When filing for divorce, there can be a lot of questions. One of the most asked is if it’s better to file for divorce yourself or hire an attorney?
A DIY divorce requires you to decide which forms to file, what information should or should not be included on those forms, file them, serve them, manage your court appearances, manage your discovery and disclosure deadlines, and represent yourself in court.
Essentially, you are acting as your own legal representation throughout your case.
If you decide to file a divorce without legal assistance, you are going at it alone. The court is not allowed to give you any legal advice.
That’s why it is vital to do research, understand the process, and avoid common mistakes. If you do not follow the proper procedures, the judge may throw out your case or make you refile, which will cost you more time and money.
You could also lose important issues in your case by not properly completing the forms, not filing the correct forms, not including the necessary information in the forms (which may not be identified in the DIY forms), or missing deadlines with the court.
Steps for Initiating a DIY Divorce in Arizona
Each state has laws and procedures that govern divorce proceedings. In Arizona you need to live in the state for at least 90 days before you file for divorce (cases involving children have additional jurisdictional requirements).
Then, you need to follow the divorce process. Here are the steps you need to take.
- Fill out divorce forms
- File the documents with the county clerk in your jurisdiction
- Serve Forms/ Respond to forms
- File proof of service with the court clerk
- Comply with Disclosure and Discovery Rules
- Wait 60 days after serving the other party
- Day in Court/Legal Proceedings
It is also essential to make a list of all of the marital assets, sole and separate property, bank statements, credit card statements, and any other financial documents.
You also need to consider what you want your life to look like after your divorce, how you will support yourself, where you will live, and if you are able to come to an agreement with your spouse prior to appearing in court. You will need that information to take the appropriate steps during your divorce.
It is important to understand that during the divorce process the “steps” identified above can become intermingled or nonlinear.
Depending on the case and as different hearings or appearances are set, your requirements/responsibilities can be accelerated. Each and every divorce requires a fact specific evaluation to determine the best course for the case.
Even if you ultimately choose not to hire an attorney, we recommend you at least consult with an experienced family law attorney at the beginning of your matter to gain information on your specific situation.
You need to know exactly which forms to file for a do it yourself divorce. In the State of Arizona, you need to file in the county in which you reside. You also need to live in the state for at least 90 days before filing.
Again, cases involving children have their own jurisdictional requirements to comply with. Additionally, whether or not your spouse has sufficient contact with the State of Arizona can play a role in your Divorce as well.
These issues can become more complicated so we recommend you consult with an experienced family law attorney before initiating an action.
Petitioner Divorce Forms
There are specific documents that must be filed in an Arizona Superior Court to start the divorce process. If you are the one filing for divorce, you are known as the petitioner. The other party is the respondent.
The following are the documents you need if you are the petitioner. There may be different but similar documents you need to file for legal separation and depending on if you and your spouse share children.
“Family Court / Sensitive Data Coversheet”
This document provides all of your sensitive data to the court.
A summons requests the appearance of the other party in court. You must attach this document to the other documents, and serve all divorce documents to the respondent.
The Preliminary Injunction prevents both parties from selling, removing, or otherwise disposing of any community property unless the transfer meets an exception.
If the couple has children, this form also prevents either parent from removing the children from the jurisdiction. Both parties must follow the Preliminary Injunction.
If either party goes against any court orders put in place by the judge, they can face contempt of court charges and sanctions.
“Petition for Dissolution of Non-Covenant Marriage with Children”
The Petition for Dissolution of Non-Covenant Marriage with Children tells the court that you wish to file for divorce and that there are children involved.
When you file a Petition for the Dissolution of Non-Covenant Marriage with Children, some additional documents are necessary, including the Order and Notice to Attend Parent Education/Information Program Class , Affidavit Regarding Minor Children.
“Petition for Dissolution of Non-Covenant Marriage without Children”
The Petition for Dissolution of Non-Covenant Marriage without Children is the legal document you must file with the court clerk if no children resulted from your marriage.
You must fill the petition out honestly and provide all of the required information to plead and preserve issues in your case.
Depending on your specific case, you may also have to include additional information not identified in the form. If you fail to provide that information, you could be barred from presenting that claim during your case.
The Petition (and Response) is a very important document in your case. We recommend you consult with an experienced divorce attorney to ensure it is completed correctly.
The respondent will have an opportunity to respond to everything that you claim in your documents. The Petition is a verified pleading which you are affirming everything within it is true and accurate. So, it is best to give the most accurate information to the court.
“Notice of Your Rights About Health Insurance Coverage When a Petition for Dissolution is Filed”
This informs the receiver (and you) of their rights to continue their insurance coverage under their spouse’s plan, if they are dependent at the time the document is filed with the court clerk.
The form also outlines the policy holder’s rights to convert the existing policy to a policy in their spouse’s name as well as options for insuring any dependent children.
“Notice Regarding Creditors”
This Notice identifies some of the issues that can arise with creditors as a part of a dissolution or legal separation.
It also identifies some options available for obtaining information about existing debt. The form only highlights potential problems and available resources. We recommend you consult with an experienced family law attorney about the specifics of the form.
Respondent Divorce Forms
If you are served with divorce papers from your spouse, you are the respondent, and your timely response is required.
Your time to file your Response can differ depending on service. Maricopa County provides template forms to file in response.
The template forms differ if there are or are not children associated with the marriage. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that these are template forms and you may need different forms/or to provide different information depending on your specific circumstances.
At a minimum, you will be required to file: .
“Response to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage”
If you fail to file a Response to the Petition, you risk your spouse filing a Default. In which they could be granted their requests without evidence or input from you. Similar to the Petition, the Response is a very important document.
It needs to be filed correctly and include the appropriate information to ensure preservation of your claims and positions.
Additional Documents You May Need to File
In addition to the documents above, you may need to file other documents throughout your divorce process.
These documents aid the judge in ruling on your case. Some documents are voluntary while others are mandatory. The documents you need to file depends on your specific situation.
Below is a list of some of the forms you may want or need to file with the court or present to your spouse.
“Motion for Pre-Decree Temporary Orders”
If you want the court to issue temporary orders in your case for you and the other party to follow prior to the finalization of your divorce, (unless you and your spouse can reach an agreement) you need to file this document with the Court.
Typically, it is filed along with your Petition for Dissolution of Non-Covenant Marriage or Response, but it doesn’t have to be.
Discovery is a process in which each party provides information to the other party. There are many tools that can be used during discovery to obtain the information needed.
Which include uniform interrogatories, non-uniform interrogatories, subpoenas, and other tools. Before submitting discovery requests, we recommend you meet with an experienced divorce attorney to discuss what tool or tools are best for your specific situation.
Filling Out the Divorce Documents
The way you should fill out your documents depends on your situation. As mentioned above, completing the documents incorrectly can cause many problems in the divorce.
Additionally, there are different strategies that should be considered depending on the anticipated direction of the case.
Points of consideration include: privacy concerns, are you and your spouse going to be able to reach an agreement, and do you think the case may proceed by default?
Filing the Divorce Documents
After the required documents are filled out, they need to be filed with the Superior Court in the appropriate jurisdiction.
Typically, the county that you reside in dictates the appropriate county to file in.
You can determine the appropriate court by doing a search based on your address or zip code. However, whether or not children are involved and where they live may play a role in determining the correct county to file in.
If you do not file in the correct jurisdiction, your case may be be thrown out, so it is imperative that you utilize the appropriate court.
To file the documents, you will need to bring copies of the documents and pay the required fees to the court.
Providing Proof of Service to the Court
The date of service is important for a couple of reasons. It represents a date specific for the termination of the marital community and it starts the time clock for Response deadlines and the ability to file a Consent Decree. So, it is important to provide proof of service to the court.
Waiting Periods and Timelines for Arizona Divorce
Following timelines is extremely important when filing divorce documents. If you do not file or have the other party served promptly, the judge may throw out the case, or you may lose by default.
After the petitioner files the divorce papers, they have 120 days to serve the other party.
If the respondent is not served in that period, the court will dismiss the case. But it is important not to wait to serve the divorce papers. The date the papers are served is also the date of termination of the marital community.
Until service is effected, the marital community remains intact, so Arizona laws governing community property will apply.
If you do not complete service within the 120 days, it is possible to request an extension from the Court.
But this is not something that should be relied on and you will likely show the Court what attempts you have made and why you were unable to complete service within the standard 120 days.
The respondent typically has 20 days to file a Response to the Petition after service is completed or an acceptance of service is signed.
Both parties must also comply with all orders set forth by the court throughout the process. Failure to comply may result in contempt of court charges and sanctions.
Hopefully, the parties are able to reach agreements without assistance from the Court. After the petitioner serves the respondent with the Petition, there is a mandatory 60 day waiting period before the parties can file a Consent Decree with the court.
If, after proper service of the Petition and other required documents, the Respondent fails to file a Response by the deadline then the Petitioner can file an Application for Default and request the Court allow them to proceed by way of default.
There will be additional documents to file with the Court and procedural steps to take to proceed by default. Additionally, if the Petition did not contain sufficient information to put the Respondent on notice of your requests the Court may not allow you to proceed by default or limit your relief to what is specifically identified in the Petition.
If you think you may need to proceed by default, then we recommend that you consult with an experienced family law attorney to ensure the Petition contains sufficient information.
Day In Court
Ultimately, if you are unable to reach an agreement with your spouse you will end up in a final trial with the Court.
There are several scenarios that can play out when you appear before the judge and you will have to respond appropriately.
Appearing before the judge without legal representation is not as easy as it may seem even if the other party does not appear or respond to your petition.
Additionally, the judge may reset your case if your documents are not correct or if you are not prepared.
Further, in our office, we always promote finding a way to resolve the issues outside of court.
You have far more control during settlement and there is a risk associated with going to trial. Judge’s also promote parties reaching agreements between themselves.
While they are happy to resolve issues for the parties, there are many benefits to settlement.
Mistakes to Avoid with a DIY Divorce
When you choose to do your divorce yourself, there are some mistakes you should take caution to avoid. These mistakes can cost you valuable time, money, and potentially important issues in your case.
Make Sure You Adhere to Timelines
Failing to adhere to the timelines set forth is one of the worst things you can do in a DIY divorce.
You have to be vigilant because if you do not respond in a timely manner, file documents on time, or appropriately comply with disclosure and discovery, then you may be required to refile, your spouse may be awarded a default divorce, or you may be barred from presenting evidence to support your request and/or other sanctions.
Do Not Rush the Process
If you rush the divorce process, you may not get the results you want. Divorces take time, doing it the right way will have an impact on your future.
While it might be your desire to move on with your life as quickly as possible, it is better to address all of your concerns in your divorce rather than having regrets in the future.
Do Not Assume that Your Divorce Will Be Straightforward
Even if you will have an amicable divorce, things can get complicated. It is better to prepare yourself for all of the possible scenarios.
Doing this is the best way to protect yourself throughout the process. Even though you intend to reach an agreement with your spouse and not need to go to trial, be preparing to go to trial if necessary. You do not want to end up a month before trial without any of the information you need to support your requests from the court.
Fees for Do It Yourself Divorce
Even if you decide to file for divorce on your own, there will be fees. You must pay to file documents with the court. Filing fees differ depending on your jurisdiction and the materials you have to file. You also have to pay to serve the other party.
If you are unable to pay, the court might allow you to pay later, but there are particular documents you need to file, and you will need to prove that you are unable to pay by providing documentation to the court.
The court does allow a self-service option if the other party is willing to accept the documents from you. The self-service option can help you save some money.
How Long Will Your DIY Divorce Take?
The length of time it will take to finalize your divorce in Arizona depends on your case. If there are custody matters it can take longer. There might also be additional waiting periods before you can file if your case involves children. At the very shortest, your divorce case may take 60 days.
However, most divorces in Arizona take a minimum of 90 to 120 days and some take as long as a year or more.
DIY Divorce vs Hiring an Attorney
The difference between a do it yourself divorce and hiring an attorney is that you do not have anyone to assist you throughout the legal process.
Attorneys have experience working with divorce cases and they are able to give you advice on every aspect of the process. When you proceed with a DIY Divorce, you are responsible for complying Arizona law and the rules of procedure as if you were an attorney.
The law does not provide for leniency when a person fails to comply with the law or other rules because they are not an attorney.
Attorneys also have the ability to give you advice to protect yourself. Many people just want to be finished with their divorce and move on with their life and they think that hiring an attorney will prolong the process.
Hiring the right attorney can actually help speed things along. Because they are experienced in the process, they can likely anticipate hurdles in the case and work to resolve them before they occur.
Additionally, when filing a DIY divorce, you must follow all of the court procedures and file the correct documents.
The court employees are unable to give you any legal advice regarding your case. If you ask them for legal advice, they will likely advice you to seek legal counsel. People also think that hiring an attorney will make the process more expensive when sometimes the opposite is true.
Sometimes, people start the case by themselves and make mistakes. These mistakes can be costly to resolve, if it is even possible to resolve them. People are unaware that hiring an attorney at the outset, even if they are just hired to draft the initial documents to ensure they are correct, can save them financial and emotional resources in the future.
At a minimum, people should consult with an experienced divorce attorney before starting their case. Use the consultation to learn how Arizona law applies to your case, an appropriate strategy to achieve your end goal, and what pitfalls the attorney may see based on the facts you provide them. Be sure to also discuss what options the attorney has to help you along the way.
Even if you do not intend on hiring the attorney in the traditional full representation role, having an attorney draft your important documents or appear at specific hearings/mediations with you is often more cost effective than people think.
Situations That Make DIY Divorce Easier
Some situations might make a DIY divorce more straightforward. However, each divorce is unique.
An uncontested divorce occurs when both parties agree to the terms of the divorce. If both parties agree and the desire for a divorce is mutual, filing for divorce without legal counsel can be easier but it is still important that you file the appropriate documents, the documents are completed correctly, and you are at least aware of your rights and what you are entitled to.
However, uncontested divorce is not always easier. Generally, the more assets and issues to be resolved the more difficult it gets.
Not because you and your spouse are fighting, more because you need to make sure you address everything appropriately.
A person that is not experienced with Arizona law and what issues arise commonly, may not even be aware that something needs to be addressed. An issue that is not properly addressed can pop up as a problem years after the divorce.
A Lack of Marital Assets
Divorcing without community property is usually easier to DIY because there are less issues to resolve and less future problems to anticipate.
As with any divorce situation, if the parties can reach an agreement on all outstanding issues , they will file a Consent Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.
The document tells the court that the parties agree on the issues The consent decree lets the court know what agreements were reached and what the parties would like ordered in accordance with the divorce settlement.
Situations That Make DIY Divorce Harder
There are some situations that cause more challenges with DIY divorce. Each situation is different, but here are a few instances that might not be suitable for a do it yourself divorce.
You Want the Court to Issue Temporary Orders
If you want the judge to issue temporary orders on your case, you will need to file additional documents with your Petition for Dissolution of Non-Covenant Marriage or Response.
Again, you do not necessarily have to file the Motion for Temporary Orders at the same time as the Petition or Response but it is common.
Keep in mind, the longer you wait to file the appropriate motion, the longer you will have to wait for the temporary relief requested as, typically, procedural appearances and evidentiary hearings need to take place before a judge can enter orders.
You Want to Utilize the Discovery Process
While Arizona law does require both parties to provide documentation to prove their assets, debts, wages, and other financial information, it may be difficult to get the other party to provide all of their information.
You are Petitioning the Court for Spousal Support
Cases involving petitions or requests for spousal support are more complicated because there are many factors that go into that determination.
So, it is more difficult to keep up with the documents necessary to prove your claim.
Further, because spousal maintenance is a highly litigated issue an attorney’s experience can be a helpful tool with these claims.
You Share Community Property and/or Children
If you share community property, your divorce can be more complex. While there are guidelines for the division of marital property in the State of Arizona, the more property a couple owns, the more challenging it is to agree to who gets what in the divorce.
If the couple shares assets, debts, and children, they might face greater challenges agreeing on property division, debt division, and about their allotment of parenting time.
Further, division of property, debts, and the allocation of parenting time often have common problems down the road. Experienced attorneys can help resolve those issues before they occur.
General Divorce Guidelines
There are some general guidelines that the court follows when deciding on divorce cases in the State of Arizona.
These guidelines make it easier to anticipate how judges might rule on family law cases.
However, each case is different and each judge is different. It is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney with your specific situation.
Marital assets are also known as community property. Shared property and assets including savings, cars, and other items acquired during the marriage are usually considered community property. There are some situations where this is not the case. Gifts and inheritances may not be looked at as community property.
Community property is divided equitably in a divorce.
However, deciding how much of a retirement fund or savings account is community property might not be so simple.
Dissolution of Property and Debt
An Arizona court will allow any division of community property which the petitioner and respondent agree to between each other so long as the division is fair and equitable.
If the parties do not agree, the court will decide based on what is community property and what is separate property.
Community property includes items that the couple owns together, including items bought during the marriage, businesses held together, and other assets of the community. Each party will retain any sole and separate property they own.
The court does not show favor to one party over the other due to marital issues, such as infidelity. However, if one spouse is misusing the matrimonial assets, that might affect a judge’s decision regarding assets and debts.
Alimony in Arizona
Typically, as part of the dissolution, you can request alimony or spousal support(known as spousal maintenance) in Arizona.
However, you must meet the factors under ARS 25-319, which is the statute that governs alimony awards.
Children and Divorce in Arizona
If you have children that resulted from your marriage, the divorce process involves child custody decisions(known as parenting time and legal decision-making) and child support payments.
Always consider the best interest of your children when deciding on these matters, as that is what the court will do.
In the State of Arizona, both parents must attend a parenting class before the court enters a final order. The court will also request that the parents develop a parenting plan.
The parenting plan gives information about when the child will be with each parent and other important information regarding the parenting of the children. It is an essential component of divorce cases with children. If the parties cannot come to an agreement regarding the parenting plan, then the court will have to resolve the issues at a trial.
It is best if you and the other parent can come to a mutual decision regarding parenting time and legal decision-making rights. When two parents are unable to agree, the court decides. When it comes to determining child support, the court follows guidelines based on parenting time, income, and other potential credits.
Discovery is a complex process that is difficult to properly enforce without understanding the rules.
However, this is a necessary step in many divorces. Without proper enforcement the court has to make a decision based on what each party provides or fails to provide in some situations.
When To Seek the Help of a Divorce Attorney
There are many reasons couples separate or get divorced. When a divorce is amicable, it might seem easier to do it yourself. DIY divorce can seem to save you money, but it can also make things more complicated, and, if not done correctly, it can cost you more money in the long run.
We recommend you at least meet with an experienced attorney before submitting any paperwork to get your case started on the right path.
Even if you are only seeking guidance from the attorney, this meeting at the outset can save you a lot of problems in the long run.
Even if you do not intend to hire an attorney for the entire divorce, simply having a consultation to understand the law as applied to your specific situation and/or hiring an attorney to draft the documents for you to use on your own can prove to be invaluable and more cost effective than people think.
Divorce in any situation is stressful, and keeping up with timelines, documents, court dates, and laws takes a lot of time and knowledge. If you and the other party cannot come to an agreement or you have assets you want to protect, an attorney may be able to help you.
Even if you do reach an agreement, having an attorney draft the final agreements to be submitted to the court can save you many problems in the near or even distant future.
If you have substantial assets you wish to protect, it might be better not to go at it alone. Custody cases are also tricky to resolve.
An experienced attorney has the knowledge to help you protect yourself, your assets, and your children.