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The Arizona Divorce Process Step By Step [With Timeline]
Wondering how long the Arizona divorce process takes? The answer is—it depends.
Practically speaking, the divorce process in Maricopa County, Arizona will take, in best-case scenarios, at least three months.
But, it can take up to a year or longer if there are complicating factors in your situation. These “complicating factors” could include things like:
- Disputes about specific property or division of property
- Issues with child custody and support
- Conflicts about parenting time or a parent’s fitness as a parent
- Whether the couple generally gets along
- Problems with hiding assets or nondisclosure
Even the court’s caseload and schedule will influence how long your divorce will take.
The Arizona divorce process can be both overwhelming and confusing for anyone. But, knowing the steps of the legal procedure can be very helpful. Knowing what comes next and having an estimate of how long it should take can keep your expectations realistic.
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How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in Arizona?
The Arizona divorce timeline varies a great deal. Keep in mind that a divorce in Arizona is not the same thing as a legal separation. While the reasons may be similar, there are significant differences under Arizona law.
Uncontested Divorce in Arizona
Technically, an uncontested divorce could be over in as little as about 70 days—but those situations are rare. On average, an uncontested divorce will take between 90 and 120 days.
An uncontested divorce is just like it sounds. The couple agrees on every aspect of the divorce. That does not mean that your spouse agrees right away, however. They can work through issues to agree on a final term.
Arizona Contested Divorce
A contested divorce is any divorce where the couple cannot work out one or more issues. It does not necessarily have to be an all-out fight.
Family law, including divorce, can be a civil process, even when you do not agree. But, a contested divorce usually means that the couple does not see eye to eye on a few major issues.
Contested divorces take longer because you must go through the whole Arizona divorce process. In an uncontested divorce, you do not have to use all the steps—you can skip straight to the end in many situations.
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How to Get a Divorce in Arizona
Regardless of whether your divorce will be contested or uncontested, you must still go through the first few steps of the divorce process.
Step 1: Make Sure You Are Ready to Divorce
The decision to divorce is sometimes straightforward, but it is also sometimes the most difficult decision you will ever make. It is extremely personal.
No one can tell you for sure whether getting a divorce is the “right” thing to do you for your circumstances.
Only you can decide when the timing is right for a divorce.
Some of the most common reasons that couples get divorced include:
- Lack of communication or support from the spouse
- Substance abuse
- Carelessness with finances
- Domestic violence
It is not uncommon for couples to decide that their relationship is not working any longer.
You not only have to get ready mentally and emotionally for the Arizona divorce process, but you must prepare in other ways, too. Getting your finances in order, for example, is a big hurdle for some.
Making the transition from a two-income household down to one income is a huge shift. You may need to save or prepare in other ways to deal with this adjustment.
Step 2: Find a Divorce Attorney
You can file for divorce on your own—but it is rarely a good idea. Instead, having someone to guide you through the divorce process in Arizona will be an invaluable resource. A divorce attorney will provide you with the guidance you need to work through the process. He or she can also be a good sounding board for the arguments you want to make and provide sound legal advice.
They will be able to tell you whether what you want to accomplish is possible under Arizona law.
Choosing the right divorce attorney is also a very personal decision. You want someone knowledgeable and trustworthy. Someone who cares about you and your situation will help you make better, more informed decisions.
Legal fees should also be a consideration when you are looking for an attorney as well. Ask about attorneys’ fees upfront and have a frank discussion about what you can afford.
Having a conversation right away about the cost of divorce with your family law attorney can be very helpful.
Step 3: File for Divorce
Your attorney will help you prepare the paperwork you need to file for a dissolution of marriage in Arizona.
Arizona law requires that you prepare a petition for dissolution of marriage. You must use this formal process to make your request with the court and pay a filing fee.
Your lawyer will also arrange to have your spouse formally served this paperwork through a process server as well.
Then, your spouse will file an “Answer” within 20 days, in most cases, after the service date. Once you complete those two steps, then you will get into the most time-consuming part of the divorce process.
Step 4: The Temporary Order Hearing in Arizona
Sometimes, the couple is already living apart by the time they want to divorce, but not always. The court uses a process to address important issues while the divorce proceeds.
Deciding where your kids will live for the time being, for example, is something that cannot wait until the divorce is final.
In most circumstances, the couple will work out these issues between themselves. They will decide how to deal with things like:
- Child custody for minor children
- Child support matters
- Alimony, spousal support, or spousal maintenance
- Who will live in the marital home
The court addresses these immediate issues in a “Temporary Order Hearing.” But, these issues will only go before the court if the couple cannot agree on these matters.
If the couple can agree, then the court will generally permit whatever they decide.
If necessary, your attorney (or your spouse’s lawyer) will file a request for a temporary order hearing once it is clear that you will not be able to reach an agreement without court intervention.
Everyone needs answers to these important issues immediately, so the court will try to schedule this hearing as soon as possible.
In many situations, but not all, the temporary order is very similar to the final order in your divorce. That means that preparing for your Arizona temporary order hearing is very important.
Getting children established and setting up routines, for example, will help create a good argument for maintaining the status quo as the court considers the outcome of the case.
Step 5: Discovery and Disclosure
Gathering information is one of the most important parts of any legal case. It is especially important for divorce proceedings because of the profound impact that the court’s decision will have on the rest of your life—and often your children’s lives.
Arizona law requires that couples make certain disclosures. But, unfortunately, those disclosures are not always complete, sometimes due to an error or because one spouse is deliberately hiding information. Disclosures include things like:
- All income from any source
- Property information
- Investments, securities, etc.
- Business ownership
- Any other support obligations
It is crucial to give complete information in these disclosures unless there are appropriate objections to providing the information. Failure to do so could lead to sanctions from the court.
In addition to these disclosures, parties will also exchange discovery in your divorce. “Discovery” refers to things like:
- Answering written questions
- Providing responses to requests for documents
- Getting information from third parties
- Requests for admission of specific facts or other information
Your attorney will not only help you answer these requests, but he or she will also create discovery to get information about your spouse as well.
Step 6: Out of Court Resolutions
You can resolve your divorce case at any time through a settlement with your spouse. If you can come to a mutual agreement, a settlement is a good option to speed up the divorce process and reduce the time and effort it takes to present the case to a judge.
Out of court divorce settlements are extremely common. In fact, most divorces will end in settlement. This is, in large part, because under Arizona law, couples must have at least one good-faith discussion about a settlement.
Couples can come to a settlement in many ways, including:
- Exchanging offers or ideas between parties informally (sometimes through phone calls or letters)
- Using “open negotiation,” which involves a neutral negotiator
- Working through a settlement conference with a judge or commissioner
- Divorce mediation with a neutral third-party mediator
Creating a settlement allows you to craft an agreement that works for everyone. If the case is in front of a judge, he or she may not be able to use the flexibility that you have in the settlement process.
Step 7: Trial Preparation
If you cannot work out your case through settlement, then it will proceed to trial. As you and your lawyer prepare for your divorce trial, you will use all of the information gained in the discovery process to build your case.
Trial preparation will involve creating a pretrial statement, which includes all the relevant facts in the case and citations to applicable Arizona law. Your attorney will also get exhibits ready as well.
You should also meet with your lawyer to discuss how the trial will proceed. Your attorney will discuss things like timelines, your role as a witness, and other people who will be there and what they will say.
Step 8: The Final Hearing
Finally, one of the last steps in the divorce process is the final hearing. This can be one of the most stressful parts of the divorce because you must testify about various aspects of your marriage, children, finances, and more.
Some of the most common things that happen at a final divorce hearing include:
- Testimony from both spouses
- Testimony from experts about children, finances, etc.
- Presentation of evidence, including financial information
- Legal arguments from attorneys
Your lawyer will help you prepare well, which will reduce the anxiety that comes with this last step. Keep in mind that this is your opportunity to tell your story to the judge and explain why you want what you want or need what you need.
Step 9: Post-Trial Motions and Appeals
After the hearing, your attorney will sometimes need to file a post-trial brief or make other motions. These motions could address things like:
- Unfair practices that happened at trial
- New information that was not available at the time of the hearing
- How the court should handle exhibits
You must then wait for the judge’s decision. In general, the wait can be a few weeks, or it could be a few months. Then, if the judge did not rule in your favor, you can appeal the order in some situations. Your spouse also has the same option.
If no one appeals, then the divorce is final—you are done with the Arizona divorce process from a legal perspective. The only thing left to do is go through the process of transferring assets and generally following the court’s order.
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Getting Help with the Arizona Divorce Process
If you think you are ready to get the divorce process started, contact our Scottsdale-based team of experienced divorce attorneys. We can help you navigate the Arizona divorce process and sift through the Arizona divorce laws.
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Take Control and Protect Your Future
The lawyers at Burggraff Tash Levy know that choosing the right divorce attorney is a personal matter. This is why you will never feel any pressure during your consultation. We are here to answer your questions, discuss your options, help you understand your rights, and, if we represent you in your divorce, our lawyers will guide you through every step of the process as efficiently as possible. We work to keep costs low so that you can start this new chapter of your life in the best position possible.