The divorce process in Arizona, known more precisely as dissolution of marriage, can be rather daunting, particularly when there are children involved. Before your family law case is filed, you need to know that there are two bodies of law involved in every court case: substantive law and procedural law. This article, and those in this series, will focus on basic procedural law — the system of court rules that must be followed for the substantive law to be declared and enforced by the court. Once you’ve read through these materials, you’ll have a clearer understanding of how family law cases travel through our Arizona court system.
For quick reference, here is a short summary of the steps involved in a divorce:
Step #1: Petition.
The filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage formally initiates divorce proceedings.
Step #2: Summons and Response.
This is the formal notice to your spouse (the other party) about your intention to pursue court action to obtain a legal divorce. The other party’s response is the acknowledgement that the divorce procedure has begun.
Step #3: Motions.
This is a formal request to the court to order some type of action before the trial. In situations involving domestic abuse, for example, it is not uncommon for a motion for a protective order, or restraining order, to be filed.
Step #4: Hearings and Temporary Orders.
In some instances there are questions or situations that need to be temporarily resolved before the final divorce agreement is reached or ordered by the court. For example, if the parties can’t agree on where their children should live during the divorce process, then they ask the judge during a hearing to decide for them. Temporary orders generally remain in effect until the final decision is made at the end of the divorce.
Step #5: Discovery.
This phase of the proceeding allows each side to gather information and evidence in support of their legal arguments. The tools of discovery include interrogatories, depositions, requests for production, and more.
Step #6: Trial.
This is a critical court appearance before the judge where the case will be decided. The trial may include witnesses, friends, financial experts, psychologists, as well as the submission of other types of evidence including financial records.
Step #7: Judgment.
The final decision is a judgment. A legal statement of the judge’s rulings on all the issues in question during the trial, including child custody and visitation, child support, spousal maintenance, property division, and so on.