Couples whose marriages are legal under Arizona family law can petition the court to dissolve the civil union. The legal process begins with a petition at the Superior Court and ends when the court issues a decree of divorce from bed and board. Following this decree, the individuals cease to exist as husband and wife and may enjoy the legal and social status ascribed to unmarried persons in Arizona.
The legal process of divorce depends on the nature of divorce, i.e., a contested or uncontested divorce. In the former, the couple may have to use court services to mediate the terms of a divorce agreement or leave the resolution of disputes to the presiding judge. The latter type of divorce is typically faster and often more satisfying to the persons involved. Either way, a typical petition for divorce goes thus:
- Filing a divorce petition
The intending divorcee files a petition at the Clerk’s office in the Superior Court located in the county of their residence. The forms that the intending petitioner must complete are on the family law forms page. There are divorce form packets for couples filing for divorce with children and those filing for divorce without children.
Note that, Arizona residency requirement for divorce mandates that either spouse must have resided in Arizona for at least ninety (90) days. Persons filing for divorce need not specify a reason for divorce. Arizona divorce law allows petitioners to deem and cite the marriage as irretrievably broken (Az. Rev. Stat. 25-316).
Besides these, the intending divorce must check for other requirements peculiar to the county of petition or the Superior Court. State laws only outline the general rules and procedure for filing a divorce petition in Arizona. Counties and municipalities may also adopt local rules and procedures for filing a divorce.
- Paying the Filing Fee
The filing fee for a divorce petition in Arizona is $234.00 (see the Superior Court fee schedule). The petitioner still must pay other fees, such as during the service of process, apart from the costs incurred during personal expenses and legal preparation for the case. However, the court offers fee waivers and deferrals for persons who cannot pay court fees and demonstrate financial need.
- Service of Process
Here, the intending divorcee sends a copy of the divorce documents to the other spouse, i.e., a summons and petition. Generally, the petitioner has 120 days to serve these papers, and the respondent, i.e., the other spouse, has twenty days to respond to the divorce papers. Failure to respond to the divorce papers will cause the court to enter a judgment of default divorce against him/her.
Regarding serving the respondent, the petitioner may accomplish this by contracting the local sheriff or an unbiased third party who is an adult living in Arizona. The petitioner must pay this process server for the service, depending on the going rate in the county of residence. Intending divorcees in Arizona may not serve their own papers unless the divorce is a joint petition. In such cases, the respondent must complete a waiver of service form. Meanwhile, the process server shall return a Proof of Service or Affidavit of Service, which the petitioner must file with the Clerk.
- Responding To The Divorce Petition
Here, the spouse who received the divorce paper must prepare a written document called a response. The response may state the respondent agrees with the requests made in the divorce papers. Conversely, the respondent may contest the divorce. Either way, the recipient of the divorce papers must file the response with the Clerk of Superior Court.
He/she must submit the original copy of the response, make, and keep at least two copies of the written response for future reference. The Clerk shall stamp these copies as evidence of filing after the respondent pays a filing fee of $159.00. Note that these fees are subject to change and depend on the local court.
Meanwhile, the respondent must also serve the spouse who initiated the divorce petition with a copy of the written response. Note that sending these papers to the petitioner need not follow the process of service. After the first service, the couples may mail subsequent documents to each other or the other party’s attorney if represented.
- Divorce Agreement Without Court Hearing
In contested divorces, the couple may meet and resolve the issues disputed with an impartial mediator and following counsel from their attorney. There are tradeoffs in this kind of agreement, but the advantage is that the couple controls the terms of the divorce agreement. Following resolution of disputes, and at any time before the divorce hearing holds, the parties must ask the court to grant a decree, i.e., a Consent Decree based on the terms of the independent agreement. In such a scenario, the court will not hold a trial and the divorce is final. Conversely, when the mediated resolution fails partially or wholly, the divorce proceeds to court hearing as scheduled.
- Court Hearing
A court hearing is only necessary in case of a contested divorce. Here, the Clerk schedules a trial date after a waiting period of sixty days, and the intending divorcees appear as self-represented parties or with an attorney who represents them. The trial in contested divorces is typically adversarial, and both parties present arguments and documentary evidence in support of claims and motions.
The purpose of a divorce hearing is to settle the disputed terms of the divorce agreement regarding alimony, child support, parental time, division of assets, and liabilities. Generally, the court will refer the couple to mediation before the presiding judge takes over the equitable ratification of the divorce agreement. Thus, the couple only presents their cases, and the judge’s decision is final on all disputed matters.
A Note to Persons Filing Divorce in Arizona
Filing for divorce in Arizona is a systematic process that largely depends on local rules and procedures. However, this is an overview of a typical divorce in the state. An intending petitioner may complete a divorce without legal representation to save legal fees. Such self-represented petitioners must use the self-help resources available on the judiciary website and other supplementary resources.
Although courts aim to give equitable rulings, divorce is seldom fair. A general rule of thumb in filing for divorce, especially in a contested divorce, is to hire an attorney if the other party hires one. If you cannot afford an attorney still, consider using legal aid resources to improve your chances of getting a fair ruling.