The flippant answer to this question is “Do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way.” The better answer is that it all depends on how much you and your spouse can work together to get things worked out. Here is a step by step breakdown of the traditional way of getting a divorce:
1. File a Petition for Dissolution. Dissolution is just a fancy word for divorce. The petition is a very basic document that says to the Court, “This is who I am, this is who my spouse is, these are our children if we have any, we have been in Arizona for at least 90 days, this is when and where we were married, this is what I think Legal Decision Making and Parenting Time for our kids should look like and I would like the Court's help to divide our community assets and debts. At the same time that the Petition is filed with the Court, you also have to file:
- A Cover Sheet
- An Affidavit of Minor Children – which tells the Court where your kids have been living and whether any other court might have jurisdiction over them.
- A Financial Affidavit
- A Preliminary Injunction to prevent spouses from doing anything that might financially damage the other party
- An Order to Complete the Domestic Relations Class for Parents
- A Sensitive Information Sheet
- A Notice regarding Health Insurance
- A Notice to Creditors
- A filing fee. If you have kids this will include the cost the Domestic Relations class
- Additionally, you may want to file a Petition for an Order to Show Cause to set up a hearing for temporary orders so that you can see a judge to set up interim child support or spousal support.
2. After the Petition and other papers have been filed, you have to serve copies of those papers on the other person. You can serve a person by giving them the papers and having them sign a Waiver of Service form and having it notarized, by mailing it to them certified mail and having them sign the card they receive from the Post Office, or by using a process server.
3. Your spouse has 20 days from the day he or she was served to file an Answer. If she doesn't file an Answer or ask for more time, she will be in default and you can ask for the Court to find her in default and grant you what you would like in a Divorce Decree. If she does respond, this starts the litigation process.
4. If you have kids who are under 18 years old, attend the Domestic Relations class.
5. Begin the discovery process to make sure both parties have all the information they need to have to know what the community assets and debts are, and what both parties' incomes are.
6. If you have kids, attend mediation through the Conciliation Court to work on a Parenting Plan that will include any agreements you have on Legal Decision Making Authority and Parenting Time. Usually mediation is ordered either at a Temporary Orders Hearing or because one of the parties has requested it. In Pima County you will not be given a divorce if you have kids unless you have attended mediation or have come up with a Parenting Plan on your own.
7. File a Motion to Set and Certificate of Readiness. This lets the Court know that you are satisfied that you have all the information you need and are ready to complete the process.
8. Receive a Calendaring Order from the Court. This sets a due date for a Pretrial Statement to be filed, a date for a Settlement Conference, and a date for either a Pretrial Hearing or a Trial.
9. File a Pretrial Statement. The Pretrial Statement lets the world know what your positions are on Legal Decision Making Authority, Parenting Time, the division of assets and debts, child support and spousal support and what evidence and witnesses you have to support your positions. Along with it you also need to file an Inventory of Property and Debt and a Financial Affidavit.
10. Attend a Settlement Conference. Approximately 90 to 95% of cases settle at a settlement conference. This is a chance for you to sit down with your spouse, your lawyers and a Judge pro tem to see if you can agree on the final outcomes of your divorce. You can come to a complete settlement or partial settlement.
11. Attend a Pretrial Conference. If you haven't settled all the issues in your case, you will have to attend a PTC in front of your judge, who will want to know what issues are remaining and how long trial might be. If a trial hasn't already be set, the Judge will set a trial at that point.
12. Trial. If you are among the rare folks who end up having a trial, you will appear before the Judge and present your evidence and witnesses for why the Judge should grant what you are asking for.
This is, of course, the hard way to divorce. There are easier ways. Read my blog on Consent Decrees to learn about the easier way.