The pursuit of love and marriage is a feature of our society. Marriage is not a walk in the park but a conscious decision and effort between spouses to make it work through the good and the ugly. Despite the belief in love and the good moments that might have preceded the split, many marriages fall apart and end in divorce.
People decide to end their happily-ever-afters for various reasons. Based on 2018 data from the General Social Survey, 16% of respondents reported cheating on their spouse while married. Infidelity is one of the causes of marital disruption in the U.S.
According to a report conducted by the CDC, there were 1,985,072 marriages that occurred across 45 states and the District of Columbia in 2021. In the same year, there were 689,308 divorces and annulments filed.
How does Arizona compare to the rest of the country? The CDC reported a divorce rate of 2.7 per 1,000 people residing in the Grand Canyon State, which is higher than the national average of 2.5.
Nevertheless, the survey indicates that the divorce rate has dropped in recent years. In 2020, there were 18,778 dissolutions of marriage based on data from the Arizona Department of Health Services. Even with the declining rates, many marriages still end in divorce.
Divorce is perceived as the end of something once thought to be permanent, but it can also be the beginning of a new chapter in one’s life.
Even if the breakup was amicable, a party considering getting a divorce does not have to handle their situation alone. This article explains the legal requirements, cost considerations, and procedures to help spouses navigate the divorce process.
Is Arizona a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Arizona is a no-fault divorce state, which means that neither spouse is required to prove marital misconduct by the other party that caused the breakdown of the marriage. A marriage can be dissolved on the ground that it is “irretrievably broken” without any prospect for reconciliation under state law.
However, if a party denies it under oath or affirmation, the court will hold a hearing to give the couple a chance to reconcile. After the hearing, it may either determine whether the marriage is irretrievably broken or continue the case for up to 60 days for a further hearing.
During the 60-day period, the court may order a conciliation conference. At the next hearing, it may make a final decision whether the marriage is irretrievably broken.
A unique facet of Arizona’s family law is that it allows couples to enter into covenant marriages. A covenant marriage is a union in which couples pledge a lifetime commitment to each other. They would receive marital counseling as a prerequisite before tying the knot, as well as during hardship.
In contrast to standard marriages, this type of union makes it more challenging to obtain a divorce. If this becomes an option, an individual can obtain it under limited circumstances, such as:
When the other party commits adultery.
When the other party is convicted of a felony and sentenced to death or imprisonment.
When the other party has abandoned the marital home for at least one year before the filing of divorce and has refused to return.
When the other party is physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive.
When the other party is a habitual user of drugs or alcohol.
When both parties agree to end the marriage.
When both parties have been living apart continuously without reconciling for at least two years before filing or for at least one year after getting legally separated.
How to File for Divorce in Arizona
There are different ways to file for divorce in Arizona. One of them is hiring a lawyer who can handle the forms, filing, and other legal matters related to the case.
The cheapest option is the do-it-yourself method, which involves some legwork since it requires a party to fill out the self-service forms, file the papers with the court themselves, and follow through on the legal steps according to the state’s laws.
The divorce process differs slightly depending on whether a couple has children or entered into a covenant marriage. If a couple has minor children or the wife is pregnant by the husband, the petitioner may file for a “Dissolution of Marriage With Children.” Otherwise, they may file for a “Dissolution of Marriage Without Children.”
Before filing a petition for divorce, either spouse must have resided in Arizona or, if a member of the armed forces, been stationed there for at least 90 continuous days. The minor children must also have lived in the state for at least six consecutive months in order for the court to have jurisdiction to address custody issues.
The state does not require a couple to be separated for a period of time before filing for divorce. However, it does require a 60-day waiting period before spouses can finalize it.
Whether spouses have an attorney or represent themselves in court, there are several requirements and timelines to be followed to file for divorce. This section explains the steps involved in the divorce process in Arizona.
Filing the Divorce Papers
A spouse must file an original and two copies of the “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage With Children” or “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage Without Children” with the Clerk of the Superior Court. One copy would be served to the respondent, and the other would be kept for the petitioner’s records. They must bring the action to the county where they were residing at the time of filing.
Other documents that may be included in the “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Children” are:
Sensitive Data Sheet
Family Court Cover Sheet
Notice of Right to Convert Health Insurance
Affidavit Regarding Minor Children
Notice Regarding Creditors
Order for Parent Education Class
Child Support Worksheet
Other documents that may be included in the “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage Without Children” are:
Sensitive Data Sheet
Family Court Cover Sheet
Notice of Right to Convert Health Insurance
Notice Regarding Creditors
Serving a Copy of the Petition
The spouse must serve a copy of the petition on the respondent within 120 days of filing. Service may be done in six ways:
Service by Acceptance
In this method, the petitioner must give or mail the court papers to the other party, including an “Acceptance of Service” form, which the respondent must sign in front of a notary public or clerk and return to the filing spouse. The other party is deemed to have been “served” when the petitioner files the form with the clerk. A victim of domestic violence may not use this type of service.
Service by Certified Mail
The petitioner must deliver the court papers to the respondent by mail, requiring a signed and returned receipt. The other party must personally sign for the papers using this method, which the post office refers to as "Certified Mail Restricted Delivery." The filing spouse must attach the proof of delivery and copies of the mailing receipt and signature to the “Affidavit of Service with Signature Confirmation” and file it with the clerk.
Service by a Registered Process Server
In this method, the filing spouse must hire and pay a registered process server to give the court papers to the respondent at their home, work, or other locations. The petitioner must make sure that the process server has filed an affidavit of service with the clerk, or they can do it by themselves. They may find a list of private process servers in Arizona in this directory.
Service by a Sheriff
The petitioner must contact the Sheriff’s Office in the county where the respondent lives. Unless the court has granted a waiver or deferred it, they must arrange for a deputy to deliver the court papers to the opposing party and pay a fee. The filing spouse must make sure the Sheriff’s Office has filed an affidavit of service with the clerk, or they can do it themselves.
Service to an Incarcerated Party
This method allows the petitioner to serve an incarcerated party in jail, prison, or a correctional facility using the U.S. Postal Service or other mail delivery service. Firstly, the filing spouse must request and pay for a return receipt for signature confirmation or proof of delivery with a signature. An official of the jail, prison, or correctional facility staff may sign the receipt instead of the respondent. The petitioner must then file the proof of delivery and copies of the mailing receipt and signature with the clerk and use the “Affidavit of Service with Signature Confirmation” form. Lastly, they must mail a copy of the documents to the inmate by first-class mail.
Service by Publication
The petitioner may publish a notice in a newspaper if they have made every effort to locate the respondent but cannot find them. Before using this method, they must file a motion to ask a judge for approval.
Waiting for the Response
Whichever method the petitioner uses to serve the court papers, they must give the respondent a certain amount of time to answer before filing for default. The period starts to count after the other party has been served. In counting the days, weekends and holidays are included. However, if the last day to respond falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or a legal holiday, it must not be counted. The last day to be counted must be a day when the court is open for business. The default timetable for responding to the filing is as follows:
Type of Service
Out of State
20 days after “Acceptance of Service” is filed with the clerk
30 days after “Acceptance of Service” is filed with the clerk
By certified mail
20 days after a respondent signs the delivery confirmation
30 days after the respondent signs the delivery confirmation
By a process server
20 days after a respondent receives the papers
30 days after a respondent receives the papers
By a sheriff
20 days after a respondent receives the papers
30 days after a respondent receives the papers
By service of an incarcerated party
20 days after a jail, prison, or correctional facility official signs the delivery confirmation
30 days after a jail, prison, or correctional facility official signs the delivery confirmation
50 days after the first publication
60 days after the first publication
Responding to the Service
There are four scenarios that can arise after serving the documents to the respondent. These are the following:
If the other party has not responded within the allotted time frame, the petitioner may file for a default.
If both parties agree with the petition, they may submit a “Consent Decree.”
If the other party files a response, the case will be scheduled for a trial.
If both parties do not take any type of action within 120 days of filing, the case could be dismissed due to inactivity.
The spouses may also have to complete a parenting education class, unless the judge decides it would not be in the best interests of the children.
After the amount of time shown in the default timetable has passed, the petitioner must file an original and two copies of the “Application and Affidavit for Default” and, if applicable, the “Default Information for Spousal Maintenance” form. They must bring a picture ID with them and then go to a notary public or clerk to sign. The date on the form must be the date they are signing. The clerk will give the two copies back, one to be kept for the petitioner’s records and the other to be mailed to the respondent on the same day of filing.
Before a filing spouse can schedule a hearing, the petitioner must count 10 working days, excluding weekends and court holidays, from the day the Application and Affidavit for Default are filed.
If the petition includes a request to establish custody and/or parenting time or visitation, they must attend the “Parent Information Program” before they can get a default hearing.
With Default Hearing
The default hearing will be set at least 60 days from the date the respondent was served the divorce papers.
The petitioner must have a hearing in the following situations:
The respondent was served by publication.
The respondent is a minor or incompetent.
The filing spouse is requesting a decree different from the petition or for amounts greater than they requested in the petition unless the couple has a written separation agreement.
A separation agreement is a written contract between spouses that indicates how matters should be handled if their marriage ends. It contains the terms of their resolution of issues about ownership of real estate, division of properties and debts, and issues of custody, support, and parenting time if children are involved.
Without Default Hearing
The filing spouse may request to proceed without a hearing. They must file an original and two copies of a “Motion and Affidavit for Default Decree Without Hearing” form with the clerk, one for the petitioner and the other for the judge. After filing the motion, they must hand-deliver or mail the following to the judge for review:
One file-stamped copy of the filed motion.
Original and two copies of the completed default decree for the judge’s signature.
Two 9” x 12” envelopes with sufficient stamps, one pre-addressed to the petitioner and another to the respondent.
Once at least 60 days have passed since the date the respondent was served the divorce papers, the court can sign the default decree.
Before the hearing, the petitioner must fill out the default decree and give it to a judge to sign. They must also fill out a “Parenting Plan” if a couple has minor children. If they requested a child support order, they must complete the “Child Support Order” and the “Parent’s Worksheet for Child Support.” To get an estimate of the amount, they may use a calculator on the Arizona Courts website. If they are asking that child support be paid with an “Income Withholding Order,” they may complete that form and a “Current Employer Information Sheet.”
The decree should mirror the “Petition for Dissolution.” If the filing spouse marks something different in the default decree from what they asked for in the petition, they must have written consent from the respondent. Without it, the judge will not sign the default decree.
If they do not have written consent and want to change their requests to the court, they must file an “Amended Petition.”
Preparing for the Court Hearing
The following documents must be prepared before the court hearing:
One original and two copies of the completed “Decree of Dissolution.”
One original and two copies of the completed “Exhibit A” (this is an attachment to the decree, which contains the terms for division of property), if applicable.
A “Qualified Domestic Relation’s Order” if the decree includes division of retirement funds, pensions, annuities, etc.
One 9” x 12” self-addressed stamped envelope
The petitioner must file their certification of attendance at a “Parent Information Program” class. If a couple has minor children together, they must also prepare the following:
One original and two copies of the completed and signed “Parenting Plan.”
One original and two copies of the completed and signed “Joint Legal Decision-Making Agreement (Part 4 of the Parenting Plan),” if applicable.
One original and two copies of the completed “Child Support Order” and the “Parent’s Worksheet for Child Support.”
One original and two copies of the completed “Current Employer Information” sheet and an “Income Withholding Order” if they are asking for child support to be paid with it.
If the petition includes a request to establish child support and/or spousal maintenance and a party does not have a temporary order for it, they must bring the following:
Income information or wage pay stubs for both parties
Information about costs for children’s daycare, medical insurance, special needs, etc.
Before a party enters the courtroom, paperwork will be checked for completeness. If they do not bring all the required forms, their hearing will be rescheduled.
If both parties agree on all terms of the divorce, they can submit a Consent Decree in front of a notary public or a clerk. They must bring a photo identification card with them. Signing the form serves as a request that the court make an order for divorce. The attorney must also sign if they represent either party.
If a response has been filed in the case, the petitioner must complete the “Motion to Set and Certificate of Readiness” form. This document serves to tell the court that they want to go forward with the trial. The court will then mail a notice with the trial date, time, and location.
The state enforces a mandatory 60-day waiting period before a divorce can be finalized, even when both parties agree to the terms set forth in the petition.
Submitting the Decree to the Court
The petitioner may mail or deliver the papers to the Family Department or schedule a time to have the consent decree signed. The decree should mirror the “Petition for Dissolution.”
Waiting for the Judge’s Decision
It is within the judge’s discretion whether to accept or reject the decree. The judge may also schedule a court hearing.
If the consent decree is accepted, the judge will sign the original decree and have it filed with the clerk. The court will then send a copy of the signed decree to each party using the envelopes the petitioner provided. This serves to notify each spouse that their divorce is now final.
If the consent decree is rejected, the court will send a notice saying the consent decree was denied and stating the reason for it.
If a judge schedules a hearing, the court will send a notice of the scheduled date, time, and location. Both parties must attend to answer any questions the judge may have.
How Property is Divided in an Arizona Divorce
Arizona follows the community property law. Community property, which is divided 50/50 between both spouses in a divorce, generally means that a wife and husband equally share ownership of anything purchased, acquired, or paid for during the marriage. It includes all types of properties, such as automobiles, home furnishings, jewelry, money, retirement plans, and even the earnings of either spouse during the marriage.
If a retirement plan or pension is involved, the court may have to sign a “Qualified Domestic Relations Order” to allow the company that keeps the retirement money or handles the pension to know when and how to divide the account or plan payments.
Properties owned by a party before marriage, including those received by either spouse as a gift or inheritance, remain their separate property and are not divided in the dissolution case. If they become co-mingled with the community property, a party is required to show proof of what portion is their separate property.
The court also has the authority to divide community debts, such as bills and other financial obligations either spouse has incurred during the marriage.
Depending on the agreements on the divorce, both spouses might need to file an “Affidavit of Financial Information” and exchange information about their income, assets, and debts. This disclosure must be served within 40 days after filing a response, unless the parties have a written agreement to waive the requirement.
Arizona Divorce FAQs
No matter what stage a person may be in a divorce, knowing the issues that arise during or after the process is already half the battle. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about divorce in Arizona.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Arizona
Due to the tedious process and legal costs associated with divorce, many low-income individuals and those in underserved communities end up getting stuck in marriages that no longer serve them. Fortunately, in Arizona, there are nonprofit organizations that work to address this burden. This section describes pro bono legal centers that help people with financial challenges and guide them through the divorce process.
The Arizona Judicial Branch
The Arizona Judicial Branch publishes divorce packets containing instructions and forms through its website, which may be accepted by courts statewide. However, the forms may vary depending on the county. The petitioner may visit the website of the county where they reside or where the divorce papers have been filed to get the required forms by using the state of Arizona's court locator web mapping tool.
Volunteer Lawyer Program - DNA People’s Legal Services
Volunteer Lawyer Program -- DNA People's Legal Services is a nonprofit organization that provides direct legal assistance to people living in poverty in Arizona, including those residing in remote portions of the state and off-reservation communities. Interested applicants may apply through the online intake system to determine which program can help them with their legal problems and whether they qualify for free or reduced-fee assistance. They may also call (928) 774-0653, ext. 4817.
Southern Arizona Legal Aid
Southern Arizona Legal Aid is a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to low-income individuals in the state, including those living in Native American communities. They help with civil legal issues such as divorce, child support, parenting time, guardianship of children, and orders of protection for victims of domestic violence. Eligible applicants may receive legal counseling, assistance completing documents, referrals to pro bono attorneys, representation in court, and self-help classes and clinics. They may submit their application on the website or call (602) 287-9441.
Maricopa County Volunteer Lawyers Program
The Volunteer Lawyers Program is a joint project of Community Legal Services and the Maricopa County Bar Association. Its volunteers provide brief advocacy, legal advice, and pro bono representation to clients facing civil legal issues, such as divorce, child support, domestic violence, and parenting time. To obtain legal assistance, one may apply online through AZ Law Help’s Arizona’s Access to Justice Online Intake System. They must also call 602-682-3420 or toll-free at 855-339-6581 between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, to complete the application process.
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