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Your Phoenix Divorce: The Basics

Even during the best of times, your marriage ran hotter than a Phoenix afternoon in -- well, quite frankly, any month of the year. You're burnt out, you've decided your marriage has officially run its course, and you're ready to take the plunge and file for divorce. What can you expect in the months to come?

Grounds for Divorce

Arizona is a no-fault divorce state. This means that it is relatively easy to file for divorce because there is no need to prove blame or wrongdoing on the part of either spouse. In other words, when filing for divorce, the only reason you need to give for wanting to end your marriage is: the marriage is "irretrievably broken."

There is one exception to the general no-fault rule -- if you entered into an Arizona covenant marriage. Because Arizona created covenant marriage to strengthen marriages and discourage divorce, it's probably no surprise that getting a divorce will be more difficult. To get a divorce, you must prove your spouse committed one of the grounds for divorce (e.g. adultery or domestic violence) specified by covenant marriage.

Dividing Up Your Property

One question that is likely to come up during a divorce is, who gets what? What will each person walk away with once the divorce is finalized?

In Phoenix, as part of a divorce, courts divide up a couple's property according to community property principles. The community property system can be confusing, but just know that basically, property probably falls into one of two categories: community property or separate property.

When a couple marries, they become a "community." As a community, the court typically assumes that the couple shares all property earned or acquired by each spouse during the course of the marriage. This property is called community property, and may include:

  • Wages earned during the marriage;
  • Real estate acquired during the marriage;
  • Personal property (home and furniture);
  • Intangible assets (stocks, bonds, etc.); and
  • Debts.

All other property, property that is not part of the community, is called separate property. Separate property may include:

  • Property acquired before the marriage;
  • Property acquired after legal separation; and
  • Gifts or inheritances received during the marriage.

Be careful -- many people do not realize that putting personal earnings in a separate bank account does not automatically make this money "separate property." To prevent any unexpected surprises, some couples opt completely out of the community property system by signing a premarital agreement (a "pre-nup") before tying the knot.

Spousal Maintenance

Arizona refers to alimony or spousal support as "spousal maintenance." Whether or not you or your spouse needs spousal maintenance (and the amount of maintenance awarded) may be determined between the two of you, or if no agreement can be reached, the court may decide for you.

If one spouse seeks a maintenance order, keep in mind that permanent and long-term spousal maintenance are becoming less common. Courts have come to view maintenance as temporary support while the recipient spouse gets "back on his/her feet." That is, if the spouse requesting support can eventually become self-sufficient -- support himself or herself after finding a job or getting additional education or training -- the court may order the other spouse to pay either a lump sum or monthly payments for a set period of time. The court generally makes exceptions if, for example, a spouse in a long marriage would have difficulty finding employment due to his or her age or a disability.

Once the court has decided a spouse should be awarded maintenance, it determines the amount and length of the financial support by considering several factors, including:

  • The length of the marriage;
  • The couples' standard of living;
  • The financial resources of both spouses;
  • Whether one spouse contributed to the other spouse's earning ability (e.g. a wife works and supports her husband while he completes medical school); and
  • The amount of time it would take the spouse requesting the support to find new employment or obtain additional training to be able to support himself or herself.

Child Custody

If you have children, another thorny issue that may come up is, who gets the kids? And for how long?

More and more, Arizona courts are moving towards joint parenting custody arrangements, with the hope that children will be able to form (and maintain) stronger relationships with both parents. When it comes to determining child custody, courts always make decisions based on the best interests of the child. This means that the court will usually try to settle on an arrangement that lessens the emotional trauma a child is likely to experience during a divorce by considering factors such as:

  • The child's wishes;
  • The parents' wishes;
  • The mental, physical, and emotional health of the child and the parents;
  • The effect of changing the child's home, school, and community; and
  • Whether one or both parents provided primary care of the child.

Child Support

When it comes to child support, keep in mind that in Arizona, courts will typically seek contributions from both parents. The court determines the total amount of child support by looking at how much parents would have spent on their child had they not gotten a divorce. From there, the court orders that each parent contribute a proportionate share of the total amount according to his or her income.

More Information

For more general information on the issues and laws involved in the divorce process, feel free to browse FindLaw's information on divorce. If you have questions about a particular case, you may wish to contact a local attorney specializing in divorce and family law.

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