There are five primary issues in a divorce with children: division of the community property, legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, and spousal maintenance (aka alimony).
- Property division. Arizona is a community property state. That means anything acquired during the marriage (other than by inheritance or gift) belongs both you and your spouse. In divorce, property is divided equitably—typically that means it is divided equally. But in exceptional circumstances the Court may make an unequal division. There is a well-known case in Arizona where an elderly man married a woman 20 years younger than him. They were married for less than a month. During that month, he bought a house and made a six-figure down payment. At the divorce, the judge awarded 85% of the house to the husband, reasoning it was the fairest outcome considering the circumstances.
- Parenting time. The Court always starts with the idea that parenting time should be equal. Unless there is a safety concern, a logistical issue, or some other reason why equal parenting time would not be in the child’s best interests, a judge is likely to order a 50-50 parenting schedule. Arizona law also requires the Court to address other parenting time issues, such as a holiday schedule, a summer vacation schedule, out-of-state travel procedures, exchange procedures, and a communication plan.
- Legal decision-making. Legal decision-making determines which parent can decide issues about the children, like where the child goes to school, whether the child can be enrolled in counseling, what kind of medical procedures the child has, what religious tradition the child is taught, etc. In most cases, Courts order joint legal decision-making which requires the parents to make these decisions together.
- Child support. Child support is ordered in every case, even when the Court orders equal parenting time. It is calculated by a standard formula that includes parenting time, health insurance, income, and other factors. Contrary to popular belief, the calculation is gender-neutral and focuses on the parent’s income, health insurance costs, and the amount of parenting time. Other expenses such as childcare and private school tuition may be included.
- Spousal maintenance (a.k.a. alimony). The main purpose of spousal maintenance is to help one spouse transition to independence. Spousal maintenance is a complicated and highly litigated issue, in part because unlike child support, there is no standard calculation. Usually, if spousal maintenance is awarded, it is ordered for only a few years to help one spouse transition to independence. Generally, the bigger the gap in income between the two spouses, the more likely spousal maintenance is to be ordered. Similarly, the longer the marriage, the longer duration of the award. A lifetime award is rare, but it can happen under certain circumstances.