In Arizona, divorce is officially called “dissolution of marriage,” and only a court can grant one. You can file for divorce in Arizona as long as at least one spouse has lived in the state (or been stationed in Arizona as a member of the armed forces) for 90 days. You generally do not have to justify your decision with grounds for divorce. You can simply state that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” (This is somewhat different if you have a covenant marriage.)
The first step is generally to hire an attorney, although this is not technically required. Your attorney can file the initial paperwork (the petition, the summons and several other papers) and a filing fee with the court and then serve your spouse with a copy. Then, your spouse will normally file an answer, or response, to the petition within 20-30 days.
Common issues to be resolved
There are several issues that you must resolve before a final divorce decree can be granted:
- How your community property and debts will be divided
- Who will have legal decision-making authority over the children
- Where the children will live and how much parenting time each parent will have
- Who will pay child support and how much under Arizona law
- Whether one party will pay alimony to the other, how much and for how long
If you do not immediately agree on all of these issues, you have two choices. First, you can work out an agreement through negotiation or a dispute resolution process like mediation. Or, you can present any unresolved issues to the court to decide. Most people prefer to negotiate or mediate their issues, as this is generally less expensive and can get more satisfactory results.
Resolving your issues
Talk to your divorce lawyer about your priorities, goals and values. He or she will contact your spouse’s attorney and propose a way to move forward, either through negotiation or mediation.
During negotiations or mediation, you can tell your attorney what is and is not acceptable to you. Your attorney only has the authority to agree to what you specify. Understand, however, that the alternative to an agreement is going to court for a divorce trial.
You will negotiate or mediate until you come to an agreement or until it becomes obvious you cannot agree on some or all of the issues. If you succeed in reaching an agreement, a lawyer will write up your agreement into a proposed divorce decree that will be presented to the court. As long as your agreement complies with Arizona law, the judge will then issue a divorce decree.
If you can’t agree on all of the issues, your attorney will propose settling what you can and then take the remaining issues to court for a judge to decide.
In a divorce trial, each spouse’s attorney will make a proposal on how each issue should be decided. The attorneys will make arguments for why Arizona law is best served by agreeing to their proposed resolution. The judge will consider those arguments and make a decision on each issue. Once this has been done, the judge will ask one of the attorneys to draft a final divorce decree for the judge to sign.
How long will it take?
The soonest you can obtain a divorce decree is 60 days from when you filed the petition and other paperwork and served it on your spouse. However, the process of negotiating, mediating or bringing your case before the court may take longer than 60 days. Generally, negotiated and mediated settlement takes less time than going to court. The more issues you can come to agreement on, the faster the process will go.
This is just an outline of how the divorce process generally works. There are issues that crop up that may change the process at various points. If you have kids with your spouse, you will be required to take a parent education or information program before you can receive your divorce decree. Talk to your divorce lawyer about your specific questions.