HOW LONG WILL MY CASE TAKE?
The length of the case depends on the level of conflict between you and the other party. The more you disagree about how to resolve the issues, the longer the case will take. The better you are able to work together to achieve a result that serves the best interests of everyone involved, the more quickly things will proceed.
If you and the other party are unable to agree on anything, the worst case scenario is that you will have to take the case to trial in front of a judge. Depending on your particular judge’s calendar backlog, your case could be set anywhere from 60 days to 7 months from the time of your first court appearance. On average, most cases are resolved within a year.
WHAT IS THE QUICKEST I CAN GET A DIVORCE?
If you and your spouse agree on how every aspect of your divorce will be handled, your divorce can be finalized 60 days from the date that the Respondent was served with the Petition for Dissolution.
HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO RESPOND TO A PETITION FILED BY THE OTHER PARTY?
Generally speaking, if you live within the state of Arizona, you have 20 days to respond to a Petition. If you live outside the state of Arizona, you have 30 days to respond to a Petition. There are exceptions, to this rule, however. You don’t necessarily have to file a response in all cases, either. If in doubt, check the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure or consult with an attorney.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OBTAINING A DIVORCE AND OBTAINING A LEGAL SEPARATION?
The paperwork and processes for a divorce and a legal separation are extremely similar to one another. In both cases, if there are children involved, the court will make findings regarding legal decision making, parenting time and child support. In both cases, the court will make rulings about the distribution of property and debt. If applicable, in both cases, the court could enter judgment regarding alimony. However, at the end of a legal separation case, the parties are still married. Each individual has very clear guidelines about his or her responsibilities and rights.
I FILED FOR A LEGAL SEPARATION, BUT NOW I HAVE DECIDED I WANT A DIVORCE. WILL IT BE HARD TO MAKE THAT CHANGE IN THE COURT SYSTEM?
No. If your case is still pending in Maricopa County Superior Court, you can easily convert your case from a legal separation to a divorce by filing one simple docment. If your separation case has concluded and the judge has issued a decree, you will have to file a Petition for Dissolution. If the separation resolved all outstanding issues (which could include custody, legal decision-making, parenting time, property distribution, debt distribution, and spousal maintenance), you might simply be able to ask the divorce judge to adopt the decree of legal separation that was previously approved and adopted by the court.
IF I HIRE AN ATTORNEY, HOW MUCH WILL MY CASE COST?
The cost of a case rarely can be predicted with any kind of precision. The ultimate cost will depend on a variety of factors, including your attorney’s level of experience and hourly billing rate. More importantly, however, the cost of your case will be dictated by your ability to resolve the case with the other party short of going to trial. If you are unable to make agreements, you will have to proceed to an evidentiary hearingl. In that circumstance, your case expenses will surely increase, as attorneys must spend extensive time preparing the matter to try based upon the judge’s requirements, Arizona’s Rules of Family Law Procedure and applicable law.
I HIRED ONE ATTORNEY, BUT NOW WANT TO HIRE ANOTHER ONE. CAN I DO THAT?
Yes, you have the absolute right to choose the attorney with whom you work. If you have consulted with the attorney to whom you want to switch to, he or she can help you communicate with your former attorney to file the required paperwork, obtain a copy of the file and get up to speed in the case.
WHAT JUDGE WILL HANDLE MY CASE?
When your case is filed in the Maricopa County Superior Court of Arizona, the Clerk of the Court will automatically assign the case to a judge in one of Maricopa County’s four facilities (Downtown, Northeast, Southeast or Northwest).
DOES AN ATTORNEY HAVE TO HANDLE MY CASE?
No, you do not have to hire an attorney. Many individuals handle their own cases and do a phenomenal job at doing so. However, one thing to keep in mind if you do decide to handle your own case is the fact that the court will hold you to the same standard to which an educated and trained attorney is held. You must meet the deadlines and follow the rules. If you fail to do so, there could be negative repercussions for you and your case.
DO I HAVE TO GO TO COURT?
No, you do not necessarily have to go to court. If you and the other party are able to reach agreements about the issues in dispute, you can put those agreements in writing, then submit them to the judge for approval. If the judge approves your agreements, you will not have to go to court.
CAN I WORK WITH THE OTHER PARTY TO REACH AN AGREEMENT?
Yes, in many cases, both parties are in agreement about what the final outcome of a case should be. They are able to work together amicably. If you and the other party are working together and are able to reach agreements, those agreements can be placed into writing by you or an attorney for presentation to the judge for his or her approval.
ARE VERBAL AGREEMENTS WITH THE OTHER PARTY ENFORCEABLE BY THE COURT?
No. However, if you and the other party have reached verbal agreements, any documentation evidencing those agreements might help you convince the judge to adopt what you allege the agreements were.
CAN MY CHILD OR CHILDREN TESTIFY IN COURT?
If your child is younger than 18 years old, the majority of judges will not allow the child to testify in court. However, if your child has reached an age where she can reason and communicate, there are other ways you might be able to get her feelings and desires heard by the judge.
CAN MY CHILD CHOOSE WHICH PARENT WITH WHOM HE/SHE WANTS TO LIVE WITH?
A child’s desires about the parent with whom he would like to live is just one factor a judge will consider in making such a decision. Because judges are reluctant to place a child in the middle of parental conflict, judges often order that a child (who is old enough) be interviewed by court-appointed personnel. The individual appointed by the court is typically educated and trained to carefully elicit valuable information from the child without making the child feel unnecessary pressure or stress.
WHO WILL MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT MY CASE IF THE OTHER PARTY AND I CANNOT AGREE?
If you and the other party are unable to agree about how to resolve your case, you can enlist the help of a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party who might be able to assist you and the other party in reaching an agreement. Keep in mind, however, a mediator has no power to force anyone to do anything.
If you and the other party are unsuccessful at mediation, a judge may have to decide the outcome of your case after a trial is conducted. A judge’s decision will be the final word on how your conflicts are resolved unless you are able to successfully appeal the judge’s decision.
WHAT IS MEDIATION?
Mediation is a process whereby a neutral third party attempts to facilitate a mutually agreeable settlement between the two parties. Mediation is conducted with both parties and their attorneys being present. A mediation session can be conducted as a “round table” with all players in the room at the same time or it can be conducted in a caucus style. When a mediation session is conducted by way of caucus, the parties are placed in separate rooms, and the mediator shuffles back and forth between rooms, delivering offers and advice.
WILL THE FACT THAT WE ARE NOT EVEN DIVORCED AND MY SPOUSE IS ALREADY DATING AFFECT WHETHER THEY CAN GET CUSTODY OF THE CHILDREN?
Probably not. There are a variety of factors a court looks at in determining what the custody arrangement between the parties will look like. The main thing the judge will consider is what custody decision will best serve the children. The fact that your spouse began dating prior to your divorce being final alone probably will not be enough to convince a judge that your spouse does not have the best interests of the children at heart.
WILL THE JUDGE PUNISH MY SPOUSE FOR CHEATING ON ME?
No. Arizona is a no-fault state. That means the judge will not consider evidence which shows that your spouse was unfaithful.
CAN I FORCE THE OTHER PARTY TO PAY FOR MY ATTORNEY’S FEES AND COSTS?
If you and the other party are unable to agree about how the attorney’s fees and costs should be paid, a judge will have to decide that issue for you. In deciding whether one person should pay the other’s fees and costs, the judge will consider the reasonableness of each party’s position during the course of the lawsuit and any financial disparity between the parties. Even if a party has been wholly unreasonable, depending upon the financial resources of that party, there is no guarantee that the judge would order him or her to pay the other person’s fees and costs.
HOW OFTEN CAN I HAVE THE ISSUE OF CHILD SUPPORT REVIEWED BY THE COURT?
In order to have child support modified, you have to demonstrate there is a substantial and continuing change in circumstances. In the case of child support, you have to be able to demonstrate to the judge that there has been a change significant enough that the new child support amount should be at least 15% more or 15% less than the current child support amount.
HOW OFTEN CAN I HAVE THE CUSTODY, DECISION-MAKING AUTHORITY AND/OR PARENTING PLAN REVIEWED BY THE COURT?
Before a court will modify custody, legal decision making authority and/or parenting time, the judge must find a substantial and continuing change in circumstances. There are a variety of circumstances that could result in a substantial and continuing change in circumstances. If you file a request to have the court modify custody, decision-making authority and/or parenting time, but you fail to demonstrate a substantial and continuing change in circumstances, your request will be denied and might even be dismissed before you have a chance to appear in court.
HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO APPEAL THE DECISION THE JUDGE MADE IN MY FAMILY LAW TRIAL?
You have 30 days from the date of entry of judgment to file a Notice of Appeal in the Maricopa County Superior Court. In Arizona, the date of entry of judgment is the date that the clerk of the court filed the judge’s minute entry.
IF I DON’T HAVE A LOT OF MONEY TO SPEND ON AN ATTORNEY, CAN YOU HELP ME WITH JUST PART OF MY CASE?
Yes. While we prefer to handle all aspects of any given case (to ensure it is being handled properly), we are able to consult with you on an as-needed basis, prepare forms for you, and make court appearances for you on a limited scope basis.