If you are meeting with an Arizona family attorney for the first time about a child custody, child support, or paternity matter, you almost certainly want to know what to expect during the legal process. To help prepare yourself for what lies ahead, you should get at least a general idea of how long the process takes, what it might cost, what is required of you, and what to expect. Not all these things can be determined precisely at this early stage, but the more information you gather, the better off you will be.
In Arizona, a child custody establishment case takes at least three months but can take up to a year and sometimes even longer. The “even longer” part is probably not what you hoped to hear, but it is important to be realistic and understand that these matters take time. The biggest variable on the length of time and cost is whether, and if so to what extent, you and the other parent can work together to reach full agreement on everything that you need to decide. If you can do so, then you can get an uncontested decree (judge’s order). If the other side fails to respond or participate in the process, or does not do so in a timely manner, you may be able to get a default judgment. Otherwise, the matter becomes a contested proceeding with evidentiary hearing(s) and/or a trial.
The following is a high-level step-by-step outline of typical establishment proceedings in Arizona family courts. Some of the steps may not apply, depending on the nature of the matter and the direction it takes.
Fill out and file the papers to begin the case
You must start with the somewhat tedious exercise of filling out the many forms the court requires to start a case. These documents include:
- The Family Court cover sheet/Sensitive Data sheet, which contains confidential information commonly sought by identity thieves, such as Social Security numbers and birthdates. The court keeps this information safe, and it is not to be shared with the other party.
- The cover sheet (a separate one may not be required, depending on the county).
- The Summons to Respond/Appear.
- The Petition to Establish Paternity, Child Support, Child Custody (Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), and so forth, depending on the nature of the matter.
- The Notice of Appearance. This is filed with the court if an attorney is representing you from the beginning of the matter.
Although subject to change, the current filing fee for a Petition in Maricopa County is $338.00. For a Response, the filing fee in Maricopa County is $269.00. The amount of the fees may be different in other Arizona counties.