Everything You Need to Know about Online Divorce Mediation in Arizona
Divorce is a complex legal process and a sensitive family matter. Depending on the circumstances, a divorce can involve complex asset and debt division issues, financial issues, spousal maintenance issues, and/or difficult issues regarding children, such as: parenting time, legal decision-making, and child support.
Even ‘simple’ divorces include careful document preparation, legal filings, monitoring of timelines, and many other issues to ensure a thorough and legally-valid process. When conflict unnecessarily escalates, even ‘simple’ divorces can spiral into long-term litigation cases. We are here to help you avoid unnecessary conflict and have the healthiest divorce possible.
With our online divorce mediation services, you can complete your entire divorce process 100% online. In mediation, you are partnering with a professional Arizona divorce mediator who is truly committed to your best interests. This can make your divorce significantly easier on you and your loved ones. We will explain everything you need to know about divorce to better prepare you for the journey ahead and will help you every step of the way.
We will help you develop an understanding of Arizona divorce law and the difference between mediation and litigation in order to make informed decisions in the best interest of you and your family.
Online Legal Separation or Divorce
For some couples, a legal separation is preferable to divorce until they can negotiate each and every relevant issue. In Arizona, the online legal separation process is very similar to the online divorce process. The couple must mutually agree to legal 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 property and legal-decision making.
The couple will then 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 financial issues involved. The contract is precise and 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 for the purpose of remaining on the same health insurance, for religious reasons, or to provide a temporary means of separating lives while final decisions about whether to divorce are made.
Legal separation through online mediation is based upon mutually-beneficial agreements and works toward a Win/Win result. While legal separation through litigation is based upon an adversarial approach and works toward a Win/Lose result.
Whether you choose Legal Separation or Divorce, you can complete your entire process through online mediation, without ever going to court.
Grounds for Filing Divorce in Arizona
Every state has its own laws regarding divorce, or ‘dissolution of marriage’ as it is called by the Arizona courts. In many states, the only grounds necessary for the dissolution of marriage are irreconcilable differences or an irretrievable breakdown of the relationship.
Arizona is a no-fault divorce state, which means one party does not need to find the other at fault for the dissolution of the marriage to take place. All that is required is for one spouse to desire the dissolution of the marriage. When one spouse is ready to get a divorce, there is nothing the other can do to prevent it.
The only choice to be made at that point is which approach to take to proceed your divorce process—the cooperative and convenient approach: online divorce mediation or the combative approach: litigation in court.
The Rare Covenant Marriage
Arizona is one of only three states, along with Arkansas and Louisiana, with a type of marriage that is legally distinct from traditional marriage, called covenant marriage. In a covenant marriage, the couple goes through premarital counseling and signs a special declaration of their intent to enter into a covenant marriage when applying for a marriage license. Covenant marriage limits the legal options for the dissolution of marriage. We can assist you with the dissolution of your covenant marriage through online divorce mediation services.
For those in a covenant marriage in Arizona, the courts will only grant dissolution of marriage under one of these grounds:
- The spouse 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.
We are here to assist you and answer any questions you have about covenant marriage. Contact us to find out how we can help you have the healthiest divorce possible.
Filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
In the state of Arizona, The first step toward the dissolution of marriage is the filing of a divorce petition, known as a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, in your county’s Superior Court. The person who files the Petition is now referred to as the Petitioner and their spouse the Respondent. The Aurit Center’s online divorce mediation services include the creation and filing of your legal documents. We complete all of the divorce forms and do all of the filings and you never go to court.
The residency requirement to file for divorce in Arizona states 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. The Aurit Center’s main office is in Maricopa county and we serve clients throughout the state.
You will file a different type of Petition depending on whether your dissolution does or does not involve children and/or is for a covenant marriage. Arizona offers some related paperwork on the Judicial Branch of Arizona’s website: ezCourt forms. There are anywhere from 10 to 20 divorce documents you may need to submit during the filing process, including a Petition, Preliminary Injunction, Acceptance and Waiver of Service, Notice Regarding Creditor’s Rights, Notice Regarding Health Insurance, Summons, and an Affidavit Regarding Minor Children, to name a few.
Our online divorce mediation services include assessment of your mediation needs, preparation of all necessary divorce forms, tracking of all deadlines and waiting periods, and filing with the court. You will be required to pay filing fees that the court charges. You can complete the entire online divorce mediation process from the comfort of your home.
Let our professional mediators ensure that each and every piece of documentation is prepared and filed accurately. Filing incorrectly can significantly delay the process and can lead to unnecessary conflict even long into the future. After the divorce paperwork is prepared and filed, the court will assign a case number.
In the litigated case, you will need to keep track of your case number and bring it to all of your court proceedings. In the mediated case, you will never need a case number because you will never go to court.
Serving Divorce Papers
One copy of the Petition to File goes to the Respondent, in an act called ‘service of process.’ The Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure, Rule 41 outlines the rules for service of process for family law cases being litigated.
In the litigated case, the Petitioner must serve the Respondent with divorce papers. They can mail them via first-class post with a return receipt requested, hire a process server or sheriff to do so on their behalf, hand-deliver them, and request their spouse to waive service, or in rare circumstances, the court may allow divorce service via publication. Review our Frequently Asked Questions to learn more.
In a much simpler process, online divorce mediation means no one gets “served” and the entire process is completed without the Petitioner or Respondent ever going to court.
In the litigated case, the Respondent has 20 days after the service of process to file a Response to the Petition, however, this deadline is extended to 30 days after service if the Respondent lives outside of Arizona. A response to the Petition is a Respondent’s acknowledgment of receipt of the documents regarding the dissolution of marriage and states his or her agreement or disagreement with the Petition, which boils down to a list of demands. In response to the Petition, the Respondent will state his or her position on the Petitioner’s proposals, including those related to asset division, legal decision-making, and spousal support.
After the deadline, the Respondent loses his or her right to argue items from the Petition. Failure to file a response may result in a default divorce, meaning the courts will assume that the Respondent agrees to all of the Petitioner’s terms, and will consequently dissolve the marriage. The Respondent may move to remove the default and contest the divorce only if he or she can prove to the court there was a justifiable reason to have missed the deadline. A Respondent needs sound legal evidence for the Arizona courts to set aside a dissolution granted by default.
Again, in a much simpler process, online divorce mediation, you avoid this back and forth process which only adds friction to an already difficult situation. Professional mediators help both spouses to cooperatively reach all agreements, without anyone ever being “served” or having to go to court.
For anyone who begins the litigation process and who wishes to end the adversarial, conflict-inducing process, you can enter into mediation at any point in the divorce process. Many clients come to mediation having already been served. Mediation provides the opportunity to have a cooperative divorce at any point in your divorce process. Online divorce mediation is convenient and keeps conflict low.
In some cases, the court will issue Temporary Orders to set boundaries for both parties prior to trial OR early on in the litigation process. Temporary Orders dictate who gets to stay in a shared residence, who will pay which bills, where the children will reside or if there will be temporary support.
In the litigated case, Temporary Orders are available for child support, legal decision-making, and restraining orders, to prevent a spouse from kidnapping the children. Temporary orders can take months to be put into place, however, Emergency Temporary Orders can be heard by a judge within 24 hours—typically only in cases involving abuse, drugs, alcohol, or mental health issues. Either party can file a request for a Temporary Custody Order.
The courts will decide what is in the child’s best interests and/or will cause the least amount of emotional upheaval. In many cases, Temporary Orders can become permanent if both parties agree to keep matters the same after divorce finalization. A judge can order the Temporary Orders to be permanent after the conclusion of a trial.
However, in the mediated case, rather than Temporary Orders, spouses work under the guidance of a third-party mediator to reach Temporary Agreements on all of the same issues. The parents stay in control of their terms to include where their children will reside and how support will be paid.
The Consented 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, including legal decision-making, child support, spousal support, and division of debts and assets, the courts can finalize the dissolution without the need for a trial.
The couple would simply submit a signed Consent Decree. Depending on the spouses, property, and whether or not they have children, they may need to submit additional documentation, such as a parenting plan or a property settlement agreement. If there are children involved, both parents must attend online 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.
In the litigated case, either spouse may file a petition to involve the Conciliation Court to assist in litigation.
In the mediated case, the process is streamlined because it is efficient, private, and there is never any need to go to court.
Legal Annulment in Arizona
A legal annulment is a rare alternative to the dissolution of marriage in Arizona. An annulment is only available if some factor makes the marriage invalid. In Arizona, voidable marriages include, but are not limited to, marriages:
- Without a valid marriage license
- Occurred while another marriage was still in effect
- Involve underage spouse
- Are fraudulent
- Involve threats or coercion
- With a blood relationship between spouses
- Involve intoxication or lack of mental or physical capacity
- Involve a spouse who cannot consummate the marriage
- Involve one spouse having concealed a criminal past or communicable disease
If a marriage is annulled, the spouses will be as they were before the marriage. The annulment means technically no marriage existed and there are no marital assets to be divided. Typically, each party leaves with the assets he or she had before the marriage.
If the judge does not grant the annulment, the couple may file for dissolution of marriage. It’s important to note a legal annulment is not the same as a religious annulment, which is not a civil action. Religious annulments are a declaration by the Catholic Church court saying what the church once recognized as marriage is now void.
Online Divorce Mediation
Online Divorce Mediation lets Arizona couples complete the dissolution of their marriage in a fair and mutually-beneficial manner. In mediation, spouses can represent themselves or hire a lawyer for representation. The two parties (and their lawyers, if applicable) meet with a neutral third-party mediator, who leads a discussion of all divorce issues and helps the couple to find common ground and reach agreements on each and every issue. There are many advantages to mediating rather than litigating (going to a trial) including:
- Confidentiality; nothing goes on public record
- Far less expensive than litigation
- Keeps conflict as low as possible
- Better for children’s health and wellbeing
- Results in settlement of all divorce issues
- Creates resolutions based on your beliefs about what is fair
- Spouses remain in control of the process (not a judge)
- Improved communication between you and your spouse
- Your option to have a lawyer represent you
Carefully weigh the advantages of online divorce mediation over a traditional, trial process before deciding how you want to complete your divorce process.
Is Online Divorce Mediation for Us?
Online Divorce Mediation works best when spouses can sit down with each other and discuss the terms of a divorce amicably. However, under the guidance of a skilled mediator, even couples experiencing high levels of conflict can communicate in new ways. They are able to make informed decisions and can successfully complete mediation. It is normal for divorcing spouses to have some conflict and to disagree on many issues. When spouses can at least be in the same room with one another, or in the same zoom meeting together, mediation can help them reach mutually-beneficial agreements.
If you and your spouse have one or more of the following goals, online divorce mediation may be right for you:
- To protect finances from being drained by high legal fees
- To maintain or develop a healthy, low-conflict co-parenting relationship
- To avoid the emotional toll of going to trial in court
- To keep the details of your divorce as private as possible
- To stay in control of your divorce terms and not have a judge decide your future for you
Thoughtfully consider the cooperative approach of Online Divorce Mediation before embarking on a costly, lengthy, and public legal process through litigation. If you and your spouse are willing to compromise and collaborate in mediation, you can complete your entire divorce process successfully, without ever going to court. The Aurit Center’s process includes an online questionnaire to help you prepare for mediation. We are dedicated to helping you every step of the way.
Online Divorce Mediation Process in Arizona
Once you and your spouse agree Online Divorce Mediation is the ideal solution for the dissolution of your marriage, contact The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation. A team member will discuss the process with you and answer any questions you may have about this healthier divorce option.
If you choose mediation, you can also hire a legal advisor or lawyer to give you legal advice, to help you make important decisions, and serve as another resource through your divorce process. It’s up to you whether or not your lawyer accompanies you to mediation meetings.
In your mediation meetings, you will have the opportunity to describe what is important to you and why, and then discuss pertinent details. You may have multiple sessions in order to reach agreements on every issue. Your mediator will help you both to come up with creative solutions and compromises regarding property division and spousal support, known as Spousal Maintenance in Arizona. If you have children, you will also address parenting time, legal decision-making, and child support.
Once you complete mediation, your mediator will prepare your legal documentation. Your unique agreements which will be incorporated into your Consent Decree of Dissolution of Marriage, which is your finalized divorce judgment documentation. Look for divorce mediators who will take care of the entire process, from beginning to end. Research Arizona’s top mediators who provide Online Divorce Mediation Services. The Aurit Center offers online services across the state offering all Arizonans the opportunity to have the healthiest divorce possible.
Divorce Hearings and Trials
In Arizona, there are two types of divorce: uncontested and contested.
In an uncontested divorce, the couple agrees on all divorce terms and conditions. An uncontested divorce may proceed in mediation or litigation, as described above. Likewise, a contested divorce may proceed in mediation or litigation. However, if a contested divorce continues in litigation, the process will likely be costly and cumbersome.
For instance, a contested divorce in litigation often requires extensive discovery, hearings, appearances, and a trial to battle out the details of the 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 all disagreements.
Your spouse may contest your legal decision-making terms, spousal or child support arrangement, and/or division of assets, debts, or property. If you don’t agree about any aspect of the dissolution of marriage, you must prepare for a hearing.
In litigated cases, there are basic steps during a divorce hearing and trial in Arizona:
1. Interview and Hire an Attorney
It is possible to represent yourself, but more often than not it is in your best interest to hire a family law attorney for a divorce hearing. Choose someone who specializes in contested dissolutions in Arizona.
2. Discovery Phase
Pre-hearing, the discovery phase allows both sides the chance to find out as much as possible about one another. This process can take months or years. It includes requests for production, interrogatories, subpoenas, and depositions. The parties may even need to consult with experts or hire a private investigator.
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
In a trial, each party presents its case. If there are attorneys involved, the attorneys will present on behalf of the Petitioner and the Respondent. You may or may not have to testify during your trial. Your attorney can best prepare you for what to expect.
5. Final Decision
At the close of the trial, the judge issues a final order, to determine issues such as a parenting plan, legal decision-making, child support, spousal support, and property division. This 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 a judge has a second chance to make divorce decisions.
In the mediated cases, you avoid this entire process and never go to court.
Should You Represent Yourself in Litigation?
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 the process is as smooth and efficient as possible. Not doing so, can place you at a distinct disadvantage, which can easily lead to miscommunications, unnecessary delays, oversights, and escalated conflict.
In litigated cases, the fact that you can represent yourself during a hearing does not mean you should. This is an unavoidable hassle that you should carefully consider, as the law does not lend itself to self-service. If mediation is not an option and litigation is your only choice, below are reasons to hire a professional:
- Filing the correct divorce 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
- Helping you understand all of your options
- 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 your own divorce hearing or trial can take a severe emotional toll and add undue tension to an already tense situation. Your performance may hurt your chances of getting the settlement you want/need. If you must litigate your case, do your research to locate an experienced professional divorce litigator. Get personal recommendations. Be thoughtful about the kind of attorney you want representing you. Look for an attorney who is solution-focused, has a creative mind, who can be strong and aggressive if necessary, and most of all—ensure they are someone you can trust.
In a litigated case, a judge decides the final verdicts.
In a mediated case, spouses make the final agreements.
States abide by two main legal theories regarding the division of property between parties of a dissolved marriage: community property and equitable distribution. Arizona is a community property state, meaning the courts will typically divide the property of the “community” (the marriage) down the middle—50/50. Only nine states, including Arizona, abide by community property rules.
Most states follow equitable distribution rules, which means the court decides how to divide property, not necessarily 50/50, but rather based on a variety of marital factors. Property is divided based on what’s “fair” in the circumstances. They may grant the higher settlement to a spouse who makes less money, such as a stay-at-home parent, or to the spouse with a less stable financial future.
In Arizona, community property includes: physical properties, financial portfolios, businesses owned, money, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, home equity, income, vehicles, furniture, and debts—including credit card debt, tax debt, and student loans. All property each spouse acquired before the marriage or via inheritance is separate property and not included in the 50/50 division.
Commingled property is a separate property one person mixes with community property. For example, when a couple joins bank accounts after getting married, they turn the separate property into community property. The courts split commingled properties 50/50 as they would any community property. Examining receipts and bank information is usually required to determine if the property is separate, community, or commingled.
Spousal Support Agreements
In Arizona, the courts may award one party spousal maintenance, also described as spousal support or alimony, which is a payment one spouse makes to the other to bridge any income gap due to divorce.
The Arizona legal system doesn’t award spousal maintenance as punishment for wrongdoing, such as infidelity, as is done in some states. Instead, Arizona uses it to help a spouse meet their reasonable needs. Spousal maintenance can also assist during a difficult transition, such as adjusting to life as a single individual living on a single income. In Online Divorce Mediation, your professional mediator will help you to reach fair, mutually-beneficial agreements that ensure both parties’ financial stability.
There is no calculator for spousal maintenance in Arizona and there is very little predictability about the outcome of spousal maintenance decisions, which is why there is a great deal of litigation over the issue. Five different judges would likely award five completely different spousal maintenance awards. Sadly, costly attorney and legal fees can rise well above the amount of support in dispute. Judge-ordered spousal maintenance usually leaves both sides feeling as though they have lost.
In a litigated case, the judge makes the important decisions which create a substantial risk for both spouses.
In a mediated case, the spouses decide their own terms and avoid a long, drawn-out, court battle and a judge deciding their fate.
Under A.R.S. § 25-319, spousal maintenance is paid from one spouse to the other if the other:
- Lacks sufficient property to provide for their reasonable needs
- Lacks the ability 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
- Contributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse
- Had a marriage of long duration and is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self-sufficient
Courts look at thirteen different factors to determine the amount and duration of spousal support payments:
- the standard of living established during the marriage;
- the duration of the marriage;
- the age, employment history, earning ability and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;
- the ability of the other spouse to pay spousal maintenance while meeting his/her own needs;
- the comparative financial resources of the spouses;
- the extent the spouse seeking maintenance contributed to the earning ability of the other spouse;
- the extent the spouse seeking maintenance reduced their income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse;
- the ability of both spouses to contribute to the future educational costs of their mutual children after divorce;
- the financial resources of the spouse seeking maintenance.
- The time necessary for the spouse seeking maintenance to acquire the education or training needed to find suitable employment, and whether such education or training is readily available;
- excessive or abnormal expenditures during the marriage;
- the cost of health insurance for the spouse seeking maintenance; and
- actual damages resulting from the criminal acts of either spouse on the other spouse or child.
It is common for spousal maintenance to be awarded in circumstances where one spouse is unable to be entirely self-sufficient because they declined significant career opportunities, or made other sacrifices, for the benefit of the couple or family.
In litigation, 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 until the court orders otherwise. In most cases, spousal maintenance will end if the recipient remarries or upon the death of the payor or recipient.
In Online Divorce Mediation, agreements for spousal maintenance can be very creative. Part or all might be paid in a lump sum; part may be paid with other assets; creative structuring using step-down approaches may be used; there might be certain agreed-upon triggers to decrease or increase spousal maintenance; personalized language for when maintenance may be modified or terminated; or tax benefits can be personalized, to name just a few. There are endless ways to personalize spousal maintenance, making the subject more comfortable for both parties, when spouses are willing to settle spousal maintenance in Online Divorce Mediation.
Child Custody in Arizona
In litigation, Arizona parents involved in custody disagreements and visitation issues can find themselves emotionally and financially exhausted. In the end, after a damaging toll has been taken on the children and the parents, the courts rule based on what they believe is in the best interest of the children, regardless of either parent’s desires.
The term custody, although still used, is no longer found in Arizona law. Judges no longer award “sole-custody” or “joint-custody.” Today, parenting time is the terminology most often used.
In Online Divorce Mediation, parents work under the guidance of a mediator to reach their own parenting time agreements that best meet the unique needs of their children.
Legal Decision-Making Authority
Legal decision-making authority refers to the parental authority to make final decisions regarding a child’s major health and medical decisions, religious decisions, and educational decisions.
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 order of business.
Interestingly, the court may also assign specific types of decisions to either parent. For instance, a judge could give the mother legal rights to make a child’s medical decisions, but father the legal rights to make the child’s educational decisions. In either case, the judge decides what they feel is in the child’s best interest.
An award of joint legal decision-making does not necessarily mean equal 50-50 parenting time. However, 50-50 parenting time has generally been the court’s default order, as Arizona law recognizes equal time with parents is in the child’s best interests.
Arizona lawmakers designed the custody laws to put parents on more equal ground during divorces involving children. In the past, judges mainly looked to a child’s past primary caregiver when making custody decisions, operating on the belief that less change is generally what is best for the child. The newer laws, however, instruct judges to look at the past, present, and potential future relationship between parent and child when making custody decisions.
To stay in control of these aspects of divorce, you and your spouse can choose Online Divorce Mediation.
Arizona law requires divorcing parents to create and execute a parenting plan. Parents must fully agree on all parenting plan terms—otherwise, a judge will order the terms.
The goal is to plan for issues that will inevitably arise when co-parenting children after divorce and to better prepare the family for challenges that come when parents live in different residences. The better the plan, the lower the conflict now in the future.
In Online Divorce Mediation, your parenting plans will address parenting time, legal decision-making, child support, and other financial agreements while improving communication between you and your spouse. It will also help you both to develop communication skills that will help you to be the best co-parents possible for your children.
In litigation, parents may create a plan with their attorneys or the judge will make a plan for the parents, in which case both parents are often unhappy with the final decisions.
In mediation, parents create their own customized parenting plan based on their own unique concerns and build agreements around things that are most important to them. Parents develop a solid plan for taking care of their child(ren)—today, tomorrow, and well into the future. Some common items addressed in a parenting plan include:
- Weekly Parenting Time Schedule
- Holiday Parenting Time Plan
- Vacation Time Plan
- Periodic Review Agreement
- Right of First Refusal Agreement (if one parent needs to get coverage for their parenting time, the other parent gets the right of first refusal before a third party is considered)
- Relocation Clause
- Legal Decision-Making Designations
- Healthcare and Insurance Coverage Issues
- Cost-Sharing for the Children’s Expenses
- Plan for Dispute Resolution
- Child Support Amounts
- Tax Agreements
If you need help creating a parenting plan, browse the Arizona Court’s Guide for rules, ideas, and helpful tips. However, there is no substitute for the thoughtful planning and problem-solving that a neutral mediator brings to a parenting dispute when divorce is approached through mediation. A mediator can provide guidance, offer creative solutions, and facilitate the development of a custom-tailored plan to meet your family’s unique needs.
Child Support Payments
Arizona law requires parents to provide reasonable support for minor children, whether legal decision-making authority is based on sole 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 issue. Arizona uses the Arizona Child Support Guidelines to calculate support based on the number and ages of minor children, the 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 or costs for healthcare and education.
In essence, the courts deem the child should receive the same proportion of income from parents that he or she would have had if the couple had remained married. The Income Share Model looks at the parents’ income and computes a basic child support obligation. The courts look at other factors, as well, to determine the amount of child support, including:
- Financial Needs and Resources of the Child and Both Parents
- Child’s Previous Standards of Living
- Child’s Emotional, Physical, and Educational Needs
- Child’s Medical Support Plan
- Duration of Parenting Time
Typically, a parent must 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 be modified in the event of “changed circumstances that are substantial and continuing.” When a parent’s income substantially increases or decreases, a modification is generally indicated—unless the parent’s departure from a higher paying job is voluntary. If this situation arises, a judge may impute the higher income, in spite of the parent’s new lower income level.
Can the Court Deviate from the Guidelines?
In a litigated case, the court may grant a deviation from the Arizona Child Support Guidelines when the calculated amount would be “unjust”.
In a mediated case, parents often agree to deviate from the child support calculation. A mutual decision to deviate is common when parents use mediation and keep conflict low.
Dissolution of Marriage in Arizona
Mediation is the best way to ensure a low-conflict, out of court, divorce. If one spouse refuses mediation, or circumstances do not allow spouses the freedom to participate in the mediation process, they will need to participate in litigation to move forward to complete their divorce.
Litigation can be complex and involve many different legal processes. Partnering with a trusted local family law attorney is essential to help you through 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 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 the dissolution of marriage in Arizona by working with a licensed divorce attorney.