The Complete Guide to Divorce in Arizona
Everything You Need to Know About Divorce in Arizona
Divorce can be a complex legal process and also sensitive family matter. It can be mentally and emotionally draining for both spouses involved. Depending on the circumstances, a divorce can involve complicated asset divisions, spousal maintenance issues, and difficult issues regarding children—parenting time, legal decision making, child support and other financial issues.
Even “simple” divorces require significant paperwork, legal filings, and many issues covered to ensure a thorough and valid process. Simple divorces can spiral into long term litigation when conflict unnecessarily escalates. Spouses often aren’t aware that divorce mediation should be attempted prior to starting a court battle. Whether you are going through divorce mediation or divorce litigation, partnering with a family law attorney in Arizona who is truly committed to your best interests can make a divorce situation significantly easier on you. Learn as much as you can about divorce to better prepare for the journey ahead.
Table of Contents
- 1 Everything You Need to Know About Divorce in Arizona
- 2 Legal Separation vs. Divorce
- 3 Grounds for Filing Divorce in Arizona
- 4 The rare “Covenant Marriage”
- 5 Filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
- 6 The Consent Divorce Process
- 7 Legal Annulment in Arizona
- 8 Divorce Mediation
- 9 Divorce Hearings and Trials
- 10 Property Division During Dissolution of Marriage in Arizona
- 11 Spousal Support Agreements
- 12 Child Custody in Arizona
- 13 Child Support Payments
- 14 Hire a Family Law Attorney for Your Dissolution of Marriage in Arizona
Legal Separation vs. Divorce
Some couples find that a legal separation is a preferable stand-in for divorce until they can negotiate final asset, finance, and child issues. In Arizona, obtaining a legal separation is a very similar process to a divorce. The couple must mutually agree to separation or show the marriage is irretrievably broken, file a Petition for Legal Separation With/Without Children with the Superior Court of Arizona, and determine each party’s rights to properties and custody.
The couple will sign a separation agreement – a legally binding contract that resolves debt, property, and child-related issues. Most couples consult with an attorney or mediator to complete this document, especially when there are children or complex assets involved. The contract is very detailed, outlining all rights and responsibilities. A legal separation does not divorce a couple in Arizona. The couple will still have the same legal obligations as they did when married and living together.
Legal separation is most often pursued so that spouses may remain on one another’s health insurance, for religious reasons, or as a temporary means to separate their lives while they make a final decision about whether divorce is right for them.
Grounds for Filing Divorce in Arizona
Every state has its own laws regarding divorce – or “dissolution of marriage,” as the courts call it in Arizona. After a dissolution proceeding is final, the marriage is dissolved. The only grounds on which the courts allow dissolution of marriage are irreconcilable differences or an “irretrievably broken” relationship.
Since Arizona is a “no fault” divorce state, one party does not need to find the other one at fault for dissolution, as is a requirement in some other states. The party simply must state that he or she wishes to dissolve the marriage. So, when one spouse is ready to move forward with divorce, there is nothing the other can do to prevent the divorce. The only choice is how to become divorced—in a cooperative way, or a divorce war.
The rare “Covenant Marriage”
Arizona is one of only three states (along with Arkansas and Louisiana) with a kind of marriage that’s legally distinct from traditional marriages. Called a covenant marriage, this is an additional option for couples in AZ that want to marry. In a covenant marriage, the couple agrees to go through premarital counseling with a marriage counselor or member of the clergy. Then, the couple must sign a special declaration of their intent to enter into a covenant marriage while applying for a marriage license. Couples in a covenant marriage have limited legal options for dissolution of marriage.
If you’re involved in a covenant marriage in Arizona, the courts will only grant dissolution of marriage for certain, limited reasons. There are eight grounds available for a couple to dissolve a covenant marriage:
• The spouse that is not filing for dissolution (the Respondent) committed adultery.
• The Respondent committed a serious crime and the courts have sentenced him or her to death or imprisonment.
• The Respondent has been absent from the home where the married couple lived for at least one year and refuses to return.
• The Respondent has committed domestic violence or emotional abuse or physically or sexually abused the other spouse, child, or relative of either spouse who lives in the couple’s home.
• The couple has been living apart without getting back together for at least two consecutive years.
• The court has already granted the couple a legal separation, and the couple has been living apart without getting back together for at least one year from the date of separation.
• The Respondent regularly abuses alcohol or drugs.
• Both spouses agree to a divorce.
While a no-fault divorce has very few requirements for dissolution of marriage compared to a covenant marriage divorce, it is possible to dissolve a covenant marriage in Arizona. Speak to an attorney or mediator if you wish to dissolve a covenant marriage.
Filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
The first step toward dissolution of marriage is to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in your county’s Superior Court. This makes you the Petitioner and your spouse the Respondent. The residency requirement in AZ to file for dissolution of marriage is that one party must be domiciled in the state or stationed here as a member of the armed forces for at least 90 days prior to filing the petition. Speak to a lawyer before you file your Petition to receive legal advice about your dissolution.
You will file a different Petition depending on whether your dissolution involves children or is for a covenant marriage. Arizona offers this paperwork on the Judicial Branch of Arizona’s website, called “ezCourt forms.” There are anywhere from 10 to 20 documents you may need to submit during the filing process, including a Marital Settlement Agreement, Preliminary Injunction, Acceptance and Waiver of Service, Credit Notification Form, Request for Hearing, and an Affidavit Regarding Minor Children.
It’s often wise to work with a lawyer or mediator while filing for dissolution of marriage to ensure you do it correctly the first time. Otherwise, you could file incorrectly and delay the process. Once you file, the court will assign you a case number. Keep track of your case number and bring it with you during any court proceedings.
Serving Divorce Papers
You must send one copy of the Petition to File to the Respondent in an act called “service of process.” The Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4.1 and 4.2, outline the rules for service of process. Essentially, the Petitioner must serve the Respondent the divorce papers. The Petitioner can hand-deliver them, mail them via first-class post, hire a process server or sheriff to serve the papers on your behalf, or ask the court to order service via publication. Review frequently asked questions to learn more about service. If you are working with a mediator, no one gets “served,” rather the Respondent will sign a document called Acceptance of Service.
The Respondent has 20 days after the service of process to file a Response to the Petition if he or she wishes. The courts extend this deadline to 30 days after service if the Respondent lives outside of Arizona. A Response to the Petition is a Respondent’s acknowledgement of receiving the dissolution of marriage papers, and his or her agreement or disagreement with the Petition. In a Response to the Petition, the Respondent will state his or her position on the Petitioner’s proposals, including on issues such as asset division, child custody, and spousal support.
After the deadline, the Respondent loses his or her right to argue items on the Petition. Failure to answer results in a “default” divorce, meaning the courts will assume that the Respondent agrees to the Petition’s terms and dissolves the marriage. The Respondent may remove the default and contest the divorce only if he or she can prove to the court there was a justifiable reason to miss the deadline. A Respondent needs sound legal evidence for the Arizona courts to set aside a dissolution granted by default.
In some cases, the court may issue Temporary Orders to set boundaries for both parties before litigation begins. Temporary Orders can decide who gets to stay in a shared residence, who will pay which bills, if there will be temporary spousal maintenance or support payments, and where children will reside. An Arizona child custody order can help you file a request for a Temporary Order regarding custody of your child during the dissolution of marriage.
Temporary Orders are available for child support, custody, and restraining orders to prevent one spouse from kidnapping the child. It can take a few months for the Arizona courts to hear and decide on Temporary Orders. However, there are Emergency Temporary Orders that the judge will hear within 24 hours if necessary. This is typically only applicable in cases involving abuse, drugs, alcohol, or mental health issues. Either party can file a request for an Emergency Temporary Custody Order.
The courts will decide a Temporary Custody Order depending on what’s in the child’s best interests or what will cause the least emotional upheaval. In many cases, Temporary Orders become permanent when both parties agree via a settlement agreement or consent decree to keep matters the same after divorce finalization. In other cases, a judge will order Temporary Orders to become permanent after the conclusion of a trial.
When spouses are in mediation, rather than Temporary Orders, spouses reach “Temporary Agreements” on the same issues, but stay in control of the terms.
The Consent Divorce Process
In best-case scenarios, a couple does not need to go to trial for the Arizona Superior Court to finalize a dissolution of marriage. If both spouses in a marriage agree to all terms of dissolution of marriage, including child custody, child support, spousal support, and debt and asset division, the courts can finalize the dissolution without the need for a trial. The courts call this the Consent Divorce Process. Both spouses have to sign several documents for a Consent Decree to avoid going to trial. If there are children involved, a couple has to attend Parent Education classes before the courts will grant dissolution via a Consent Decree.
In some cases, a couple will go through the Conciliation Court to resolve their differences or finalize a divorce/legal separation without further litigation. The Conciliation Court is a branch of Arizona’s Superior Court, in charge of couples’ counseling, mediation, and parental education. The Conciliation Court protects the interests of children and provides help to spouses who wish to settle family matters amicably. Either spouse may file a petition to involve the Conciliation Court to assist in mediation.
Many spouses find private mediation the best alternative because it is very effective and when done privately there is never any need to go to court.
Legal Annulment in Arizona
A legal annulment is a rare alternative to dissolution of marriage in Arizona. An annulment is only available in certain situations. The courts may grant an annulment, making your marriage null and void, if some factor makes your marriage invalid. In Arizona, voidable marriages include but are not limited to those:
• Without a valid marriage license.
• That occurred while another marriage was still in effect.
• With an underage spouse.
• That are fraudulent.
• Due to threats or coercion.
• Between spouses who have a blood relationship.
• Involving intoxication or lack of mental or physical capacity.
• Involving a spouse who cannot consummate the marriage.
• Where on spouse concealed a criminal past or communicable disease.
If the courts find a valid reason to grant the annulment, you and your spouse will be as you were before the marriage. As there was technically no marriage to begin with, there are no marital assets to divide. Typically, each party leaves with the assets he or she had before the marriage. If the judge does not grant the annulment, you may file for dissolution of marriage.
It’s important to note that a legal annulment is not the same as a religious annulment, which is not a civil action. Religious annulments occur within the Catholic faith. A religious annulment is a declaration by the Catholic Church court that a marriage the church thought was valid is now void.
Divorce mediation is a frequently used option during Arizona dissolutions of marriage. During mediation, either spouse can represent him/herself or hire a lawyer for representation. The two parties (and their lawyers, if applicable) will meet with a neutral third-party mediator. You will discuss the issues in your divorce, such as child custody and assets, in front of the mediator, who will help you find common ground and reach agreements on every issue. There are many benefits to mediation rather than litigation and going to a trial:
• Confidentiality; nothing goes on public record.
• Far less expensive than litigation trials and hearings.
• Keeps conflict as low as possible.
• Better for children’s health and wellbeing.
• Ends in settlement of all divorce issues.
• Arrive at resolutions based on your own believe of what is fair.
• You and your spouse control the process (not a judge).
• Improved communication between you and your spouse.
• You can still have a lawyer represent you.
Carefully weigh the pros and cons of divorce mediation over a traditional trial process before deciding if mediation is right for you.
Should You Consider Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation works best when spouses can sit down with each other and discuss the terms of a divorce amicably. Although it is normal that spouses will have conflict, even in mediation, and may not agree on major issues, divorce mediation works best when spouses can at least be in the same room with one another.
If you have one or more of the following goals, divorce mediation may be right for you:
• You want to protect your finances from being drained by high legal fees are may be willing to compromise to save your assets in the long run
• You want to maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship
• You want to avoid the emotional toll of a trial.
• You want to keep the details of your divorce as private as possible.
• You want to stay in control over your own divorce terms and not have a Judge decide your future for you.
Consider thoughtfully whether divorce mediation is right for you before embarking on this legal process. While mediation has significant benefits over typical litigation and trial, this is only true if you and your spouse can go through mediation successfully. When spouses do commit to mediation, success is extremely likely.
Divorce Mediation Process in Arizona
If you and your spouse agree that divorce mediation is the ideal solution for dissolution of marriage, contact a mediator about your situation. Tell the mediator (or the mediator’s assistant) about your marriage, any children, and marital issues you must discuss during the dissolution. You can hire a legal advisor or lawyer to give you legal advice, help you make important decisions, and guide you through mediation. It’s up to you whether your lawyer accompanies you to the mediation meeting.
You and your spouse will attend mediation with the neutral third party mediator. You will both get the opportunity to discuss what is important to you and why. You will then discuss all pertinent details with the mediator and your spouse. You may have multiple sessions with the mediator to reach agreements on every issue. During negotiations, you and your spouse will work with the mediator to come up with creative solutions and compromises to property division, child custody agreements, parenting time, legal decision making, child support and spousal support, known as spousal maintenance in Arizona.
Once you complete mediation, the mediator will write up an agreement document outlining everything you and your spouse have decided during mediation. This may include your property settlement agreement and parenting plan with visitation schedule if there are children involved. These agreements will be incorporated into your Consent Decree of Dissolution of Marriage— your finalized divorce judgment. Some mediators will take care of the entire process, from beginning to end. Research your top local mediators to find out more about divorce mediation in your county.
Divorce Hearings and Trials
In Arizona, there are two types of divorce: uncontested and contested. An uncontested divorce is much easier on all parties involved compared with a contested divorce. In the former, the couple agrees on all divorce terms and conditions. Uncontested divorces follow the guidelines of divorce mediation or consent divorce, as described above. A contested divorce, on the other hand, requires extensive discovery, hearings, appearances, and a trial to battle out the details of dissolution of marriage.
If your spouse, the Respondent, contests your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and mediation is not an option, you will have to attend hearings to settle the disagreement. Your spouse may contest your child custody terms, spousal or child support arrangement, or debt or property division. When the Petitioner and Respondent do not agree about some aspect of the dissolution of marriage, they must prepare for a hearing. Here are the basic steps during a divorce hearing and trial in Arizona:
1. Interview and hire an attorney. It is possible to represent yourself, but it’s more often than not in your best interest to hire a family law attorney for a divorce hearing. Choose a local attorney who specializes in contested dissolutions of marriage in Arizona.
2. Discovery phase. During the pre-hearing discovery phase, both sides will have a chance to find out as much as possible about one another. This process can take months or years. It includes requests for production, interrogatories, and depositions. This may include conducting interviews with the other spouse, going through depositions, and even hiring a private investigator if one spouse has reason to believe the other is hiding assets.
3. Pre-trial hearings. In many cases, couples can resolve a contested dissolution of marriage during hearings and with negotiations between attorneys. There may be multiple hearings before your case has to go to trial for resolution. Hearings are shorter than trials and are in front of a judge with no jury.
4. Divorce trial. During a trial, both parties have a chance to make their cases. If there are attorneys involved, the attorneys will make these arguments for the Petitioner (the “plaintiff”) and the Respondent (the “defendant”). You may or may not have to testify during your trial. Your attorney will be able to prepare you for what to expect specifically.
5. Final decision. The judge will issue a final order at the close of the trial that will determine issues such as custody arrangements, spousal support, and property division. The judge’s declaration will finalize your divorce.
After the trial, one spouse may appeal the judge’s decision within 30 days of the dissolution’s finalization. Appealing a divorce decree means the judge has a second chance to make divorce decisions.
Should You Represent Yourself During a Divorce Hearing?
Divorce Court can be harsh and intimidating, especially if it’s a person’s first encounter with the Arizona judicial system. If you’ve never been to court before and don’t know what to expect, talk to a mediator or lawyer. Hiring a divorce mediator or respected family law attorney for representation during your divorce can help ensure that the process is as smooth and efficient as possible. Not doing so can place you at a distinct disadvantage, and cause miscommunications, unnecessary delays, oversights, and escalate conflict.
If you are in litigation, the fact that you can represent yourself during a hearing does not mean that you should. If mediation is not an option, and litigation is the only choice, below are reasons to hire a lawyer as soon as possible:
• Filing the correct paperwork in a timely manner.
• Getting through the state’s red tape to file.
• Familiarity with the local family laws and statutes.
• Experience with the family court system.
• Objective legal advice during an emotional time.
• Learning options you didn’t know existed.
• Access to consultants, experts, and investigators.
• More favorable settlement agreements.
• Relieving the stress of a dissolution of marriage.
• Protecting your rights to the full extent of the law.
Representing yourself during a divorce hearing or trial can take a severe emotional toll and add undue stress to an already tense situation. Your performance may potentially hurt your chances of getting the settlement you want and need. Overall, if you are litigating, do your research to find an experienced professional divorce litigator. Get personal recommendations. Be thoughtful about the kind of attorney you want representing you. Look for an attorney with a creative mind focused on resolving issues as seamlessly as possible, who also can be strong and aggressive if necessary, and most of all—someone you trust.
Property Division During Dissolution of Marriage in Arizona
During a divorce hearing, a judge decides the final verdict on property, asset, and debt division rather than spouses making these decisions on their own during mediation. States abide by two main legal theories when dividing property between parties of a dissolved marriage: community property and equitable distribution. Arizona is a community property state, meaning the courts will typically divide property of the “community” (the marriage) down the middle – 50/50 – in a divorce settlement. There are only nine states, including Arizona, that abide by community property rules.
Most states follow equitable distribution rules, in which the court decides how to divide property based on factors of the marriage. The courts may not always divide property 50/50 in these cases. Instead, the courts divide property based on what’s “fair” in the circumstances. They may grant the higher settlement to the spouse that makes less money, such as a stay-at-home parent, or to the spouse with a less stable financial future.
In Arizona, “community property” are all physical properties, financial portfolios, businesses owned, money, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, home equity, income, vehicles, and furniture that a couple acquired during the marriage. Community property also includes debts, including credit card debt, tax debt, and student loans. In community property states, the courts divide all of this property in half. All property each spouse acquired before the marriage or via inheritance is separate property and not included in the 50/50 division.
“Comingled property” is separate property that one person mixes with community property. For example, when a couple joins bank accounts after marriage, they turn separate property into community property. The courts split comingled properties 50/50 as they would with community property. It can get very complicated to figure out which properties are separate, community, and comingled. Working with a lawyer can help by finding receipts for things and examining bank information to get to the bottom of when a spouse acquired a certain asset.
Spousal Support Agreements
In Arizona, the courts may award one party “spousal maintenance.” Also, called “spousal support” or “alimony,” spousal maintenance is a payment one spouse must make regularly to the other spouse to bridge an income or property gap between them.
Unlike some other states, the Arizona legal system doesn’t award spousal maintenance to punish one party for wrongdoing, such as infidelity. Instead, Arizona uses it to help a spouse meet their reasonable needs. Spousal maintenance also assists during difficult transitions, such as adjusting to life as a single individual living on a single income.
There is no calculator for spousal maintenance in Arizona. In fact, there is very little predictability about the outcome of spousal maintenance, which is the reason for much litigation over the issue. Five different judges would likely award five completely different spousal maintenance awards. Sadly, litigation costs on attorneys and legal fees fighting over spousal maintenance can rise above the amount of support in dispute. Judge ordered spousal maintenance usually leaves both sides feeling as though they have lost. This creates substantial risk for both spouses, and creates a strong interest in settling the issue before litigation drags on and a Judge eventually decides.
Under A.R.S. 25-319, spousal maintenance is paid from one spouse to the other if the other:
(1) Lacks sufficient property to provide for their reasonable needs;
(2) Is unable to be self-sufficient through appropriate employment or is the custodian of a child whose age or condition is such that the custodian should not be required to seek employment outside the home or lacks earning ability in the labor market adequate to be self-sufficient;
(3) Contributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse;
(4) Had a marriage of long duration and is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self-sufficient.
If spousal maintenance is on the table, courts look at thirteen different factors to determine the amount and duration of spousal support payments. Below is a condensed summary of those factors:
The standard of living established during the marriage; duration of the marriage; age, employment history, earning ability and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance; The ability of the payer to meet their own needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance; the comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market; the contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse; the extent that the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse; the ability of both parties after the dissolution to contribute to the future educational costs of their mutual children; the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to that spouse, and that spouse’s ability to meet that spouse’s own needs independently; the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment and whether such education or training is readily available; excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community, joint tenancy and other property held in common; the cost for the spouse who is seeking maintenance to obtain health insurance; damages and judgments from conduct that results in criminal conviction of either spouse in which the other spouse or child was the victim.
It is common that spousal maintenance is awarded in circumstances where one spouse is unable to be entirely self-sufficient because that spouse declined significant career opportunities or made other sacrifices for the benefit of the couple or family. For example, if one parent worked inside the home to benefit the couple’s children, rather than outside of the home advancing a career, these facts would be considered when a Judge orders spousal maintenance.
Typically, spousal maintenance only lasts as long as it takes for the recipient to become self-supporting. However, depending on the circumstances, long term spousal maintenance may also be awarded. If the decree has no end date listed, the spouse must continue to make payments on schedule until the court orders otherwise. In most cases, spousal maintenance will end if the recipient remarries or upon the death of payor or recipient.
Mediated agreements for spousal maintenance can be very creative. Part or all of spousal support might be paid in a lump sum; part may be paid with other assets; creative structuring using step down approaches may be used; certain triggers to decrease or increase spousal maintenance can be agreed upon; personalized language for when maintenance may be modified or terminated are often agreed upon; tax benefits can be personalized; there are endless ways to personalize spousal maintenance, making the subject more bearable for both parties, when spouses are willing to settle spousal maintenance in divorce mediation.
Child Custody in Arizona
“Child custody” issues are potentially the most delicate and emotionally charged topics during a dissolution of marriage. Parents involved in Arizona custody disagreements and visitation issues can find themselves in an emotionally and financially exhausting legal battle. In the end, after the damaging toll on children and parents, the courts rule based on what they believe is in the child’s best interests, regardless of each spouse’s argument during hearings and/or trials.
The term “custody,” although still used by most spouses in divorce is no longer found in Arizona law. Judges no longer award “sole custody” or “joint custody.” Today, less adversarial language is used.
Recent Child Custody Law Update in Arizona
As of January 1, 2013, a new custody law went into effect in Arizona. This law changed the legal terms in child custody agreements, removing the word “custody” from all family law statutes.
The term “legal custody” is now called “legal decision making authority.” The court may award both parents “joint legal decision making authority” or one parent “sole legal decision making authority.” Legal decision making authority generally refers to parental authority to make final decisions regarding a child major health and medical decisions, major religious decisions, and major educational decisions.
Arizona courts have interpreted joint legal decision-making as their default orders based on recent law and precedent. The presence of certain facts such as a history of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, and certain criminal convictions can make sole legal decision-making the court’s first line orders.
Interestingly, the court may also assign certain decisions that each parent can legally make. For example, a judge could give the mother legal rights to make a child’s medical decisions, but father legal rights to make educational decisions. In either case, the judge will do what he or she believes is in the child’s best interest.
Separate from legal decision making is the issue of parenting time. Previously called “physical custody” the issue of when the children will be with Mom and Dad is now referred to as parenting time. An award of joint legal decision making does not necessarily mean equal 50-50 parenting time. However, equal 50-50 parenting time has also generally been the court’s default orders, as Arizona law recognizes that baring certain present facts, equal time with parents is in the child’s best interests.
Arizona lawmakers designed the new custody law to put parents on more equal grounds during dissolutions of marriages involving children. In the past, judges looked mainly at a child’s past primary caregiver when making custody decisions, operating on the belief that keeping a child in the same situation he or she is used to is generally what’s best for the child. The new law, however, instructs judges to look at the past, present, and potential future relationship between parent and child.
When parents in a dissolution of marriage have minor children, Arizona law requires that a parenting plan be created and executed. You and your spouse must fully agree on all parenting plan terms—otherwise a Judge will order the terms of your parenting plan for you. The goal of a parenting plan is to plan for issues that will inevitably arise when parenting your children after divorce to be better prepared for challenges that come when parents live in different residences. The better the “plan” the lower the conflict in the future, because there is already a plan in place for dealing with many circumstances.
Parenting plans can prevent parenting time, legal decision making, child support and other financial conflicts down the road as well as encourage improved communication between two parents. Parents have an opportunity to create their own parenting plan in divorce mediation. Parents may also eventually settle on a plan when litigating with attorneys. Otherwise, the Judge will make a plan for parents, and in that case, neither parent is usually satisfied with the outcome.
Many, many, issues are routinely covered in a parenting plan. In mediation, parents can also raise their own customized issues and build agreements around things that are most important to them. Some common issues in a parenting plan include:
• A weekly schedule of shared parenting time when children are with each parent
• Holiday parenting time
• Vacation time with children
• A periodic review agreement
• A “right of first refusal” agreement
• A “relocation” clause
• Legal decision making designation
• How parents will decide major choices, such as a child’s healthcare, education, and religion.
• Numerous issues regarding children’s healthcare and insurance coverage
• Cost sharing for extra circular activities and/or childcare and other child expenses
• A method of how to resolve disputes (parents will work with a mediator, counselor, etc. before coming back to the court to resolve the issue).
• Child support amounts
• Tax agreements regarding children
These are just some of the main things your parenting plan may include. You and your spouse can add provisions as necessary until you believe you have a solid plan for taking care of your child today, tomorrow, and well into the future. If you need help creating a parenting plan with your spouse, browse the Arizona Court’s Guide for rules, ideas, and helpful tips. However, there is no substitute for thoughtful planning and problem solving with a neutral mediator to guide a custom-tailored approach to your plan.
Child Support Payments
Arizona law requires that parents provide “reasonable support” for minor children, whether legal decision making authority is based on sole custody or joint custody, and regardless of time spent with either parent. Courts place the best interest of the child at the forefront of any divorce case. Thus, the child support obligation is given top priority over any other financial issues. Arizona uses something called the Arizona Child Support Guidelines to calculate support based on the number and ages of minor children, gross income of the parents, amount of parenting time for each parent, and other factors such as adjustments for other children not common to the parents, costs for healthcare and education.
In essence, the courts deem that the child should receive the same proportion of income from parents that he or she would have had the couple remained married. The Income Share Model, on which Arizona models its own Guidelines, looks at the parents’ income and computes a basic child support obligation. Rather than looking at marital misconduct, the courts look at other factors to determine the amount of child support, including:
• The financial needs and resources of the child and both parents.
• The child’s previous standards of living.
• The child’s emotional, physical, and educational needs.
• The child’s medical support plan.
• Duration of parenting time.
Typically, a parent must continue to make child support payments until the child turns 18. Payments may continue past this age if the child has special needs and is unable to live dependently and be self-supporting. If the child is still in high school, payments may continue until the age of 19.
Child support can also be modified when a parent can demonstrate “changed circumstances that are substantial and continuing.” When a parent’s income substantially increases or decreases, a modification of child support based on the new information is generally indicated. However, this does not include a voluntary departure from a higher paying job. When this occurs, a Judge may impute the higher income, even though the parent is no longer at that income level.
Can the Court Deviate from the Child Support Guidelines?
Generally, when child support is determined by a Judge using the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, the calculated amount will be ordered for child support. However, when the calculated amount would be “unjust” such that it is in the best interests of the child to deviate to a higher or lower child support award, the court will grant the deviation.
Often in divorce mediation, parents agree to deviate child support and agree on what parents determine to be in the best interests of their own children.
For example, after determining the by the Guidelines that Father is to pay $300 in child support to Mother each month, parents might reach an agreement that Father pay 100% of any monthly healthcare costs, 100% of any monthly extra circular activity costs, in exchange for a deviation to $0 in child support. Mother’s share for these costs that Father is now paying based on their circumstances is significantly higher than the $300 that Father would have paid in child support. It can be shown that “Father is providing for the children in other ways.” Therefore, this deviation would most likely be best for parents, and in the best interests of the child. This kind of deviation approach would be common when parents can keep conflict low in their divorce.
Hire a Family Law Attorney for Your Dissolution of Marriage in Arizona
While the first attempt at your divorce process should almost always be mediation, when one spouses refuses mediation, or circumstances do not allow spouses the freedom to participate in the mediation process, litigation is the only way to move forward to complete a divorce.
A litigated dissolution of marriage in Arizona can be complex and involve many different legal processes. Partnering with a trusted local family law attorney is essential to help you though your divorce case. An experienced divorce lawyer in Arizona can help you file the proper documents, obtain information through discovery, negotiate a settlement, and support you during a divorce hearings and an eventual trial. A good attorney will also give you sound advice, manage your expectations, and give you open, honest counsel. Protect your rights during dissolution of marriage in Arizona with a licensed divorce attorney.
Research finding the right attorney for you by seeking referrals from other professionals you trust and respect. Other lawyers, mediators, accountants, therapists and clergy may share their thoughts on divorce attorneys with quality reputations. You may also seek personal referrals from friends, colleagues, or peer whom you trust. Make sure you have a consultation and that connect with and trust the attorney you hire. You do not need to hire the first attorney you meet. Personal compatibility is an important consideration. Trust your instinct.