going to have to have some kind of co-parenting relationship with your spouse or ex-girlfriend, ex-boyfriend for the rest of your life.

And if you can find a way to move past your frustration and your anger with that person, who’s going to be better off your kids and not having them what I call collateral damage, you don’t intend for them to be hurt in the midst of all of this stuff, but they tend to get caught up in the middle of it, even the most well-intended parents. Sometimes the kids just get caught up in it. And if you can do your best to try to reduce that, I think that’s one of the most important things. They often we have really young kids in this situation.

They’re not able to emotionally process. A lot of this stuff is going that’s going on. They’re confused, they’re frustrated, whatever is going on. And they can’t articulate it in the same way an adult can. You know, we can go out and get, you know, talk to our buddies or, you know, talk to our friend on the phone or whatever we need to do to help venting, you know, address our emotional stressors. The kiddos don’t have that ability as easily as we do. And to help reduce the stress upon them, that’s on the parents. I think a lot of that is on the parents to create that environment for those kids and put them above and be above and beyond. Everything else, I think is one of the most important things for them to do. I know sometimes it’s hard to do. There could be domestic violence situations, there could be substance abuse situations. And there’s times that you the kids are going to have to be involved to a certain extent.

But to reduce that collateral damage, I think is really important in the long run for most families. Obviously, there’s always unique situations that, you know, change that dynamic. Yeah, and that makes a lot of sense, and what I love about the court systems is typically they are trying to do the best thing for the children and they are weighing the options. But I mean, if one parent is going to move and it’s going to cause this kid’s world to be turned upside down more than it already is by divorce, they’re probably not going to let that happen.

And they’re going to make sure that there’s enough money so that the kid is provided for, no matter which parent they end up with, whoever needs it, just to make sure that, you know, the children are taken care of and that their best interest is if they don’t like it, when the parents are, you know, nasty in court, that is one way to ensure that your ex is going to get more of what they want than you if you go in there acting like a jerk. Most definitely. And our court system, you know, it’s the system that we have.

But in general, it is an imperfect system. And also the standards, especially when it pertains to kids, are incredibly subjective. So, for example, in Arizona, we had the best interests of the children’s standard. Well, what does that really mean?

You know, what you may think is in the best interests of your child, Erika might be different than what I think versus what may the judge may think. And they’re all reasonably and rationally based. However, they may drastically differ from each other just based on our own personal experiences and our dynamics and things like that.

So another reason why I think, especially when you have kids, if the parents are able to work between themselves to reach appropriate resolutions for your kids, everybody will be better off because you’re not having somebody who’s going to get to know your family for a couple of hours at best in a question and answer type of proceeding. So they’re not going to really understand the full dynamic of your case and your family in the last X number of years of your relationship. What you’re they’re not going to really get to know your kid per say, or your kids.

They’re not going to understand everything and to leave that decision-making to that person. Even the judges in our system will sit there and say, I’m the last resort for those things. I don’t want to be the one making those decisions.

Of course they will and they have to. But nobody really walks out of that situation thoroughly content with the decisions that they make. If you guys can make those decisions as the parents, that’s typically the best result for the kids.

As difficult as that might be sometimes. Well, tell her to tell me you were talking about something very interesting before we came on, and that was really, you know, what is the biggest pivoting point in a divorce case or a breakup?

And it may happen after everything is finalized by the court. Yes, definitely. So one thing that I find really interesting in a lot of cases, parents, they may go through the proceeding and or they’re doing really well and they’re having a really good co-parenting relationship.

And, you know, there might be bumps and bruises throughout the dynamic, but overall, it’s been going relatively well. And then all of a sudden, the temperature starts to change. The dynamic starts to change in the relationship. And more often than not, when I hear that come in, I have a client come into me and say, you know, we were doing really, really good. And, you know, we had some issues, but all of a sudden things just went absolutely haywire. And I don’t understand. My immediate question is, who got the new boyfriend or the girlfriend or the new significant other or is getting remarried, something like that.

Their relationship changes. They’re not. And they may look at me, they’re like, yeah, how did you know? And I go because typically that’s what time that happens quite often now. Should it? No, it probably shouldn’t. But, you know, we have new people that are coming into our lives. There’s different influences. There is they may have their own family dynamics with, you know, ex-spouses and significant others and things of that nature. And they’re influencing that. And I think one thing if you can try to do that as a parent lets you have a new significant other coming in helping to mitigate that collateral damage that happens to those kiddos. It goes back. Everything, in my opinion, goes back to when you have kid cases, goes back to trying to reduce their collateral damage to the dynamic. If you can sit there and go, you know what, we were doing really good before.

Now we may have things that we could do better and tweak and whatnot, but having other people exercised significant undue influence on the co-parenting relationship. But also the fact is you need to somewhat respect that there are going to be new people in your kiddo’s life.

More likely than not, that person is going to adore your kid. And hopefully, that person is someone who’s going to be an extra person for your children to love and to love on your children. Obviously, it’s hard to have that dynamic come into your life, but hopefully, hopefully with time, you guys can all get back to that co-parenting dynamic and everybody and the kiddos can be, you know, well supported and well-loved. However, you know, that doesn’t always happen. But reality is the parents are the ones that should be parenting the kiddos and hopefully reducing that dynamic.

Well, I think that is sound advice. Now, we’ve talked about a number of different topics here today and your thoughts on family law. And, you know, I think that you have some great ideas to share with everyone today.

Is there anything that you thought of while we were doing this interview that we may have missed or anything you’d like to add? Yeah, a little bit we kind of in the beginning, we were kind of talking about, you know, why I got into family law and I kind of just stopped that part of the conversation.

I’m not really sure why, but I did. And I’ve been thinking about that over the last couple of weeks especially. And I think obviously my wife has obviously evolved over the years, been practicing for 16 years now. Oh, God, I’m almost 17, but practicing for quite some time now.

And that why has always evolved. But if I step back and look back at the core of my why of family. Well, and why not environmental law? Why not contracts? Why not something else? Because there’s a gazillion areas of law out there that are a lot less emotional than family law.

I think the reason why I stay, I stay and I really, really, really love my area of law. And my practice area is because it’s so much more than just practicing law. I’m helping these families through these individual dynamics that they’re having.

And it’s super rewarding to know that you’ve helped people transition through one of the most difficult points of their life. And hopefully you walk by them in the middle of the grocery store and you’re like, hey, how are you?

And they’re happy and they’re content and they’re doing well. And you help guide them through that. And having that dynamic of not only helping them with the law, but also helping them through this rough stage of their life.

You know, obviously not a counselor, not a therapist in any way, shape or form, but, you know, helping them go through this process with grace and their chin held up high and giving them strength, often giving people strength that they never had before is really, really rewarding.

And I think that’s what makes what you do so special, because you are seeing people at the hardest part of their lives, you are helping talk them through things, and there’s not a lot of areas of the law where you have to be part counselor part and really worry about someone’s children and everything else.

Make sure that everybody gets through one of the most stressful events in someone’s life in one piece. So I am certainly glad to have met you, Melissa, and I’m really happy that you’re working there at the law firm and you really helping everybody out that comes through your door.

Well, thanks, Eric, I appreciate chatting with you. Absolutely, and I want to thank everybody that’s listening. If anyone does have a question on family law, absolutely call the Stuart Law Group. They are phenomenal. They’ve got a wonderful team.

You’ve just met a fantastic team member that they have their attorney, Melissa Bower. And she is a great example of the type of person you’ll be working with over there, this really empathetic and intelligent and full of great strategies and options if you’re going through a family law matter.

So thanks for listening in and we will look forward to see you again soon. Have a wonderful day, everyone.