Understanding Divorce

What is a divorce?

A divorce, legally called a "dissolution of marriage," is a court procedure to end a marriage. The party who starts the divorce is known as the Petitioner. The other party is known as the Respondent.

What is A.R.S.?

A.R.S.  stands for Arizona Revised Statutes. When followed by "§"and a number, it refers to a particular Arizona law. These statutes may be found at www.azleg.gov/ArizonaRevisedStatutes.asp well as in any county law library.

What is A.R.F.L.P.?

A.R.F.L.P. stands for Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure. These rules may be found at http://www.supreme.state.az.us/rules/ramd_pdf/R-05-0008.pdf or in any county law library. 

When can I file a petition for divorce?

You or your spouse must have been a resident of Arizona for at least 90 days before you can file for a divorce. A.R.S. § 25-312.

What reasons must I give in order to get a divorce? 

Arizona is a no-fault state, which means that neither spouse needs to give a reason for the divorce. Only one party needs to assert that he or she believes the marriage is "irretrievably broken." If the parties choose to have a "covenant marriage" at the time of their marriage or later convert their marriage to a covenant marriage, the party seeking the divorce must prove grounds found in A.R.S. §25-903.

Do I need a lawyer to represent me?

Everyone is entitled to represent himself or herself in a divorce. However, if you represent yourself, the court will expect you to follow all laws and the correct procedures that apply to your case, even if you are not an attorney. If you do not follow the correct procedures, you could lose important rights and the ability to request certain benefits forever. If your case goes to trial and you do not follow the correct procedures, the judge may not allow you to present certain evidence or call witnesses. Court personnel and judges are not allowed to give you legal advice. If you do not understand the laws or court procedures, you may contact an attorney for assistance.

In certain circumstances, a judge may order your spouse to pay all or a portion of your attorney's fees.

How does the divorce procedure work?

One spouse files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and related initial documents.

After the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed, copies of all of the papers must be served on your spouse unless service is waived in writing and filed with the court. Your spouse has 20 days (if served in Arizona) or 30 days (if served outside of Arizona) to respond to the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.

If your spouse fails to file a Response within those 20 days, the other spouse can apply for a default. After a request for default is filed, your spouse only has 10 days to file a Response or risk the divorce being granted on all of the terms of the petitioning spouse.

If no Response is filed, at the end of the "cooling off" period of 60 days after the Respondent is served with the divorce papers, the Petitioner may obtain a Default Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.

If a Response is filed but both parties reach an agreement as to all issues, they can submit a Consent Decree of Dissolution of Marriage that sets forth all of their agreements for the judge to sign. A.R.F.L.P. Rule 45(B).

What if my spouse does not agree to a divorce?

If your spouse does not want the divorce, he or she may request that the parties attend a conciliation meeting with the court. The divorce will be put on hold for up to 60 days while that meeting takes place. If the meeting does not result in the parties agreeing to postpone the divorce, the divorce will go forward.

There is no charge to request a conciliation meeting.

What happens if my spouse and I do not agree on something during the divorce proceedings?

If you and your spouse do not agree on a particular issue, such as custody of children, spousal maintenance, or division of property, it may be necessary to have a judge decide these issues for you. You must then request a trial in order to finalize your divorce.

The procedure for requesting a trial varies from county to county. You should seek the advice of an attorney if you are not able to determine how to obtain a trial date. Many courts have information and forms available to the public either in their law libraries or their websites.

Some courts offer free mediation services.

How long does it take to get a divorce? 

After your spouse is served with the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, a 60-day "cooling off" period must transpire before the divorce may be finalized. It is not possible to be divorced any sooner even if both parties agree. If the parties do not agree on the terms of the divorce, a trial will be set.  Depending on the county, these proceedings could take as long as six to nine months before a divorce would become final.

What is covered in a decree of dissolution of marriage?

A Decree of Dissolution of Marriage will:

1. Terminate the marriage.

2. Determine custody, parenting time and support of the minor children, if any.

3. Determine spousal maintenance (alimony), if any.

4. Divide property acquired during the marriage, and affirm property owned prior to the marriage (if any) to the party who owned it.

5. Assign responsibility for debts incurred during the marriage, and affirm debts owned prior to marriage (if any) to the party who owed them.

6. Determine responsibility for attorney fees and costs, if any.

7. Restore the last name of a requesting spouse (optional).

Can I get temporary orders while the case is pending?

While your divorce is pending, you may apply for temporary orders regarding custody, parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, attorney fees, and other matters.  The procedure to request a hearing for temporary matters varies from county to county. You should seek the advice of an attorney if you are not able to determine how to obtain a hearing for temporary orders.

What is a preliminary injunction?

A Preliminary Injunction is a form of restraining order which is issued at the beginning of every divorce case.  The Preliminary Injunction is issued tobothparties and requires that neither party harass the other, that no community property is sold, that existing insurance is maintained and that minor children not be removed from the state without court permission or the other parent's written consent.

What if my spouse has commited domestic violence or may become violent?

If your spouse has committed domestic violence or may become violent during the dissolution proceedings, you may apply for an Order of Protection. The forms for an Order of Protection are available for free at any Superior Court, Justice of the Peace Court or City Court.  You will see a judicial officer on the same day that you fill out the Petition for Order of Protection. There is no charge to apply for an Order of Protection.

Always call 911 in an emergency.

Is there a mandatory parent education program?

If the parties have a minor child or children together, both parties must attend a court- mandated education program about the impact of divorce on children. Both parents must attend, even if there is no disagreement regarding custody and parenting time. If one party does not attend, he or she may not be able to obtain custody and/or parenting time with the child(ren). The parties may not attend the same class at the same time. A.R.S. § 25-351

What if I cannot afford court fees or service of process? 

You may be eligible to have your court filing fees and service of process fees waived or deferred depending on your financial circumstances. Forms to request that the filing fees and service of process fees be waived or deferred are available at no charge at the office of the Clerk of the Court of each county.

After you fill out the forms, a judge will determine whether or not your fees will be waived or deferred. If your fees are deferred, you must make payments toward those fees as your case progresses. If your fees are waived, you are not responsible for paying those fees.

More Information

The following organizations may be able to assist you in obtaining additional information:

Maricopoa County Bar Association
Lawyer Referral Service
602.257.4434
Pima County Bar Association
Lawyer Referral Service
520.623.4625
Family Lawyers Assistance Project (FLAP) 602.506.7948
Community Legal Services
Phoenix 602.258.3434 or 800.852.9075
Mesa 480.833.1442 or 800.896.3631
Kingman 928.681.1177 or 800.255.9031
Yuma 928.782.7511 or 800.424.7962
Prescott 928.445.9240 or 800.233.5114
San Luis 928.627.8023 or 800.356.7115
DNA People's Legal Services, Inc.
Window Rock 928.871.4151 or 800.789.7287
Chinle DNA 928.674.5242 or 800.789.7598
Flagstaff DNA 928.774.0653 or 800.789.5781
Hopi DNA 928.738.2251 or 800.789.9586
Tuba City DNA 928.283.5265 or 800.789.8919
Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.
Pima County 520.632.9465 or 800.640.9465
Pinal County 520.316.8076 or 877.718.8086
Cochise/Graham/Greenlee County 520.432.1639 or 800.231.7106
Gila/Navajo/Apache County 928.537.8383 or 800.658.7958
Tohono O'odham 520.623.9465 or 800.640.9465
Four Rivers Indian Legal Services 620.562.3369 or 866.312.2290
White Mountain Apache Legal Services 928.338.4845 or 866.312.2291