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Ten Things to Consider

1. Don’t do it alone! Divorce in Arizona is fraught with legal pitfalls that can and will damage your financial and emotional future. Divorce, like a marriage, cannot and should not be entered into alone and particularly without the guidance of a properly licensed family law lawyer.

2. Arizona is a “no-fault” state. You do not need to have any “grounds” for filing but need merely to state that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Furthermore, either party must be domiciled in Arizona for not less than 90 days prior to the filing of the divorce pleadings in order for the Court to take jurisdiction.

3. The first to file often “wins”! Just as possession is nine-tenths of the law, the first one to file — called the petitioner — is often the “winner” because they have sought and followed the advice of a lawyer. The petitioner sets forth the “rules” or tone of the litigation. The opposing party — called the respondent — is at a tactical disadvantage and often ends up playing “catch-up” throughout the initial stages of the litigation.

4. Most Arizona divorces settle! Statistics show that 70 percent of all divorces with children and 90 percent of all divorces without children settle before trial. Furthermore, it takes a minimum of three months to get a divorce, but only if both parties agree on all of the issues at the onset of the case. Of course, this estimate varies with each individual case.

5. Arizona is a community-property state. Thus, property division is generally simpler. Whatever was totally owned prior to the marriage or received by gift or inheritance is considered separate property that goes to the spouse who owns it. If it was partially paid for by using wages or income earned during the marriage, the “community” gains an interest in it that can be calculated. Our family law lawyer can guide you in understanding and applying the unique opportunities community-property law concepts present.

6. Arizona does award alimony. Arizona does award alimony — called spousal support — to either spouse for their support during and after the divorce. A number of factors influence the amount. Only a properly trained and experienced family attorney can help you get the alimony/spousal support you are entitled to receive.

7. Joint custody IS the norm! While there is a growing presumption in favor of joint legal and/or physical custody over the parties’ child(ren), no such presumption has yet been codified by the Arizona legislature. Joint custody may be granted if both parents agree — by submitting a parenting plan — and the order is in the child(ren)’s best interest(s). Evidence of domestic violence and/or drug/alcohol abuse are factors that may be considered as contrary to the best interests of the child(ren). Again, only a properly trained and experienced family law lawyer can help guide you in this area.

8. Change ISN’T always a good or easy thing! In order to change alimony, child custody and/or child support, a minimum of two things must be shown: (1) a substantial and continuing change in circumstances; and (2) at least one year has passed since the original award was ordered, except, as in the case of custody, there is evidence the child(ren) is/are in danger. Furthermore, if both parents live in Arizona, the spouse changing residences MUST provide advanced written notice if the relocation is further than 100 miles from the other parent. The non-moving parent has the right to request a hearing to STOP the move. A parent who has joint legal and physical custody, who is required to relocate in less than 60 days after written notice, may ONLY do so if both parents agree or a court order is issued.

9. Arizona follows an Income Shares model for support. Child support guidelines are based on what is called an Income Shares model — meaning the award is calculated from the parents’ collective gross income. Support presumptively terminates at 18, when the child legally marries or when the child graduates from high school. The Court may NOT order the parents to pay for the child’s college education costs. Also, child support payments must NOT stop, even if visitation is being prevented by the non-custodial parent. Unfortunately, the legal obligation to pay is separate from the duty of custodial parents to comply with the parenting plan and/or Court’s order pertaining to visitation. If a parent is deprived of visitation, he or she MUST still provide support. Arizona will allow for modification of child support as long as a substantial change has occurred and the change is not something that has previously been addressed. The change will typically be associated with living arrangements and income.

10 Never pay the custodial parent directly! Where a non-custodial parent is ordered to pay child support, payments should NOT be made directly to the other parent. In most cases, the Court will instruct the payor (obligor) to send the child support payment to the Arizona Support Payment Clearinghouse. The payment will be recorded and a check issued to the payee (obligee). If the payor is employed, the payments will eventually be processed by wage assignment. If the parent does not send payments through the support payment clearinghouse, the Court may consider those payments as “gifts” and may not credit those payments toward child support obligations. Making payments to the support payment clearinghouse provides a permanent record.