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Even in the best of circumstances, divorce can be a difficult process. Because marriage itself involves many emotional ties and issues, the legal procedure of undoing these ties can raise many conflicts regarding finances, property, living arrangements and other practical concerns. When minor children are involved, the divorce process takes on greater complexity.
Questions of financial support, custody, visitation, educational support and other matters take on greater importance and can often be contentious. In these cases, an experienced divorce attorney can help to ensure that all parties are treated fairly and the children are provided for to the greatest extent possible. The state of Arizona requires a number of filings during the divorce process to settle these matters in the best interests of the children.
Additional Issues When Children Are Involved
When the separating couple has children, the matters that must be negotiated increase significantly. The two parents must find ways to agree upon questions of custody of the children, schooling, religious training, healthcare insurance, visitation scheduling, vacations and other matters. In many cases, parents can negotiate these issues amicably, with the interests of the children in mind. However, in some cases, parents’ egos may become embroiled in a war of wills, where getting their way may become the only consideration.
When matters regarding the disposition of assets, debts and the welfare of children are involved, the state of Arizona may require the divorcing couple to attend a conciliation conference to settle issues that have become an ongoing matter of contention between them. The conciliation court can also help to couples resolve issues so they can stay together, if they are willing to try. However, conciliation courts are not available in all counties in Arizona. The state of Arizona, recognizing the impact that divorce has on children, also requires parents to attend educational classes on the effects of divorce on children’s emotional well-being.
These classes help to make parents aware how children experience the breakup of their family group, as well as the best ways to answer their questions and reassure them on their continued care. Once the issues regarding the care and support of the children are settled, the divorce process can continue to a final determination.
Divorce Issues When There Are No Children
Individuals who have lived in the state for 90 days, or service members who have been stationed in the state for 90 days, can file for a divorce under Arizona law. When a marriage has produced no children, the divorce process in Arizona is relatively straightforward. Arizona is a no-fault divorce state, which means that you do not have to prove grounds for the divorce; you only need to assert that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Certain forms must be filed with the office of the county clerk throughout the divorce process. A Petition for Dissolution of Marriage must be filed, and the spouse must be notified by being served papers. The spouse then has 20 days to respond to the Petition.
If no response is filed, the petitioning spouse may request a default decree after the 60-day cooling off period. If a response is filed and both parties agree to the terms of the divorce, a consent decree of Dissolution of Marriage can be filed which sets out the negotiated terms. You are not required to have an attorney to represent your interests in a divorce proceeding. However, it is often advisable to have legal counsel to protect your interests and ensure that the interests of children are adequately protected. A divorce can take place in as little as 60 days after filing initial documents, but this time frame is not usually the case. In many cases, the divorce process takes from six to nine months to complete.
Service of Process/Summons
After the petitioning spouse files initial papers for the divorce, the non-filing spouse must be notified of the legal action by being served a summons. This document allows the non-filing spouse to respond to the summons and seek legal action if he or she chooses to have it.
A preliminary injunction is a legal action that prevents both parties in the divorce from selling property, making changes in insurance, moving out of state or other matters that will be negotiated and legally dispersed later in the divorce process.
After the petitioning spouse serves the respondent the summons, he or she has 20 days to file a response or 30 days if the respondent lives outside of Arizona. If no response is filed, he or she loses the opportunity to be involved in the divorce proceeding. The petitioner may then receive the divorce through a “default judgment.” First, an application for a default judgment must be filed.
A copy must be sent to the respondent, who has 10 day in which to challenge the application. If he or she does not, the petitioning spouse then goes before the court to present information about why the divorce is being requested and to provide other information about the disposition of property and needs of any children of the marriage. Once these details are arranged, the court can issue the divorce decree.
The discovery process each spouse to receive factual information from the other party in the case. The legal procedure of gaining this information is called discovery. Discovery may be done in the form of “interrogatories,” which are written questions that the other spouse must respond to with written answers. Information can also be gained through “depositions,” which is generally in the form of an interview during which both attorneys are present and a court reporter records what is said.
A “request for production” may also be issued, which is a formal legal request to produce certain documents that may be needed for the case. These forms of documentation help to provide important information that helps to move the proceeding forward.
Temporary Orders and Permanent Orders Regarding Children
As soon as the documents are filed to begin the divorce proceeding, the petitioning spouse seeking the divorce can request a temporary order to settle issues regarding children, such as an order preventing them from being taken out of state, maintenance of health insurance, temporary support and other matters. These issues can then become a permanent order when the divorce decree is filed or may be altered to ensure the best interests of the children after the divorced proceedings have been completed.
The Special Case of Covenant Marriage
Arizona is one of the three states that also recognizes “covenant marriage,” a distinct type of marriage in which the couple commits to being together for life. This type of marriage allows fewer reasons for which a divorce can be sought, such as use of illegal substances or abuse of spouse or children.
However, essentially the same conditions would affect disposition of assets, custody matters, child support, visitation and other matters in covenant marriage as it would in conventional marriage. The stricter limits on reasons for the divorce are essentially the only difference between standard marriage and covenant marriage.
Need a Lawyer for a Divorce in Arizona with Children?
The difficulties that attend the breakup of a marriage are even more difficult for the children that are involved. Not only financial and practical matters come into question, but a variety of details that affect children’s health and well-being come into play. For couples with children, getting competent legal counsel for a divorce is even more important, in order to avoid the many pitfalls that can occur. An attorney that has years of experience in divorce law can help to ensure that your rights are adequately protected during this complex legal process.
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