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The Arizona divorce process

A step-by-step guide

If you are meeting with an Arizona family law attorney for the first time about a divorce 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.

How long it takes

Let’s start with the length of time. If you are new to the process, you may be surprised by how long it takes. A divorce in Arizona takes at least three months but can take up to a year and even longer, depending on the circumstances. 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 most important variable affecting the length of the divorce process is whether any children are involved. If even one minor child is at issue, the divorce matter can become exponentially more complicated. Both you and the other party will be a required to take a parenting class, address parenting time and legal decision-making, calculate child support, and provide documentation of income and expenses. Also, the judge likely will require at least one hearing before permitting the divorce.

The second most important variable is whether you and the other party can work together to reach full agreement on everything that must be decided and divided in a divorce. If so, you can get an uncontested dissolution/consent decree. Otherwise, the matter becomes a contested divorce with one or more evidentiary hearings, a trial, or both. If you file for divorce and the other party does not respond or participate in the process—or at least does not do so in a timely manner—the court may award you a default decree.

The third most important variable is whether the other party hires an attorney, and if so, how aggressive the attorney is and what tactics he or she employs. It is unethical for an attorney to file frivolous motions or excessive discovery requests with the sole intention of delaying the process, charging more billable hours, or overwhelming the opposing party. But it happens. Hopefully, your attorney, if you hire one, will not behave this way because most judges see right through it. Also, your attorney may use the other attorney’s actions as the basis for a request for reimbursement of your attorney’s fees or even imposition of sanctions on the other attorney. But it is important to realize that the opposing counsel’s actions may unavoidably increase the length and cost of the process in the meantime.

The following is a high-level step-by-step outline of typical divorce 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 papers to begin the divorce

This step is a tedious exercise. It involves completing the many forms the court requires to start a divorce case, which may include a:

  • Family Court/Sensitive Data Coversheet, 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.
  • A cover sheet, which may or may not be required, depending on the county.
  • Summons to respond or appear.
  • Preliminary injunction, which tells what the parties can and cannot do while the divorce is pending.
  • Health insurance notice.
  • Creditor notice.
  • Petition for Dissolution of (Non-Covenant) Marriage With/Without Minor Children.
  • Notice of Appearance, which is used only if an attorney is representing you from the start.

Some court filings require payment of a filing fee. These fees may vary from county to county in Arizona and are subject to change. In Maricopa County, Arizona, the filing fee for a petition is currently $341.00. For a response, the filing fee is $270.00.

Serve the other party

Service of process is formal notice to the opposing party that you have begun the legal process. It can be accomplished in one of three ways:

Certified mail: The quickest, easiest and cheapest way to serve the other party is usually through certified mail with return receipt. Restricted delivery also is needed if anyone else lives with the opposing party who might inadvertently sign, invalidating the service. The cost is around $10.00 to $15.00, depending on the weight (thickness of documents) and whether you ask for a physical postcard to be returned and/or electronic confirmation.

Process server: Sometimes the opposing party refuses to sign for certified mail if he or she expects to be served legal papers. In this case, you need to hire a process server to deliver service of process. Typically, the cost of a process server ranges from $75.00 to $150.00, depending on the type of provider (constable/sheriff or private company), how far he or she has to go to find the person, and how hard the person is trying to evade service.

Service by alternate methods: If you are unable to serve the other party by certified mail or process server, you can ask the court for permission to serve by alternate methods. You must show you have exhausted all reasonable methods first or have no idea where the person can be found. Service by posting is one option. It involves a process server physically attaching a posting and court papers in a conspicuous place on the person’s last-known residential property. Service by publication is another option. It requires putting a legal notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where the person was last known to be living, for four weeks in a row. The cost will likely be between $100.00 and $200.00, depending on the publication. The publication will give you a quote up front, prepare the legal notice, and provide proof of publication.

Take a parenting class

You must take a parenting class if you have any minor children and have a pending family court case. You are required to take the course within 45 days of the respondent being served. The cost is $50.00. For more information or to sign up, see the Parent Information Program and Approved Parent Information Program Classes pages on the Maricopa County Superior Court’s website. Or call Family Court Conciliation Services at 602-506-1448.

Wait to file a consent decree

If you and your spouse agree on all terms of the divorce that the court requires you to address, and if you continue to agree on everything after filing the divorce petition, all you have to do is wait at least 60 days after service is effected to submit a consent decree. Each of you must sign it. You may have to wait a few days to a few weeks longer for a judge to sign it. Technically, the judge has up to 60 days to issue his or her ruling or order. Normally, you can expect to be divorced in about 90 days total.

If there are no children involved, you do not have to go to a hearing. If one or more children are involved, you may be required to go to at least one hearing. The law says a hearing is at the judge’s discretion. Judges are so busy they may not make you do this.

Wait for a response

If the opposing party is served in-state, he or she has 20 days to respond (25 days if the party was served by mail). If the other party was served out-of-state, he or she has 30 days to respond (35 days if the party was served by mail). In determining the deadline for responding, you do not count the day that the opposing party was served. You start counting from the day after that, and include all weekends and holidays. If the last day falls on a weekend or holiday, then the opposing party has until the end of the next business day to file.

File for a default judgment

If the other party does not respond in a timely manner, you can ask the court to start default proceedings against him or her for failure to timely appear or file a response. The opposing party gets another 10 days’ grace period after that to file a response without penalty. If the party still does not file a response, then you file a final request for a default judgment along with a proposed default decree. Most likely you will likely get everything you asked for in the petition, as long as it was reasonable. But you have to wait at least 90 days from the date of filing the petition before a judge can sign off on a proposed default decree.

Go to court

If the other party responds in a timely manner, you are headed to court. The clerk’s office automatically refers the case to the assigned judge’s division for his or her assistant to set up a preliminary hearing, known as a Resolution Management Conference. At the hearing, the judge wants to hear from both sides whether any kind of agreement has been reached on any terms of the divorce. He or she refers the parties to Conciliation Court for mediation if there are any remaining terms to be addressed. If this does not result in a full agreement, the court sets a trial date.

If you must go to court, make sure you are represented by an experienced Arizona family law attorney. You and your family have too much at stake to go it alone.

What people are saying about Joan Bundy Law…

Having you for a lawyer was the best thing I did…

Oh my goodness! I have been at this for months! I can’t thank you enough for helping me through it! You made all the difference. Thank you again Joan! Having you for a lawyer was the best thing I did in this whole thing.

— E.H. | Post-decree matter

E.H.

…I really appreciate all of the help you gave me!

Thank you…for all of your help with this case, as well as being so patient with the other party and their lawyer. I really appreciate all of the help you gave me!

— C.R. | Animal law matter

CR

Thank you Joan…

Thank you Joan for your legal advice and your good listening ear.

— P. S. | Animal law matter

PS

…I feel like I’m on cloud nine!…

OMG…I am still soooooooo happy, I feel like I am on cloud nine!! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You again…I don’t feel like I can say it enough!

— E.B. | Child visitation and support matter

EB

…I feel like I’m on cloud nine!…

OMG…I am still soooooooo happy, I feel like I am on cloud nine!! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You again…I don’t feel like I can say it enough!

— E.B. | Child visitation and support matter

EB

…I’d be lost without you…

I greatly appreciate all your help and knowledge, I’d be lost without you in all this and you made me feel at ease and calm. It was great getting to know you. Thanks again!

— M. F. | Child custody matter

MF

…I can’t express our gratitude and appreciation enough!…

[We] want to thank you for all your help with this!! … I can’t express our gratitude and appreciation enough! I couldn’t have done it without you! We will be in touch!

— T. S. | Parental termination matter

TS

…Yes, we did triumph…

Thank you, Joan, for everything….Yes, we did triumph. I hope that [father] could see that I truly am moving forward for the kids’ sake.

— A. A. | Child custody matter

AA

…I was so glad to have you represent me.

Thank you for all of your help and noticing the refund. … I was so glad to have you represent me.

— S. S. | Divorce/relocation matter

SS

…Thank you for being an advocate for animals.

I need to remember that there are good people out there like you! Thank you for being an advocate for animals.

— M.V. | Animal law matter

MV

Thank you so much…

Thank you so much for your boost and help!

— M. S. | Divorce matter

MS

We would like to thank you for everything…

We would like to thank you for everything. We will be in touch.

— J.R | Child custody/Support matter

JR

…I appreciate your help!

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciate your help!

— M. S. | Divorce matter

MS

…thank you for helping me…

This is a scary place to be and thank you for helping me to navigate through it.

— D. .M. | Divorce matter

DM

…YOU ROCK!

Thanks Joan as I have stated before…YOU ROCK!

— D. .M. | Divorce matter

DM

…you have been a good listener.

Thank you so much.  You have helped me so much with good legal advice and beyond that, and more important, you have been a good listener.

— R.P. | Legal separation/Divorce matter

RP

…I highly recommend [Joan] for all your personal legal needs.

Joan is a great person, with compassion, and knowledge to help you through troublesome times. She realized that I had particular problems in my divorce, and helped me with timeliness and professionalism that a quality attorney gives to her client. She listens well and represents honesty. I highly recommend her for all your personal legal needs.

— J. S. | Legal separation/Divorce matter

JS

…I would highly recommend Joan to anyone who wants someone with intelligence and integrity to represent them.

Joan helped me through a very long and difficult process, trying to collect on a settlement. She put a lot of time and effort into my case and never gave up. As a result, I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and can take a deep breath! I would highly recommend Joan to anyone who wants someone with intelligence and integrity to represent them.

— C. W. | Post-decree matter

CW

…I really felt like she cared.

I hired Joan to handle my divorce. Although the process itself was difficult, Joan made it much easier. She handled my case with compassion and professionalism. She gave me a clear and accurate fee schedule so I knew exactly how much I could expect to pay. She was always available to answer any of my questions or concerns. I really felt like she cared.

— S.P. | Divorce matter

SP

I was very impressed with the legal services that Joan provided…

I was very impressed with the legal services that Joan provided and she was able to assist in me getting my overpaid alimony money back.

— S.H. | Post-decree matter

SH

…I am so glad I hired Joan for my issues.

I initially talked with another firm (a large family practice here in Phoenix) and I just did not get the warm and fuzzy feeling that they were going to do everything I required. Joan certainly did and I am so glad I hired Joan for my issues.

— S.H. | Post-decree matter

SH

…I recommend her highly.

Joan is a very intelligent and professional attorney that listens carefully and offers very sound advice. I recommend her highly.

— L. N. | Initial consultation

LN

…Words cannot express what peace having you involved gives us.

Thank you for all your help thus far. Words cannot express what peace having you involved gives us.

— K, S. | Guardianship matter

KS

When I couldn’t even get a call back from ANY attorney with my problem, Joan called me back.

When I couldn’t even get a call back from ANY attorney with my problem, Joan called me back.

— C.R. | Animal law matter

CR

…[Joan] continued to assist me and give me courage to my favorable conclusion.

Even though she felt I could handle my situation without an attorney, she continued to assist me and give me courage to my favorable conclusion.

— C.R. | Animal law matter

CR

…Joan handled it with utmost confidence and professionalism.

Despite my case being VERY complicated, Joan handled it with utmost confidence and professionalism.

— T.D. | Same-sex matter

TD

…[Joan] responded to me in less then 24 hours…

When I found myself in the unthinkable with the end of my 16 year marriage upon me, I reached out to Joan.  She responded to me in less then 24 hours and helped put me at ease in reference to his threats.

— M. F. | Divorce/Pet custody matter

MF

…[Joan] can only be described as compassionate and competent in her handling of my case.

From the moment I began working with Joan, she can only be described as compassionate and competent in her handling of my case.

— M. F. | Divorce/Pet custody matter

MF

Joan was very motivated, organized, responsive, and thorough in communication.

Joan was very motivated, organized, responsive, and thorough in communication.

— B. F. | Same-sex matter

BF

She is very supportive of families of all make-ups…

She is very supportive of families of all make-ups and understands Arizona laws surrounding married, unmarried, and LGBT families.

— B. F. | Same-sex matter

BF

…If you are looking for a kind and trustworthy attorney, hire Joan Bundy.

[E]very email and phone call I made, was returned personally by Joan within 24 hours. If you are looking for a kind and trustworthy attorney, hire Joan Bundy.

— W. S. | Legal separation matter

WS

…Ms. Bundy is stellar compared to what we have dealt with in the past.

Communication via email, phone or otherwise is immediately addressed, and, quite frankly, after utilizing the services of another similar attorney, Ms. Bundy is stellar compared to what we have dealt with in the past.

— K.R. | Post-nuptial matter

KR

…Ms. Bundy had our best interests at heart.

The communications process was smooth and efficient, professional and left us in no doubt whatsoever Ms. Bundy had our best interests at heart.  She is a very caring, understanding and compassionate attorney – a true rare breed in today’s world!

— K.R. | Post-nuptial matter

KR

I found her to be competent, professional and assertive…

I found her to be competent, professional and assertive when she needed to be. I would highly recommend her if you are looking for an attorney.

— C.W. | Post-decree matter

CW

…I would definitely recommend Ms. Bundy as a divorce attorney.

She was aggressive, but appropriate, in her dealings with my ex-husband, for which I was grateful.  Additionally, she was very ethical in her billing practices.  I would definitely recommend Ms. Bundy as a divorce attorney.

— K.H. | Divorce matter

KH

…In the courtroom Joan was assertive, took action, and was effective.

Ms. Bundy displayed a genuine concern for the outcome of my case and put heart and soul into every action.  In the courtroom Joan was assertive, took action, and was effective.

— L. S. | Child custody matter

LS

…Joan was always professional, timely and compassionate…

As a single parent of four children navigating a complicated history of court filings, proceeding, evaluations etc… I needed someone knowledgeable and sensitive to the nature of not just the case but the family behind it. Joan was always professional, timely and compassionate concerning my families wants, needs, financial situation, and overall desired outcome.

— L.S. | Child custody matter

LS

…Thank you, Joan, for helping us with our case!

Communication was quick and clear, and we would recommend her for anyone of need of legal services. Thank you, Joan, for helping us with our case!

— N.R. | Animal law matter

NR

…Joan is honest and upfront and I couldn’t have asked for a better attorney.

I was very emotionally distraught and I had no idea what to expect in court, but she was very supportive and reassuring. Joan is honest and upfront and I couldn’t have asked for a better attorney.

— N.H. | Protective order matter

NH

…[Joan] is supportive of families regardless of what they look like, and was very comforting during a very difficult time.

Joan was very friendly, knowledgeable, and thorough in preparation and communication. She is supportive of families regardless of what they look like, and was very comforting during a very difficult time.

— B. F. | Same-sex matter

BF

…[Joan] helped me get myself back together.

I called Joan, and she first calmed me down and told me all would be all right and it was going to be fixed. When I called her, I was an emotional wreck, and she helped me get myself back together so that she could help me get this done.

— R. A. | Divorce matter

RA

…My divorce was as quick and as painless as it could possibly be because of her quality work.

I can speak volumes on her professionalism, amazing response times and great character. She was always available by phone, email or in person. My divorce was as quick and as painless as it could possibly be because of her quality work.

— J. M. | Divorce matter

JM

…I really felt like she cared.

She handled my case with compassion and professionalism….She was always available to answer any of my questions or concerns. I really felt like she cared.

— S.P. | Divorce matter

SP

Joan handled my case with a great deal of professionalism.

Joan handled my case with a great deal of professionalism.

— D. M. | Divorce matter

DM

…you get what you pay for with Joan…

[A] good family law attorney is going to be relatively expensive… it is a field that requires loads of knowledge, experience and time. At least you get what you pay for with Joan, and without “surprises.”

— J. L. | Child custody matter

JL

…[Joan] eased my concerns and kept me informed throughout every step in the process…

She responded quickly to every email I ever sent her and patiently answered all my questions, eased my concerns and kept me informed throughout every step in the process, a most important courtesy when going through such a difficult time.

— J. L. | Child custody matter

JL

…[Joan] has worked hard and efficiently…

She has worked hard and efficiently with me to ensure that I had the best possible shot in court and represented me very well when the day finally came.

— J. L. | Child custody matter

JL

…We highly recommend [Joan] for working with same sex parents or opposite sex parenting plan needs.

Throughout everything, Joan handled the situation with the upmost professionalism. We highly recommend her for working with same sex parents or opposite sex parenting plan needs.

— Anonymous | Same-sex matter

Anonymous

Joan was very professional while handling my case…

Joan was very professional while handling my case against an attorney that was less then ethical. Joan held her ground and remained confident the entire time.

— D.M. | Divorce matter

Anonymous

Joan was very professional while handling my case…

Joan was very professional while handling my case against an attorney that was less then ethical. Joan held her ground and remained confident the entire time.

— D. M. | Divorce matter

DM

I would highly recommend Joan Bundy…

She is and has been very organized and keeps up to date with details regarding my case. She also has taken swift action when it has been necessary. I would highly recommend Joan Bundy if you are looking for an assertive, capable and compassionate attorney.

— C.W. | Post-decree matter

CW

[Joan’s] patience with me not only helped win both legal cases, but has allowed me to start getting back on my feet.

I was facing a couple of different legal as well as medical problems and Joan was always very patient, doing what I asked unless there was a specific or strategic reason not to. Her patience with me not only helped win both legal cases, but has allowed me to start getting back on my feet.

— Rob | Avvo, 2011

Rob

Joan Bundy is a family attorney who is very dedicated to her profession…

Joan Bundy is a family attorney who is very dedicated to her profession and is becoming a force to be reckoned with. If you want an attorney who is honest to a fault and dedicated to her profession, there is none better.

— S.B. | Child custody matter

SB

[Joan] won my case all the way…

I know the best thing I could have done was hire her as my attorney in my situation being I have children I wanted my divorce done right. Joan surely did the job. She won my case all the way and I would definitely keep her as my lawyer for anything in the future.

— S. S. | Divorce matter

SS

[Joan] showed that she was very easy to talk to she listened…

When we first met with the lawyer she showed that she was very easy to talk to she listened gave us options and did not come across stuffy like the first one we had talked to from another firm.

— K. M. | Post-decree matter

KM

…We couldn’t have asked for a better representation.

You have really helped us get on top of this situation and gave [us] the confidence that [we] needed to be able to put [our] foot down for [our] daughter. We couldn’t have asked for a better representation.

— C. M. | Post-decree matter

CM

You are the greatest!…

You are the greatest! Thanks so much for caring….I WON! …Thanks again for your guidance!

— C. R. | Animal law matter

CR

…She listens well and represents honesty.

Joan is a great person, with compassion, and knowledge to help you through troublesome times. She realized that I had particular problems in my divorce, and helped me with timeliness and professionalism that a quality attorney gives to her client. She listens well and represents honesty.

— J. S. | Divorce matter

JS

You have been a great influence and help in my life.

You have been a great influence and help in my life.

— M. S. | Divorce matter

MS

I will continue referring others to you…

I will continue referring others to you. I appreciated your timely and quality advice as well as your professionalism.

— R.R. | Child-custody and child-support modification

RR

Joan proved to be very knowledgeable and competent…

I used Joan’s practice for my divorce. Although it was quite straightforward, no debts, no estate, no kids, the difficulty was that from my part, it was long-distance and international since I reside in France. Joan proved to be very knowledgeable and competent, she gave me clear information and advice about what would happen and the applicable laws.

— V.J. | Divorce matter

VJ

[Joan] helped us accomplish everything we set out to do.

Joan was very attentive to our situation and needs. She always got back to us in a timely manner. All of our questions and concerns were addressed. She helped us accomplish everything we set out to do.

— J.V. | Post-decree modification/relocation matter

JV

[Joan] is the most professional lawyer I have ever had…

She is the most professional lawyer I have ever had. She responds quickly and is way more knowledgeable than any of my previous lawyers.

— A.C. | Child custody matter

AC

Contact a Chandler legal separation attorney

If you are thinking about filing for legal separation or have to respond to a petition for one, be sure to consult with an Arizona family law attorney who is knowledgeable in and has considerable expertise with legal separations. Do not go it alone.

Call Joan Bundy Law at 480.463.4600 to find out how an experienced Chandler legal separation attorney can help guide you through the complexities.

Contact Chandler divorce and family lawyer Joan Bundy.