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.