Grounds for Divorce in Arizona
Divorce filings can be stressful for both parties, especially since divorce can be so different from case to case. For example, in Arizona, divorce proceedings can range from simple negotiation or mediation to full-scale litigation. In addition, the reasons people get divorced in Arizona, also known as the grounds for divorce, vary from couple to couple.
So, what, if anything, do you need to prove before you can file for divorce in Arizona? Understanding the potential grounds for divorce, as well as the divorce process itself, is essential for a successful divorce case.
Arizona’s Divorce Process
Divorce in Arizona can range from a straightforward filing to a complex court battle, depending on the unique factors involved with each case. One spouse, the petitioner, will be responsible for filing the divorce petition and declaring the grounds for the divorce. The other party, the respondent, will be served the petition by a third party. Once served, the respondent has 20 days to respond to the petition if they are an Arizona resident or 30 days if they are an out-of-state resident. If they do not respond, the petitioner can file for a default divorce.
In cases where the respondent is amenable to the divorce and responds within the given time frame, the divorce is said to be uncontested. Ideally, the couple can work together to create a divorce agreement that divides their property according to Arizona law, establishes any spousal maintenance or child support, and delineates parenting responsibilities. This can occur informally, in formal negotiations, or with a third-party mediator, and the judge will simply need to approve the divorce agreement before issuing a divorce decree.
In situations where the terms of the divorce are contested, the respondent does not wish to move forward with the divorce. If this is the case, or if the spouses cannot reach an agreement on their own, the couple will proceed to litigation so a judge can create a fair settlement or issue a default divorce.
Arizona’s Divorce Laws
Two of the most significant regulations that can affect how Arizona divorce proceeds are the community property and no-fault laws.
Arizona is a Community Property State
Arizona is one of nine community property states, meaning that any property or debt gained during a marriage is shared by both spouses, with few exceptions. Everything from retirement account funds to a home purchased by both spouses is considered joint property. That property must be divided equitably during a divorce.
Assets belonging to either party before the marriage are considered separate property and not subject to division during divorce. Similarly, legal settlements, gifts, and inheritances received during the marriage may also be considered separate property. Separate property can also be outlined in a prenuptial agreement, meaning that both spouses agree to preserve certain assets as separate property in the event of a divorce.
Arizona is a No-Fault Divorce State
It is also important to recognize that Arizona is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that an individual in a traditional marriage does not need to prove the other party was at fault for ruining the marriage and thus instigating the divorce. As a result, neither spouse must disclose that the marriage is ending due to infidelity, financial irresponsibility, or any other reason to file divorce paperwork. The petition simply must state that the petitioner believes the marriage is irretrievably broken.
However, Arizona family court judges can consider mistreatment like infidelity, domestic violence, and other issues as they rule on divorce terms like spousal maintenance and parenting time. For example, if a couple is filing for a divorce and the higher-earning spouse committed adultery, the other spouse could raise this in court when discussing alimony, especially when the actions of the unfaithful spouse caused the couple’s joint finances to suffer as a result of their affair.
What Are the Grounds for Divorce in AZ?
As Arizona is a no-fault divorce state, grounds for a divorce do not need to be proven upon filing or during the course of the case. Stating that the marriage is irretrievably broken is sufficient. This statement signifies that the grounds for divorce are nothing more than “irreconcilable differences,” which are acceptable grounds for the dissolution of any traditional marriage in the state.
However, it is important to note that irreconcilable differences are not enough to petition for a divorce if the parties agreed to a covenant marriage. One or more of a set of specific grounds for divorce must be proven to petition for divorce. Before a divorce is granted, the divorcing couple must participate in counseling and meet other requirements.
Requirements for a Covenant Marriage Divorce
Arizona is one of the few states that recognizes covenant marriage, which requires different protocols, both before getting married and before getting divorced. Here are the unique requirements for dissolving a covenant marriage.
Proving Specific Grounds for Divorce
Unlike a traditional divorce, which can proceed due to irreconcilable differences, at least one spouse in a covenant marriage must prove that the other acted in a way that demonstrates their lack of commitment to the marriage.
The only acceptable reasons used as grounds for a covenant divorce include the following:
- Adultery, where one partner has a relationship outside the marriage
- Incarceration, especially in situations where one spouse is convicted of a felony or given a life sentence
- Drug use or alcohol dependency that could be dangerous for any children or the petitioner
- At least one year of bona fide spousal abandonment, with or without contact between both spouses during that year
- Both spouses have chosen to live apart for at least two years, retaining separate residencies during that time
- After being granted a legal separation, both spouses lived apart from each other for at least a year
- Domestic violence through physical, emotional, or mental abuse
- Both parties readily agree to the divorce
Because a covenant marriage is intended to last for the rest of both spouses’ lives, counseling about these bonds must be completed before seeking a divorce. This counseling can come from a marriage counselor that is either court-appointed or sought out by the couple. Counselors are often members of the clergy, but they are not required to be. This counseling is intended to help reconcile any differences between the couple, regardless of the grounds for divorce presented, to preserve the marriage.
How Does Filing for Divorce Work?
Once the grounds for divorce have been established, the petitioner must file a Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage with the superior court in their area. The petitioner must ensure the respondent is notified of this filing, and the respondent must respond, or the response time must elapse before the divorce proceedings can begin. For some couples, a temporary child custody or visitation order is necessary at this time to establish parenting time and other responsibilities throughout the course of the case. If domestic violence is a concern, a temporary protection or restraining order can also be useful for keeping the filing spouse safe while the divorce continues.
After placing any necessary orders, information from both spouses is provided to their respective divorce lawyers during the discovery process. Discovery requires both spouses to provide information about their child obligations, financial standing, employment history, assets, debts, and more. Once the necessary information is available, the spouses can begin creating a divorce agreement via negotiation. If progress is difficult, they may choose mediation or proceed to litigation.
Topics Discussed in Divorce Proceedings
Divorce proceedings can discuss a variety of topics, typically concerning any financial or childcare obligations that need to be met by both spouses. Before a divorce can be settled, all shared assets and responsibilities must be divided between the parties so the court can create the divorce decree and orders involving parenting time, child support, or spousal support.
Some of the most common topics discussed in divorce cases include:
How Long Does a Divorce Take to Settle?
Depending on the unique circumstances of each case, the length of the proceedings necessary for a divorce can vary. The reasons people get divorced in Arizona, as well as what kind of marriage they have, can be major factors affecting the amount of time it takes to settle these cases.
For example, those in covenant marriages must complete the necessary counseling and provide proof of the grounds for divorce. Other factors that contribute to the length of a case can include the complexity of the assets and debts involved, the willingness of the spouses to negotiate, the court’s docket, and more.
Filing for Divorce in Arizona FAQs
Once you’ve established grounds for divorce, you may encounter other roadblocks to a streamlined divorce. Here are the answers to a few of the most common questions.
Finding a Divorce Attorney in Arizona
Divorce proceedings can be complex, no matter the grounds for divorce in AZ. For those in traditional marriages, divorce begins with filing a divorce petition. However, those in a covenant marriage must first consider whether they have grounds for divorce beyond irreconcilable differences. In either case, a skilled family law attorney is essential to ensure the success of your case.
In Arizona, The Valley Law Group provides counsel to individuals going through the divorce process for both traditional and covenant marriages. For more information about how to begin your case filing, contact us today to schedule a consultation with our team.
Jonathan Roeder, Co-Founder of The Valley Law Group, is an Arizona native who has dedicated his life and career to the service of others. After graduating salutatorian of his high school class, Jonathan attended beautiful and prestigious Pepperdine University, where he majored in Political Science. During his tenure at Pepperdine University, his passion for helping others grew after securing a clinical position with a residential treatment center for juveniles with substance addictions. Post-graduation, Jonathan returned to Arizona and served as a residential manager for mentally and physically disabled homes.