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Complications of Divorce
Divorce can be a complex legal process and a sensitive family matter. It can be mentally and emotionally draining for both spouses. Depending on the circumstances, a divorce can involve complicated asset divisions, financial issues, spousal maintenance issues, and/or difficult issues regarding children—parenting time, legal decision-making, and child support.
Even “simple” divorces require document preparation, legal filings, monitoring of timelines, and many other issues to ensure a thorough and valid process. Simple divorces can spiral into long-term litigation when conflict unnecessarily escalates. Spouses often aren’t aware that divorce mediation can peacefully guide them through the entire divorce process, so they naively begin the litigation process. Thankfully, spouses can choose to begin mediation at any point in their divorce process.
Arizona Divorce, a partner of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation, provides a dedicated team of individuals committed to your best interests and making your divorce as stress-free as possible. This guide will help you learn all you need to know about divorce to better prepare yourself and your family for the journey ahead.
Legal Separation vs. Divorce
Some spouses find that a legal separation is a preferable alternative to divorce. In Arizona, the process of obtaining a legal separation is very similar to the process of obtaining a divorce. Spouses must mutually agree to the separation, or show the marriage to be irretrievably broken. Then, they must file a Petition for Legal Separation With/Without Children with the Superior Court of Arizona, and determine each party’s rights to property.
The spouses then sign a Separation Agreement—a legally-binding contract that resolves issues, to include: debt, property, and child-related issues. Most spouses consult with an attorney or mediator to complete this agreement, especially when there are children or complex assets involved. The contract is very detailed, outlining rights and responsibilities. Our mediators ensure that each and every aspect of legal separation is addressed, prepare the legal documentation, and file the documents with the court, so that neither spouse ever has to go to court.
A legal separation does not divorce a couple in Arizona. Legally separated spouses still have some of the same legal obligations as they did prior to the separation. Legal separation is most often pursued to enable spouses to remain on one another’s health insurance, for religious reasons, or as a temporary means of separating lives while making a decision about whether or not to pursue a divorce.
Grounds for Filing for Divorce in Arizona
Every state has its own laws regarding divorce—or “dissolution of marriage,” as the Arizona courts refer to it. The only grounds upon which the courts allow dissolution of marriage are irreconcilable differences or an “irretrievably broken” relationship. Since Arizona is a “no fault” divorce state, one spouse does not need to find the other spouse at fault for dissolution. One spouse simply states that he or she wishes to dissolve the marriage.
When one spouse is ready to move forward with divorce, there is nothing the other can do to prevent the divorce from happening. The important choice to be made at that point is how to proceed the divorce process—in a cooperative way (mediation) or through a divorce war (litigation).
HOW MEDIATION WORKS
Our simple, four-step process
Hear about our straight-forward Arizona divorce process, have all your questions answered, and learn about the next steps.
We File the Petition
You will avoid the often hurtful process of “being served.” Instead, we file your divorce Petition without conflict and your process moves forward.
We Help You Reach Agreements
You, not the judge, remain in control of your terms. Your mediator will identify the issues, explain Arizona law, and help you reach your best possible agreement.
We File the Consent Decree
Your divorce is finalized when we file your consent decree with the court, without ever going to 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 marriages. It is called a covenant marriage and in this type of marriage, spouses agree to go through premarital counseling with a marriage counselor or member of the clergy. Following this counseling, they sign a special declaration of their intent to enter into a covenant marriage, while applying for a marriage license. Spouses in a covenant marriage have limited legal options for dissolution of marriage.
In Arizona, the courts will only grant dissolution of marriage for certain, limited reasons for spouses in a covenant marriage. There are eight grounds for potential dissolution:
- The spouse that is 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, emotional abuse, or physically or sexually abused the other spouse, child/children, or relatives of either spouse, who lives in the spouse’s home.
- The couple has been living apart without getting back together for at least two consecutive years.
- The court has already granted the spouses a legal separation, and the spouses have 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 divorce.
While a no-fault divorce has very few requirements for dissolution of marriage, compared to a covenant marriage divorce, it is possible to dissolve a covenant marriage in Arizona. Our mediators can help you to navigate through either type of divorce process.
Filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
The first step toward dissolution of marriage is to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in your county’s Superior Court. The spouse who files is the Petitioner and the non-filing spouse is the Respondent.
In order to file for dissolution of marriage in Arizona, 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. This is known as the residency requirement. Seek out information regarding mediation services before you file your Petition to better understand the advantages of mediation.
A different type of Petition is filed, depending on whether the dissolution involves children, or is for a covenant marriage. Arizona offers the relevant legal documents on the Judicial Branch of Arizona’s website, called “ezCourt Forms.” There are anywhere from ten to twenty documents you may need to submit during your filing process, including but not limited to a Marital Settlement Agreement, Preliminary Injunction, Acceptance and Waiver of Service, Credit Notification Form, Request for Hearing, and an Affidavit Regarding Minor Children. At The Aurit Center, we help you reach mutually-beneficial agreements, will prepare all of the required legally-binding documentation, and will file with the courts on your behalf.
It’s wise to begin working with a mediator to file for dissolution of marriage to ensure you file correctly the first time, as filing incorrectly can delay the process. Once you file, the court will assign you a case number. If you are litigating in court, you will need to keep track of your case number and bring it to all court proceedings. If you are working with a mediator, you will never need to go to court.
Serving Divorce Papers
A copy of the Petition goes to the Respondent, in an act called “Service of Process.” The Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules 4.1 and 4.2, outline the rules for service of process. Essentially, the Petitioner must serve (give) the Respondent a copy of the divorce papers. The Petitioner can hand-deliver them, mail them via first-class post, hire a process server or sheriff to serve (give to the Respondent) the papers on their behalf, or ask the court to order service via publication.
Mediation avoids the process of serving divorce papers, as no one gets “served” in mediation. Rather, the Respondent signs a document called Acceptance of Service.
In litigation, the Respondent has twenty days, after the service of process, to file a response to the Petition, if he or she wishes to do so. The courts extend this deadline to thirty days after service, if the Respondent lives outside of Arizona. A Response to the Petition is the Respondent’s acknowledgement of receipt of the dissolution of marriage papers and their agreement or disagreement with the proposals, or terms, listed in the Petition. The Respondent will state their position on the Petitioner’s proposals regarding items such as asset division, child custody, and spousal support.
After the deadline, the Respondent loses their right to argue items on the Petition. Failure to respond to the Petition results in a “default” divorce, meaning the courts will assume that the Respondent agrees to the Petition’s terms and dissolves the marriage.
The Respondent may remove the “default” and contest the divorce, only if they can prove to the court there was a justifiable reason for missing the deadline. A Respondent needs sound legal evidence for the Arizona courts to set aside a dissolution granted by default.
However, in mediation, this back and forth is avoided. Mediators help both spouses to cooperatively reach all agreements, without ever being “served” or having to go to court.
In some cases, the court may issue Temporary Orders to set boundaries for both parties before litigation begins. Temporary Orders can dictate items such as: who will stay in a shared residence, who will pay specific bills, if there will be temporary spousal maintenance or support payments, and where children will reside.
In litigation, Temporary Orders are available for child support, custody, and restraining orders, to prevent one spouse from kidnapping the children. It can take a few months for the Arizona courts to hear and decide on Temporary Orders.
However, there are Emergency Temporary Orders that a judge will hear within 24 hours, if necessary. This is typically only applicable in cases involving abuse, drugs, alcohol, or mental health issues. Either party can file a request for an Emergency Temporary Custody Order.
The courts will make a decision regarding a Temporary Custody Order based on what is in the child’s best interest or will cause the child the least amount of emotional upheaval. In many cases, Temporary Orders become permanent when both parties agree, via a settlement agreement or consent decree, to keep matters the same after divorce finalization. In other cases, a judge will order Temporary Orders to become permanent after the conclusion of a trial.
In mediation, rather than seeking Temporary Orders, spouses reach “Temporary Agreements” on the same issues, while staying in complete control of the terms. Temporary Agreements are reached without fighting, are more likely to be complied with and better meet the needs of individuals, children and families.
The Consent Divorce Process
In best-case scenarios, spouses do 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 of the terms of dissolution of marriage—including child custody, child support, spousal support, and debt and asset division—the courts can finalize the dissolution without the need for a trial.
The courts call this the Consent Divorce Process. Both spouses have to sign several documents for a Consent Decree to avoid going to trial. If there are children involved, both parents must each attend a Parent Education class before the courts will grant dissolution via a Consent Decree.
In some cases, a couple will go through a 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 helps spouses who wish to settle family matters amicably. Either spouse may file a petition to involve the Conciliation Court to assist in mediation. Mediation is a streamlined alternative that is effective, private, and avoids any need to go to court.
Legal Annulment in Arizona
A legal annulment is a rare alternative to dissolution of marriage in Arizona. An annulment is only available in certain situations. The courts may grant an annulment, making your marriage null and void, if some specific factor makes your marriage invalid. In Arizona, voidable marriages include, but are not limited to, marriages that:
- occurred while another marriage was still in effect;
- occurred without a valid marriage license;
- occurred with an underage spouse;
- are fraudulent;
- occurred due to threats or coercion;
- occurred between spouses who have a blood relationship;
- involved intoxication or lack of mental or physical capacity;
- involved a spouse who cannot consummate the marriage; or
- involved one spouse concealing a criminal past or communicable disease.
If the courts find a valid reason to grant the annulment, you and your spouse will be as you were before the marriage. As there was technically no marriage to begin with, there are no marital assets to divide. Typically, each party leaves with the assets he or she had before the marriage. If the judge does not grant the annulment, you may file for dissolution of marriage.
It’s important to note that a legal annulment is not the same as a religious annulment, which is not a civil action. Religious annulments occur within the Catholic faith. A religious annulment is a declaration by the Catholic Church court that a marriage the church thought was valid is now void.
Divorce mediation is a frequently used option for dissolution of marriage in Arizona. During mediation, either spouse can represent themselves or hire a lawyer for representation. The two parties (and their lawyers, if applicable) will meet with a neutral third party mediator. They discuss issues, such as child custody and assets, and the mediator helps them find common ground and reach agreements on each and every issue of divorce. There are many benefits to mediating rather than litigation and going to a trial. Some benefits are:
- Confidentiality; nothing goes on public record.
- Far less expense 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 beliefs about what is fair.
- Spouses remain in control of the process (not a judge).
- Improved communication between spouses.
- Both spouses have the option to have a lawyer represent them.
Carefully weigh the pros and cons of divorce mediation over a traditional trial process before deciding which is right for you.
Who Should Consider Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation works best when spouses can sit down with each other and discuss the terms of a divorce amicably. Although it is normal that spouses will have some conflict and may not agree on major issues, divorce mediation works best when spouses can at least be respectful with one another. Divorce mediation may be right for you, if you want to:
- protect your finances from being drained by high legal fees and may be willing to compromise to save your assets in the long run;
- maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship;
- avoid the emotional toll of a trial;
- keep the details of your divorce as private as possible; and/or
- stay in control over your own divorce terms and not have a judge decide your future.
Consider thoughtfully whether divorce mediation is right for you before embarking on a tumultuous journey through the legal system. Mediation has significant benefits over typical litigation, and mediation is successful when spouses commit to the process.
Divorce Mediation Process in Arizona
If you and your spouse agree that divorce mediation is the ideal solution for the dissolution of your marriage, contact a mediator. Tell the mediator (or the mediator’s assistant) to schedule a no-obligation, complimentary consultation. When you choose mediation, you can also hire a legal advisor or lawyer to give you legal advice, to help you make important decisions and to help guide you through the process. It’s up to you and your spouse whether your lawyer(s) attend mediation meetings.
You and your spouse will attend mediation meetings, typically two hours at a time, with the neutral third-party mediator. You will both get the opportunity to discuss what is important to you and why. You will then discuss all pertinent details. You may have multiple sessions with the mediator to reach agreements on every issue. During negotiations, you and your spouse will work with the mediator to come up with creative solutions and compromises regarding property division, child custody agreements, parenting time, legal decision-making, child support, and spousal support—known in Arizona as Spousal Maintenance.
Once you complete mediation, your mediator will prepare documentation outlining the agreements you reached during mediation. This may include your property settlement agreement and parenting plan with visitation schedule, if there are children involved. Your agreements will be incorporated into your Consent Decree of Dissolution of Marriage—which is your finalized divorce judgment. Some mediators, like those at The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation, will take care of the entire process, from beginning to end. Research your top local mediators to find out more about divorce mediation in your county.
Divorce Hearings and Trials
In Arizona, there are two types of divorce: uncontested and contested. An uncontested divorce is much easier on all parties involved compared to a contested divorce. In the former, spouses agree on all divorce terms and conditions. Uncontested divorces follow the guidelines of divorce mediation or consent divorce, as described above. Contested divorces, on the other hand, require extensive discovery, hearings, appearances, and a trial to battle out the details of the dissolution of marriage.
If your spouse, the Respondent, contests the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and mediation is not an option, you will have to attend hearings to settle any disagreements. Your spouse may contest your child custody terms, spousal or child support arrangement, or debt or property division. When the Petitioner and Respondent do not agree about any aspect of the dissolution of marriage, they must prepare for a hearing.
Here are the basic steps during a divorce hearing and trial in Arizona:
1. Interview and hire an attorney.
It is possible to represent yourself, but it’s more often than not in your best interest to hire a family law attorney for a divorce hearing. It is wise to choose a local attorney who specializes in contested dissolutions of marriage in Arizona.
2. Discovery phase.
During the pre-hearing discovery phase, both sides will have a chance to find out as much as possible about the other. This process can take months or years. It includes requests for production, interrogatories, and depositions. This may include conducting interviews with the other spouse, going through depositions, and even hiring a private investigator if one spouse has reason to believe the other is hiding assets.
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 but without a jury.
4. Divorce trial.
During a trial, both parties have a chance to make their case. If there are attorneys involved, the attorneys will make these arguments for the Petitioner (the “plaintiff”) and the Respondent (the “defendant”). You may or may not have to testify during your trial. Your attorney will be able to prepare you for what to expect.
5. Final decision.
The judge will issue a final order at the close of the trial that will determine issues such as custody arrangements, spousal support, and property division.
The judge’s declaration will finalize your divorce. After the trial, one spouse may appeal the judge’s decision within thirty days of the dissolution’s finalization. Appealing a divorce decree means the judge has a second chance to make divorce decisions.
This entire process is avoided by completing your divorce or legal separation through mediation services.
“I’m so glad we went the mediation route.”
“Well-organized, supportive, compassionate and effective: I’m so glad we went the mediation route. I was completely satisfied with the results.
Their level of skill and compassion surpassed what I expected during the difficult process of divorce.”
Should You Represent Yourself During a Divorce Hearing?
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. Working with a divorce mediator or respected family law attorney during your divorce can help ensure that the process is as smooth and efficient as possible.
Not doing so can place you at a distinct disadvantage, and cause miscommunication, unnecessary delays, oversights, and can ultimately cause conflict to escalate. If mediation is not an option and litigation is your only choice, consider hiring an experienced lawyer to ensure:
- Filing of the correct paperwork in a timely manner.
- Getting through the state’s red tape to file for dissolution.
- Familiarity with the local family laws and statutes.
- Experience with the family court system.
- Objective legal advice during an emotional time.
- Access to options you may not know exist.
- Access to consultants, experts, and investigators.
- More favorable settlement agreements.
- Relieving the stress of a dissolution of marriage as much as is possible, in lieu of mediation.
- Your rights are protected the full extent of the law.
Representing yourself during a divorce hearing or trial can take a severe emotional toll and add undue stress to an already tense situation. Your performance may potentially hurt your chances of getting the settlement you want and need.
Overall, if you are in litigation, do your research to find an experienced professional divorce litigator. Get personal recommendations. Be thoughtful about the kind of attorney you want representing you. Look for an attorney with a creative mind, focused on resolving issues as seamlessly as possible, who also can be strong and aggressive if necessary, and most of all—find someone you trust.
During a divorce hearing, a judge decides the final verdict on property, asset, and debt division rather than spouses making these decisions on their own, as is done in mediation. States abide by two main legal theories when dividing property between parties of a dissolved marriage: community property and equitable distribution.
Arizona is a community property state, meaning the courts will typically divide 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 based on a variety of marital factors. They can divide property 50/50 in these cases but they can divide them based on what’s “fair” in the circumstances. They may grant the higher settlement to the spouse that 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. Any property acquired before the marriage or via inheritance is separate property and not included in the 50/50 division.
“Commingled property” is separate property that one spouse mixes, or commingles, with community property. For example, when spouses combine bank accounts after marriage, they turn separate property into community property. The courts split commingled properties 50/50 as they would any community property. It can get complicated figuring out which properties are separate, community, and commingled. Finding receipts and examining bank information to understand when assets were acquired can be very helpful.
Spousal Support Agreements
In Arizona, the courts may award one party spousal maintenance, also called spousal support or alimony. Spousal maintenance is a payment one spouse must make regularly to the other spouse to bridge an income or property gap experienced due to divorce.
Unlike some other states, the Arizona legal system doesn’t award spousal maintenance to punish one party for wrongdoing, such as infidelity. Instead, Arizona uses spousal maintenance to help a spouse meet their reasonable needs. Spousal maintenance also assists during financially challenging transitions, such as adjusting to life as a single individual living on a single income.
There is no calculator for spousal maintenance in Arizona. In fact, there is very little predictability about the outcome of spousal maintenance, which is the reason for a great deal of litigation over the issue. Five different judges would likely award five completely different spousal maintenance awards.
Litigation costs for attorneys and legal fees can rise above the amount of support in dispute. Judge-ordered spousal maintenance usually leaves both sides feeling as though they have lost. This creates substantial risk for both spouses. Mediation allows spouses to avoid long, drawn-out, court battles with a judge making rulings about what will happen in their lives.
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;
- Is unable 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.
If spousal maintenance is in question, courts look at thirteen different factors to determine the amount and duration of spousal support payments.
Below is a condensed summary of those factors:
The standard of living established during the marriage; duration of the marriage; age, employment history, earning ability and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance; the ability of the payer to meet their own needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance; the comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market; the contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse; the extent that the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse; the ability of both parties after the dissolution to contribute to the future educational costs of their mutual children; the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to that spouse, and that spouse’s ability to meet that spouse’s own needs independently; the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment and whether such education or training is readily available; excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community, joint tenancy and other property held in common; the cost for the spouse who is seeking maintenance to obtain health insurance; damages and judgments from conduct that results in criminal conviction of either spouse in which the other spouse or child was the victim.
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.
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 the recipient.
Mediated agreements for spousal maintenance can be very creative. Part or all of spousal support might be paid in a lump sum; part may be paid with other assets; creative structuring using step-down approaches may be used; certain triggers to decrease or increase spousal maintenance can be agreed upon; personalized language for when maintenance may be modified or terminated are often agreed upon; and tax benefits can be personalized. 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 divorce mediation.
Child Custody in Arizona
Child custody issues are potentially the most delicate and emotionally charged topics during a dissolution of marriage. Arizona parents involved in custody disagreements and visitation issues can find themselves in an emotionally and financially exhausting legal battle. In the end, after a damaging toll on the children and parents, the courts will rule based on what they believe is in the child’s best interests, regardless of either spouse’s desires.
The term custody, although still used by most spouses in divorce, is no longer found in Arizona law. Judges no longer award “sole custody” or “joint custody.” Today, “parenting time” is the terminology used.
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, major religious decisions, and major educational decisions. The presence of certain facts, such as a history of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, or 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 example, a judge could give the mother legal rights to make their child’s medical decisions and give the father the legal rights to make their 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, equal (50-50) parenting time has generally been the court’s default order, as Arizona law recognizes that, barring certain present facts, equal time with parents is in the child’s best interests.
Arizona lawmakers designed the custody law to put parents on more equal grounds during dissolutions of marriages involving children. In the past, judges looked mainly at a child’s past primary caregiver when making custody decisions, operating on the belief that keeping a child in the same situation he or she is used to is generally what’s 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 divorcing spouses have minor children, Arizona law requires that a parenting plan be created and executed. You and your spouse must fully agree on all parenting plan terms—otherwise a judge will order the terms of your parenting plan for you.
The goal of a parenting plan is to plan for issues that will inevitably arise when co-parenting your children after divorce. It is created to be better prepared for challenges that come when parents live in different residences. The better the “plan,” the lower the conflict in the future, because there is already a plan in place for dealing with many circumstances.
Parenting plans can establish parenting time, legal decision-making, child support, and other financial agreements while improving communication between co-parents. Divorce mediation gives parents the opportunity to create their own parenting plan. Mediators help spouses to identify creative solutions to meet their families unique needs. A solid parenting plan keeps conflict low through the divorce process and long into the future. In mediation, spouses can learn new ways of communicating to facilitate an amicable co-parenting relationship.
Many issues are covered in a parenting plan. In mediation, parents can raise their own customized issues and build agreements around things that are most important to them. Some common issues in a parenting plan include:
- A Weekly Parenting Time Schedule
- Holiday Parenting Time Plan
- Vacation Time Plan
- A Periodic Review Agreement
- A “Right of First Refusal” agreement (if one parent needs to get coverage for parenting time, the other parent gets the right of first refusal before a third party is considered)
- A “Relocation” Clause
- Legal Decision-Making Designations
- Numerous issues regarding children’s Healthcare and Insurance Coverage Issues
- Cost-Sharing for the Children’s Expenses
- A Plan for Dispute Resolution
- Child Support Amounts
- Tax Agreements
You and your spouse can add provisions as necessary until you believe you have a solid plan for taking care of your child today, tomorrow, and well into the future. If you need help creating a parenting plan with your spouse, browse the Arizona Court’s Guide for rules, ideas, and helpful tips. However, there is no substitute for thoughtful planning and problem-solving with a neutral mediator. A mediator can provide guidance and a custom-tailored plan for your unique needs.
Child Support Payments
Arizona law requires that parents provide “reasonable support” for minor children, whether legal decision-making authority is based on sole custody 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, 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 that 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, on which Arizona models its Guidelines, looks at the parents’ income and computes a basic child support obligation. Rather than looking at marital misconduct, the courts look at other factors to determine the amount of child support, including:
- The financial needs and resources of the child and both parents.
- The child’s previous standards of living.
- The child’s emotional, physical, and educational needs.
- The child’s medical support plan.
- Duration of parenting time.
Typically, a parent must continue to 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 independently 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 of child support based on the new information is generally indicated. However, this does not include a voluntary departure from a higher paying job. When this occurs, a judge may impute the higher income, even though the parent is no longer at that income level.
Generally, when child support is determined by a judge using the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, the calculated amount will be ordered for child support. However, when the calculated amount would be “unjust” the court will grant a deviation.
Often in divorce mediation, parents agree to deviate from the child support calculation. A mutual decision to deviate would be common when parents can keep conflict low.
Dissolution of Marriage in Arizona
Mediation is the best way to ensure a low-conflict, no court battle, 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 a divorce.
A litigated dissolution of marriage in Arizona 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 dissolution of marriage in Arizona with a licensed divorce attorney.
We believe that healthy divorce is a choice. Mediation provides spouses with the opportunity to keep conflict low and reach mutually-beneficial agreements. If you are interested in learning more, please contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation.
The consultation is an opportunity for you to meet your potential mediator and get answers to your questions. The consultation does not begin any process and is provided without cost or obligation so that you and your spouse can make an informed decision about how best to complete your process.