Divorce. A divorce is a legal decree or judgment that dissolves a marriage. In Arizona, divorces are called marriage dissolutions. The process of dissolution involves resolving issues regarding legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, spousal support, if applicable, division of joint and community property and debt, restoration of sole and separate property and debt to the party owning the same and recovery of court costs and attorneys fees, if permitted by statute. With few exceptions, Arizona is a no fault state, meaning that neither party has to prove wrongdoing by the other party. The requirements for getting a divorce in Arizona is that one party must have resided in Arizona for at least 90 days and must testify that the marriage is irretrievably broken with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation. Most counties in Arizona have Conciliation Courts which are a branch of the Superior Court. If one of the parties believes that counseling may resolve the parties’ differences, that party can ask for conciliation services which are provided free of charge. Either party may ask for the entry of Temporary Orders so that issues such as legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance and possession of the former family home may be heard by the court within approximately 30 days from the date of filing. This eliminates many arguments that may occur during the pendency of the dissolution action, but these orders are only in effect during the pendency of the action or until a superceding court order is entered.
Temporary Orders never take the place of Permanent Orders that govern after the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage is entered, unless the Court makes an exception and carries them over. If the action involves minor children, mandatory mediation regarding issues of legal decision-making, as well as parenting time, is scheduled. The parties then attempt to negotiate a solution to the various issues in the proceeding. Usually these negotiations take place through their attorneys, although four way settlement conferences including both attorneys and both parties are not unusual. If these negotiations are not successful, the matter is set for trial. Each party must exchange with the other a list of witnesses and exhibits. The witnesses are interviewed by both sides in preparation for trial and the exhibits are thoroughly examined. Pretrial Statements are filed. In Pima County, the matter is set for a Family Law Settlement Conference before a Judge Pro Tempore appointed by the Superior Court to facilitate settlement of the matter. If the matter settles at the settlement conference, testimony is taken and the Decree is finalized as directed. If the matter is not settled, then trial is confirmed and the matter proceeds to a full trial on the merits where the exhibits are admitted into evidence if they comply with the evidentiary rules and testimony is taken from both the parties and their witnesses. The Judge then decides the disputed issues within 60 days of the trial date and one of the attorneys is directed to draft a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage in accordance with the Court’s orders. The other party’s attorney approves the proposed Decree as to form and the orders are submitted to the court, signed and filed. If the other party objects to the proposed documents, a subsequent hearing is held to finalize the language in the Decree and accompanying Orders. There is no waiting period in Arizona for a divorce to become final. It is final upon entry by the Judge and filing in the Clerk’s office. The only time requirement in Arizona is that there must be 60 days between the time that the matter is served on the opposing party and the time that the final hearing takes place. All community property and debt terminate on the day of the service of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.*
Uncontested Divorce. An uncontested divorce is one where the opposing party fails to respond to the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. If the respondent spouse lives in Arizona, the respondent has 20 days from date of service to file a response with the court, including payment of a filing fee. A copy of the response must be served upon the moving party’s (petitioner’s) attorney. If the responding party lives outside of Arizona, that party has 30 days within which to file a written response and pay his/her filing fee. If the responding spouse does not do so in a timely fashion, the petitioning spouse may then file an Application and Affidavit of Default. This is a document that says that the foregoing time periods were not met and asks that Default be entered. This Application and Affidavit must be sent to the responding party who has ten working days to respond by filing the appropriate response and paying the applicable filing fee with the Court. If no response is filed within ten days, then the Court will enter default, meaning that no response can be filed unless the court sets the default aside for good cause shown. After 60 days have passed following the service of the original Petition for Dissolution on the opposing party, the Court may enter a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage at a default hearing scheduled by the moving party, with no prior notice to the non-responding party. The petitioning party usually gets whatever relief is requested, provided that it is reasonable, due to the failure of the opposing party to respond.*
Contested Divorce. A contested divorce is one where both parties file the appropriate pleadings with the Court in a timely fashion. However, the parties cannot agree on one or more issues. These issues include legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance or alimony, division of property or debt or recovery of court costs and attorney’s fees. These issues are usually the subject of temporary orders which sometimes, but not always, indicate how a judge sees the issues and how they may be resolved in a future trial on the merits. If the parties are still disagreeing, the lawyers usually try to settle the matter either amongst themselves with input from both clients or in a four way settlement conference with both lawyers and their respective clients in attendance. If this still does not resolve the matter, then the parties set the matter for a full trial on the merits. At this point, the parties can involve private mediators if it is deemed appropriate. Many of these mediators also serve as Judges Pro Tempore so they can get a resolution dictated to a court record during the mediation hearing. If mediation is not appropriate, the parties prepare a Pretrial Statement, Affidavit of Financial Information and Inventory and file these documents with the Court. In Pima County, Arizona, the parties and their counsel then attend a Mandatory Domestic Settlement Conference with an assigned Judge Pro Tempore in an attempt to settle all, or at least most, of the disputed issues. If all of the issues are not settled, the matter then goes to a full trial on the merits with exhibits being admitted into evidence and testimony being taken from the parties and their witnesses. Each party is entitled to cross examine the other side’s witnesses. The matter is usually taken under advisement by the Judge and ruled upon within 60 days. One of the attorneys is directed to draft a Decree for the Court’s signature. The other attorney approves the Decree as to form before it is submitted for the Judge’s signature. If there is a dispute on the proposed language, it is resolved in a subsequent hearing. The Decree is ultimately submitted, signed by the Judge and filed with the Clerk of the Superior Court whereupon it becomes a Judgment of the Superior Court and is final in all respects.*
Length of Time for a Divorce. In Pima County, Arizona, uncontested divorces generally take between 60 to 90 days before they are finalized. If a divorce is contested, it may take between 9 months to a year or more to be finalized, depending on the issues.*
*The information in this message is general and should not substitute for the advice and counsel of a licensed attorney.