Divorce is a court process used to legally end a marriage, divide property and debts of the spouses, and to decide on child custody, parenting time, and child support for any children born or adopted into the marriage. The legal term used for a divorce process in Arizona is dissolution of marriage. When a couple decides to end their marriage there are several points that need to be considered, one of which is if they are willing to hire an attorney to file for dissolution of marriage on their behalf or if they want to do the filing on their own. Here are factors to contemplate when comparing your choices of how to file for a divorce in Arizona.
DIY Divorce, also known as do-it-yourself divorce, is a slang used for filing for divorce yourself without an attorney.
If both the spouses consent to the end of the marriage, and they have reached a mutual agreement on all the conditions of their divorce, they can file for an uncontested divorce. Issues that will need to be addressed in the settlement may include any division of property, spousal support, child support, child custody, a visitation plan, etc.
An uncontested divorce is the easiest and fastest method of obtaining divorce. And if you do it all yourself, without an attorney, it can be very inexpensive.
Before filing for a divorce, a couple must first meet the general residency requirements for the state of Arizona. Arizona requires that at least one of the spouses lives in the state for at least 90 days before filing for divorce.
As long as the residency requirements are met, the couple may then proceed with filing the proper forms for their case. The Arizona Judicial Branch publishes certain forms online to file for divorce. There are two separate packets, one for couples with children, and one for couples without children. It is always best to check with the clerk of court to be sure that you have all the required forms included in your paperwork.
Another requirement for filing an uncontested divorce by yourself is to fill in the grounds for divorce. Since Arizona is a “no-fault” state, it allows all couples, involved in a regular or non-covenant marriage, to file for divorce on the ground of “irretrievable breakdown.” This just means that the marriage is broken and is unable to be repaired. Neither spouse is to blame, and no fault needs to be proven in court.
Three copies should be made of the completed divorce paperwork packet. The original will be filed with the court, one copy will go to the petitioner (the spouse filing the case), and the other copy will go to the respondent (the non-filing spouse).
The forms should be filed at your local Superior Court in the county where you live. There will be a mandatory filing fee that must be paid at the time of the submission in order to begin the process. In a true DIY divorce, this fee makes most of the cost of your divorce. The cost will vary by county, so check with your local court to know the exact amount. If the petitioner cannot afford the filing fee, they can request to have the fee waived by completing an “Application for Deferral of Filing Fee” form.
Once the documents are prepared and filed and the requisite filing fees paid, the petitioner needs to serve a copy of the petition and summons to their spouse within 120 days. This is a mandatory step required in every state to ensure that the other party does not go unheard.
You can serve your documents by having a deputy sheriff or a process server (non-party over 18) deliver them to your spouse. You can’t deliver the documents personally by hand or by regular first class mail unless your spouse agrees to accept service and signs an Acceptance of Service form.
Once the papers have been served, the spouse will have 20 days (if they live in Arizona) or 30 days (if they live outside Arizona) to respond.
If the spouse fails to respond within the time frame, the court will order a default divorce once the mandatory 60 day waiting period has expired.
If both spouses agree to get a divorce and have reached a settlement agreement on the terms of their divorce, then 60 days after the response is received, they can file a joint Consent Decree for Dissolution of Marriage asking for the judge to sign the order officially ending the marriage. Remember that your agreement must include all terms of your divorce including property division, custody, support, parenting plan etc. Be sure that both spouses sign the Consent Decree in front of a notary before filing it. This decree becomes an order after the judge has signed it.
The entire process of an uncontested DIY divorce is fast and affordable. However, if the papers are not prepared correctly, the tactic could backfire, as you will be forced to start the whole process over again. There are several online platforms that can help you in preparing your divorce papers accurately at a much cheaper cost than hiring an attorney, keeping your DIY divorce quick and inexpensive.
Hiring an Attorney
It is mandatory to hire an attorney to apply for divorce when either of the spouses has not agreed to the divorce or on any terms thereof. In this case it is called a contested divorce and a proper trial will have to be conducted to settle all contentious matters. For this reason, each party should hire an attorney to fight for their best interests and represent them in the court of law.
There are many benefits to hiring an attorney, even if it is not required by law.
Family law in Arizona can sometimes be tricky, so consulting a good attorney can help clarify any questions and ensure that you are taking the proper steps to come out of the divorce with your best interests satisfied.
If you have children are under the age of 18 from the marriage and there is lots of community property and debts that need to be divided, it can become very difficult for an individual to go through the entire process of divorce all by themselves, particularly when it comes to completing the proper court papers, serving them to the other spouse, managing your court appearances, meeting discovery and disclosure deadlines, and most importantly representing yourself in the court. So for individuals that can afford the legal costs, the support of competent legal representation for such an important step in their lives is a sound decision.
If you fail to follow the proper procedure, the judge may simply reject your application and will ask you to refile the case. This will lead to additional costs and time needed to complete your divorce.
Even if the papers are filed properly there is a chance that you may miss out on some important issues or information which could affect you for years to come after the divorce. There is also a chance that you could miss a deadline.
The obvious pitfall of filing an uncontested divorce with a lawyer is the cost. Legal representation, even for an uncontested divorce, could run as much $6,000 to $10,000 per spouse in Arizona. A contested divorce case is even worse, with costs reaching more than $30,000 per spouse.
So the best solution may be to do as much as possible on your own, and only use an attorney for the parts of your divorce where it is most necessary.
It is always easy to file for divorce yourself, without any legal assistance, if the marriage was short and did not result in any minor children or notable community property or debts.
Even in cases with children and property, it is possible to forgo legal representation if your divorce is uncontested, saving you money and time. However, it is always advisable to seek a lawyer’s advice to understand the legal procedure and requirements in your specific case, even if you are not willing to hire the attorney for the entire process.
Keep in mind that if your only issue is the paperwork, there are platforms available online that can handle the paperwork preparation for you over the internet for a much lower fee than the cost of an attorney. This way your case is handled by professionals, who can ensure that the procedure is followed properly, without it costing you an arm and a leg.
In the case of contested divorce, it becomes a mandatory condition for both the spouses to hire an attorney to represent them in the court of law during the trial.