The decision to file for divorce is never easy or hasty and neither is the divorce process itself. When you have decided to divorce, you want it over as quickly and painlessly as possible but there are a variety of steps you must go through before your divorce is finalized and official. Because divorce is inherently emotional, it is easy to get caught up in those emotions and let them affect your decision-making. But there are a lot of major decisions to make that will greatly impact your future, so staying calm and hiring an experienced and reliable attorney to help you navigate the divorce process, will help protect what is most important to you, and help you reach a successful resolution.
10 Steps to File for Divorce in Arizona
- File Initial Divorce Documents with the Court – Once you have met with your attorney, the first thing that needs to happen to begin the divorce process is to file for dissolution in the county in which you reside. There is standard documentation that must be completed to formally start the legal process. You will need to file a Petition for Dissolution of your marriage with the court. Whoever files the Petition is automatically the “Petitioner” and must serve their spouse, also known as the “Respondent.” Other than emotional ties and who gets to go first in the event of a hearing, it does not really matter who is the Petitioner and who is the Respondent. Arizona courts do not favor either party and because the state of Arizona is what is known as a “no-fault” state, no reason needs to be stated to explain why you are seeking a divorce.
- Serve Filed Paperwork on Your Spouse – Once the Petitioner has filed with the court, they are legally required to serve a copy of the Petition and all the related documents on the Respondent. There are a few different ways to legally serve paperwork, depending on what is most ideal for your circumstances. A divorce petition can be served by a traditional process server or be personally served. To personally serve your spouse they sign a document, in front of a notary, that lists all the documents they are accepting service for. It is important to note that the date of service is VERY important because it is the official date the court will deem the “marital community” is separated. After the Respondent has been served, there is what is known as a 60 day “cooling off” period which means that no divorce will be finalized for at least 60 days.
- Spouse Files Response – The Respondent has 20 days from the date of service to file their Response to the Petition of Dissolution if they live in Arizona, and 30 days from the date of service if they live outside of Arizona. The responding spouse MUST respond within the designated timeframe, or the petitioning spouse can apply for a default judgment from the Court. This includes filing an Application and Affidavit for Default. The Respondent will then be given 10 days to respond to the application and affidavit or the judge may grant an official Decree of Dissolution according to all the terms the petitioning spouse originally filed. If both parties agree to all issues involved in the divorce, the process will be much quicker, and a Consent Decree of Dissolution of Marriage can be submitted with the court. If both parties agree on all issues, you can skip steps 4-8 and head straight to step 9. If both parties do not agree on all terms, the resolution process will be lengthier and often costlier.
- Trade Documents and Information – Once the divorce has officially started, it is time to share information with your spouse and vice versa regarding all finances and community property. This includes, but is not limited to bank account statements, credit card statements, title documents, mortgage documents, investments, debts, assets, jewelry, automobiles, home furnishings, life insurance, retirement accounts, pensions, etc.
- Resolution Management Conference – A Resolution Management Conference or RMC will be scheduled by the court at the outset of the divorce process. This short hearing involves both parties and their attorneys for the court to determine if there are any preexisting agreements that are formal and binding. If the court upholds the agreement, they will also determine if it is necessary to order any services such as drug testing, mental health evaluations, vocational evaluations, business evaluations, and more. Depending on if one or both parties are represented, the Court’s agenda may vary.
- Settlement Conference or Mediation – At this point, you’re in the home stretch but there are still some important decisions to be made that have not yet been agreed upon. The Court may order a formal settlement conference, or parties and their attorneys have the option of private mediation. The judge can determine if the court will provide ADR (alternative dispute resolution) services to help both parties with any remaining issues that have not been resolved to avoid going to trial. If at the end of the Settlement Conference, everything has been agreed upon, you can motion the Court to vacate any trial or hearing that has been set and skip to step 9 to prepare your final documents. If the parties cannot agree on all issues at this point, continue on to step 7.
- Final Trial – If any issues cannot be agreed on during settlement discussions, the matter must go to trial, and the judge will decide all issues for which an agreement has not been reached. Preparing for and conducting a trial is a time and resource-extensive endeavor. To prepare for trial, you will need to first prepare your exhibits. The Minute Entry setting trial will give you the deadline for submitting exhibits and instructions on how to submit them. Next, you will need to draft a Pretrial Statement. The Pretrial Statement includes your positions and arguments on each of the outstanding issues. You also must list all your exhibits and witnesses you plan to use during the trial in the Pretrial Statement. The final preparation is to prepare your questions and/or statements that you will make to the Court during the hearing. On the day of trial, you will have limited time to present your case, cross-examine the other party and their witnesses, and admit your exhibits. It is important to use your time are arguments wisely on the trial day because the information presented is the only set of information the Judge can weigh in making their final rulings.
- Judge Decides Outstanding Issues – Judges have up to 60 days to issue a final ruling. The Court will issue a Minute Entry shortly following the trial day that details its findings and contains the Court’s rulings One of the orders will be one dissolving the marriage and returning each party to the status of single persons. The Decree may reference the parties’ other agreements and make those agreements orders of the Court. The parties are obligated to follow what the Court orders.
- Judge Signs Divorce Decree – Once the judge has issued the final divorce judgment, your marriage is dissolved. In addition to terminating your marriage, your divorce decree will also outline things like child support, child custody, spousal maintenance, asset/property division, debt division, responsibility for attorney fees, and more.
- Divorce is Final – Once you get back your Decree signed by the judge, your divorce is final. If you need anything adjusted or want to challenge the Court’s ruling, you have some options, but you have a limited time frame in which to wage a challenge. Pay attention to specific deadlines or action you need to take regarding payments, refinancing, etc. or you open yourself up to possible future litigation of the issues.