Knowing how to prepare for a divorce can be difficult. Only you can decide for certain whether the marriage is over. But if you believe it is, then start planning for Arizona divorce proceedings.
Preparing a plan for your divorce does not make you cold-hearted or vindictive. On the contrary, divorce planning is necessary and the smart thing to do. Being caught unprepared can affect your finances, your future, and the relationship you have with your children. Divorce is not something to stumble through without direction, hoping for a favorable result. Very seldom do things work out for the best without substantial divorce preparation. Therefore, it is extremely important that you know how to plan for your divorce.
Ending a marriage can be very emotional, even more so when couples have young children. When facing separation, many spouses will admit that their marital problems have been brewing for a long time. No matter who files the petition, do plan for the legal process. Ask an experienced divorce attorney with Stewart Law Group to be your guide through each step of every legal proceeding. Obtaining specific advice can help you avoid pitfalls that could seriously damage your case.
5 Steps to Follow When Planning a Divorce in Arizona
Implement the following five steps and begin your pre-divorce planning. Being prepared from the outset to finish will serve you and your children well and help you obtain the best possible outcome.
Step 1. Gather Evidence
The first step in preparing for a divorce in Arizona involves gathering documents, records, pictures, account details, and other personal information. While you can, take full advantage of your presence in the marital home where family records are typically kept. These are all things you should do before filing for divorce.
Be mindful of how access to these things can change with the petition for dissolution filed and served. Do not assume that you can walk into the marital home to retrieve whatever you need or want, whenever you feel like doing so. Once the divorce action is pending in Arizona family court, it can be far more difficult for you to obtain access to property even though it is still legally yours.
Divorce Preliminary Injunction
The main reason for this is the preliminary injunction which is a statutory order prohibiting certain conduct. In Arizona, as with other states, a spouse is prohibited from doing certain things without obtaining a judicial order granting permission first or, alternatively, obtaining the other spouse’s consent. ARS § 25-315. What happens when a spouse violates the preliminary injunction? That party may be held in contempt of court! Furthermore, intentionally violating the preliminary injunction could paint that spouse in a poor light with the judge, making that spouse’s testimony less credible and the other spouse’s more credible. Take a few minutes to read Arizona’s preliminary injunction statute and then discuss how it might affect the case with your family law attorney.
Orders of Protection
There is another important explanation for why obtaining access to property may be more difficult with the divorce pending (or even before). There may be a protective order in place to keep you away from your spouse. Restraining orders of protection are not uncommon in divorce and child custody cases. If there is an order of protection in effect, then talk to your attorney about getting access to the property, papers, and things that you need. A.R.S. § 13-3602.
With those concerns in mind, be thorough in gathering documents, records, files, photographs, and other relevant evidence that may be needed to prepare your case. Better to over-document information than miss something that turns out to be important later on. If you have to guess on the necessity of a particular file (for example, whether 10-year-old tax returns will be needed to prove or disprove historical income or lifestyle spending), then err on the side of over-documenting your position on the issue. Leave it to your attorney to sort through everything and determine what makes for the best evidence.
With the papers, records, and personal items safely in your possession, store them in a secure location. Be sure to choose a place that your spouse does not have access to, such as a safe deposit box in your name only.
Step 2. Talk to a Divorce Attorney
You need to talk to a lawyer. Get a referral or search online locally for a divorce attorney and make an appointment. Obtain competent legal advice right away. Even if you elect to not be represented in court, you should still consult with an attorney about Arizona divorce so you get started on the right track. All too often, people seek legal advice after they have already signed a separation agreement or after a default judgment has been entered against them. Always consult a lawyer before signing anything in your divorce!
Plan to discuss your specific situation with a family lawyer who will provide essential Arizona divorce guidance. At a minimum, you need to know about:
- Arizona’s divorce process. How is a petition is filed? How is the other spouse served with legal papers? How does the case progress through discovery, mediation, Resolution Management Conference (RCM), and trial if necessary? What about appeals?
- Rights and obligations under Arizona law. Gain insight into all aspects of the case, from marital property and spousal maintenance to parental access and child support.
- Division of assets and debts. How is property is divided? What is half of the community property? How is separate property treated in a divorce? Will commingling or transmutation transform separate assets into marital ones?
- Award of spousal maintenance and child support orders. When is support ordered? Is temporary support during divorce proceedings possible? What can be ordered after divorce is final and for how long?
- Child custody law in Arizona. What is legal decision-making authority and parenting time? Why must there be a parenting plan? Could custody mediation help settle parenting disputes? How does a child custody evaluator assist the court?
To get the greatest value from the time spent discussing your case with a lawyer, do some advance research on your own. A few hours spent looking into divorce basics will help you follow along more easily when communicating with an attorney.
Step 3. Prepare Your Financial Disclosures
The next step is divorce financial planning. You and your spouse are required to provide detailed financial disclosures, beginning with Arizona’s Rule 49 Disclosures. Much of the information you gathered in the form of documents and records (Step 1 above) will be disclosed during the discovery phase of divorce.
Do not be intimidated by the procedural requirement to make disclosures. This process is unavoidable and essential. Importantly, do not rely on your spouse to perform any of the work for you! Are you confused about what you must disclose? Do you suspect your spouse may be hiding assets or concealing income? You should definitely raise those concerns with your lawyer!
Carefully organize your files so that you can accurately and efficiently retrieve the information you must disclose. You will need to verify your spouse’s income and employer, investment and bank accounts, insurance policies, automobile loans, credit card balances, retirement accounts and pension plans, mortgage debts, company reports for the business, and tax returns. Because marital property must be divided in a divorce, you will need copies of deeds and instruments of title to establish what is separate property and what is community property.
Step 4. Prepare for Division of Your Property
Marital assets and marital debts make up community property and must be divided under Arizona law. This could feel like a double-edged sword with both advantages and disadvantages. Each spouse is entitled to half the marital estate but is also responsible for half the marital debt.
Valuation of Marital Assets
All assets have value. Necessarily, dividing property in Arizona divorce begins with an inventory. Prepare for valuation of your property by inventorying everything you own.
Inventory All Personal Property
You will need to provide a written inventory of personal property (furniture and furnishings, computer and entertainment equipment, antiques and art, collectibles and collections, pots and pans, utensils and linens, and so on). This may seem like an insurmountable assignment, especially when the marriage is of long duration or there is a second home, but it must be done. Do your best. Be methodical. Use a digital camera or smartphone to take date-stamped photographs. You make itemizing your list on paper much easier by taking a series of pictures room-by-room, closet-by-closet, cupboard-by-cupboard before putting pen to paper.
Marital Home and Real Estate
Any real property you own will need a valuation. A real estate broker or licensed real estate appraiser can provide market value. Make sure to take plenty of pictures of the house, condo, or vacation home, too. Pictures assist with valuation, of course, but they also provide evidence of waste or damage to the property that occurred before the divorce is final.
Marital waste may be caused by the spouse who intentionally does something to diminish a marital asset (such as gambling away marital funds or spending the money on an extramarital affair). Marital waste can also happen to real property, as when the spouse who stays in the home allows the property to deteriorate or causes damage to it.
Before-and-after pictures of damaged property are useful with insurance claims as well. Generally, any insurance proceeds would be divided in the divorce if the claim affected community property. Did either spouse deliberately damage the property? Talk to your lawyer.
Step 5. Create Your Household Expense Report
You will need to prepare a monthly household expense report. If you were unable to retrieve bills from your home, then request past statements from your utility companies (gas, electric, water, sewer), from your telephone and cell phone carrier, from the cable company, and the like.
Be sure to include the monthly cost of yard care, pest control, trash removal, HOA fees and assessments, property taxes, insurance, food, fuel, mortgage payments, car payments, and the cost of repairs.
Stay Fully Engaged in Your Child’s Life
Lastly and most importantly, through all of this, you must stay fully engaged in your child’s life. Make sure that you have current contact information for everyone involved in your child’s daily activities: Teachers, coaches, babysitters, daycare workers, doctors, therapists, family members, neighbors, friends, and church leaders. Your child needs every advantage to get through the divorce. Before you and your spouse separate, get involved with your child and stay involved.
More Help with Arizona Divorce Preparation
For more help with preparing and planning for your divorce, sign up for our free Arizona eDivorce Course and receive our complimentary ebook, Getting Started: 7 Must-Do Items for Divorce Planning. Are you ready for more detailed information about divorce and pre-divorce planning? Request the Arizona Divorce Handbook, Your Step-By-Step Guide to Navigate Arizona Divorce by attorney Scott David Stewart.