Divorce in Arizona
Arizona is a “no-fault” state, meaning, the reason that the divorce occurs is not relevant to the rights of each party in the case. To file for divorce in Arizona, at least one of the two parties must reside here for a period of 90 days. If there are minor children involved, a Court in Arizona will typically have jurisdiction if the minor children resided in Arizona 6 months prior to the filing.
Process of Filing Divorce in Arizona
When a divorce is filed in Arizona, one of the parties (the Petitioner) would file a document called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. As part of the Petition, several other pleadings are required such as a Summons and a Preliminary Injunction. In the event the parties have children, both parents are required to take a Parenting Class.
After a Petition is filed, the Petitioner must serve the other party (the Respondent), and the Respondent has 20 days to file a Response, otherwise the other party can seek a default from the Court. If the Respondent was served out-of-state, he or she has 30 days to respond. Service can be done by certified mail if the other party lives in State. The Respondent may also accept or waive service of the documents.
Length of the Divorce
In Arizona, it takes a minimum of 60 days from the date of service for a Court to enter a decree of dissolution. Usually, when the parties are more amicable, a Consent Decree is often filed, and the divorce can be completed as early as 60 days or shortly thereafter. If the Respondent fails to file a Response, and the Petitioner properly takes the case to a Default Hearing, the divorce can similarly dissolve relatively early. It is important to make sure that the Default procedures are followed correctly and fairly, as there are times when the other party is justified in filing a Motion to Set Aside the Judgment if the procedures were not followed (such as improper service, etc.).
Cost of Divorce
The overall cost of divorce can range enormously based on the type of attorneys involved, the complexity of the case, the reasonableness of the parties, and the ability of the parties to reach amicable solutions. The initial filing fee in Maricopa County is $338 and the Response fee is $269. (Costs vary in other counties- Pinal County is a little cheaper, for example). There is also a cost of serving the other party with the Petition. Other costs could include, depending on the case, fees for Expert Witnesses, Depositions, Parenting Coordinators, Mediation, Subpoenas, Court-ordered classes or lab tests, etc.
It is usually wise to seek the guidance or advocacy of a Family Law attorney. However, predicting the costs of divorce is difficult and varies on a case-by-case basis. For example, in an uncontested divorce case, the Hardy Law firm, PLC will usually charge a flat fee amount, that is much less than what would be expected in a contested matter, which would be done more on an hourly basis. We offer a variety of payment and representation options, and try to match your needs appropriately.
One such option is limited scope representation. For example, if an individual just wants help drafting a legal document or just wants the attorney to attend an initial hearing, this is a lot less costly. Hardy Law Firm, PLC will offer their services after a review of the case, and each payment arrangement offered will be specifically catered to each individual case.
Mediation/Alternative Dispute Resolution
Many parties wish the divorce to end amicably and without a trial. Often the parties can’t seem to come up with an agreement without some help. These individuals have a few options: 1) Seek a mediation/parenting conference through the Court (no attorney’s involved), 2) Use a private mediator, or 3) Request alternative dispute resolution, where the Court will assign a judge or other individual to reside over the mediation.
Seeking a parenting conference through the Court is the cheapest ($300). However, there are no attorneys involved.
Using a private mediator can range anywhere from $150-$400 an hour, and your attorneys may be present. It is usually more costly, but can be very effective and you don’t have to wait as long to mediate as you would with alternative dispute resolution. Lastly, in alternative dispute resolution, your attorneys may be present, but it may take a while to get the date scheduled (sometimes 2- 4 months after it is requested).
Couples who don’t want a divorce can also file a Petition for a Legal Separation. In a lot of ways divorce and legal separation function similarly, in that determinations are made with respect to legal decision-making, parenting time, and property in the proceeding. However, the two most eminent reasons why couples opt for legal separations is to avoid the finality of divorce or they do it to ensure the other party is still covered for health insurance.
Paternity & Child Custody
When a child is born out of wedlock, and the parties separate, a party may file a Paternity action with the Court. The main issues that arise in paternity actions include: Paternity, Legal Decision-making, Parenting Time, and Child Support. When paternity is in dispute the Court may order a DNA test. Otherwise, the other issues are handled via the statutes already described above.
If the parties were living together unmarried, the other issues that were covered in Divorce, such as spousal maintenance, division of property and debt, are no longer applicable.
Often, even after a divorce is entered, parties will want to change something in the Decree. For example, a party may need to relocate and they need a new parenting plan. Or, perhaps, one of the parties starts using drugs, and the other party wants to protect the children by asking for a modification.
Modification of Parenting Time
In order to modify parenting time the filing party must show it is in the children’s best interest. As such, the filing party has the burden of proof. Usually, such a filing is not allowed until 1 year after the original decree is entered. The filing party can file at any time if he or she believes the children are in serious danger. If the filing party believes the other party has violated a relevant Court Order with respect to the issue, the filing party may file the Petition for Modification within 6 months of the original petition.
Modification of Legal Decision-Making
The timelines for filing a modification of regarding Legal Decision-Making are essentially the same for filing a modification of parenting time. A party must prove that there has been a significant and continuing change of circumstances to warrant a change in legal decision making. Even if the filing party proves a significant change occurred, the filing party has to prove that the significant change was also a continuing (long-lasting) change. This usually means a material change in the child’s emotional well-being or health would have to continue to occur in order to warrant a modification of Legal Decision-Making.
Child Support Modifications
There are several reasons that could justify a Modification of Child Support. Usually, in order to file for a simplified modification, the change must be at least a 15% increase or decrease. The type of events that could justify a modification include: a change in parenting days, a significant change in income, and an older child emancipates, daycare or medical insurance increases, etc.
At times, there may be situations where an emergency petition is warranted to protect the children immediately. There are several factual scenarios that may warrant an Emergency Petition, but it must be an emergency for the Court to consider it.
Relocation of Minor Children
In the event one of the parties seeks to relocate out-of-the state and wishes the children to relocate with him or her, a Petition for Relocation must be filed. If the opposing party has been noticed properly of the other parent’s intent to move with the children, the opposing party may also file a Petition Objecting to the Relocation of the minor children.
Relocation cases are extremely fact-sensitive. In relocation cases, The Court will look at the best interest factors as well as additional factors related to the relocation to determine what is in the children’s best interest. The relocating party will have the burden to prove the move is in the children’s best interests.
Sometimes a parent may be accused of neglecting or abandoning their children, and The Department of Child Safety (DCS) will remove the children and file for dependency action. A parent may either submit (admitting to the charge) to the dependency or the parent can contest the dependency action. If the parent submits, then the parent can request family reunification at the first permanency planning hearing. It is imperative for the parent to complete all the tasks that DCS requires to enable the parent to begin the reunification process to have the child returned. Our firm has handled some dependency actions both in Maricopa and Pinal County.
Often potential adoptive parents will seek the help of an attorney to begin or finalize the adoption. In many adoption cases, a parent’s rights would first need to be severed prior to a Petition being filed, in which the adoptive parent could benefit from an attorney’s guidance.
Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)
In many divorce cases, a 401k may need to be divided. In order to do this properly, the parties must Motion to the Court to enter an Order allowing the split. The Order will then be sent to the entity which will divide the 401k properly accordingly.
Grandparent/Third Party Visitation Rights
Under certain circumstances Grandparents and/or third parties can seek visitation of the minor children. Under even rarer circumstances a third party can request legal decision-making of the minor children.
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