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How to File for Legal Separation in Arizona

by Eric Jay Toll

Feeling that a marriage is ending is a sad and frustrating time. Arizona allows couples to file a legal separation order. This interim step provides a legally sanctioned transition from the marriage to either a reconciliation or a divorce. Legal separation is an important step addressing child support and custody, living arrangements, financial arrangements, and each spouse's credit rating during proceedings. There are two processes in Arizona: one for legal separations with children present, and one for legal separations without children present.

Legal Separation Without Children Present

Download the appropriate forms from the Superior Court website in the County of residency. Usually this is www.superiorcourt.[county name without the word "county"].gov. Read carefully and ensure that all of the forms are for a "legal separation without minor children."

Fill in the court "Family Court/Sensitive Data Coversheet" first. Do not copy this form for the other party. Retain one copy for personal records.

Complete the blanks on the forms the Court requires for the legal separation. Fill in the blanks on the "Summons." Fill-out, sign, and copy the "Preliminary Injunction," "Petition for Legal Separation Without Minor Children," and "Notice Regarding Creditors." When filled out and signed, make two copies, one for the spouse and a copy for personal records.

Separate the documents into three groups. First, the originals with the "Family Court/Sensitive Data Coversheet" on top. Second, one set of copies for the estranged spouse, who is now legally known as the "Respondent." Do not include the Sensitive Data Coversheet with this group. The third set is the personal records. At this time, do not include the personal copy of the Sensitive Data Coversheet with this group. The spouse filing these forms with the Court is now called the "Petitioner."

Take the three sets of documents to the Clerk of the Superior Court along with a required filing and service fee. Processing the petition may take up to two hours, be prepared to wait. When processed the Clerk will return to you the "filed" copies of the documents, a set for the petitioner and a set for the respondent. Many counties will allow fees to be deferred and paid over time. The preliminary injunction is effective on the petitioner upon receipt of the court papers at filing; the effective date for the respondent is the time of service. The Sheriff's department will serve the respondent with the appropriate summons.

Legal Separation With Minor Children

Download the information packet and forms from the Superior Court website. Read the instructions and all forms carefully. Determine whether a protective order is required to maintain separation of spouses or of one spouse and children. The instructions are slightly different, and some information, such as address and phone numbers, can be sealed by the Court.

Fill in the basic information forms as required by the instructions. A second sheet of paper may be required to accommodate lists. If so, fill in the form by stating: "See Exhibit A, [name of exhibit], attached." Each exhibit should be numbered sequentially and include a title using the same language as the form.

Custody can be a sensitive issue.

Draft the answers to the "Child Custody" form. If there is a domestic violence protective order sought, joint custody is not permitted. Many questions ask for explanations. Respond as neutrally as possible, avoid inflammatory language, and be concise. The Respondent will be asked to answer these allegations. There are resources available to assist with this form through the County or State Child Protective Services, or a personal attorney.

Fill in the court "Family Court/Sensitive Data Coversheet" first. Do not copy this form for the other party. Retain one copy for personal records.

Separate the documents into three groups. First, the originals with the "Family Court/Sensitive Data Coversheet" on top. Second, one set of copies for the estranged spouse, who is now legally known as the "Respondent." Do not include the Sensitive Data Coversheet with this group. The third set is the personal records. At this time, do not include the personal copy of the Sensitive Data Coversheet with this group. The spouse filing these forms with the Court is now called the "Petitioner."

Take the three sets of documents to the Clerk of the Superior Court along with a required filing and service fee. Processing the petition may take up to two hours, be prepared to wait. When processed the Clerk will return to you the "filed" copies of the documents, a set for the petitioner and a set for the respondent. Many counties will allow fees to be deferred and paid over time. The preliminary injunction is effective on the petitioner upon receipt of the court papers at filing; the effective date for the respondent is the time of service. The Sheriff's department will serve the respondent with the appropriate summons.

Items you will need
  • Access to copier
  • Bank account information
  • List of property brought into the marriage
  • List of property acquired during the marriage
  • Retirement account balances
  • Pay check statements (pay stubs)
  • List of jointly responsible debts: mortgage, cars, credit cards

Tips

  • If there is general agreement on terms for the separation, an attorney may not be necessary.
  • Keep copies of all papers
  • Notify banks and credit card companies as instructed by the Court documents
  • Keep notes of any conversations with the respondent, including date, time, and location.
  • If any language in any form is not understood, ask the Clerk of the Court related to the Court's pre-filled instructions; if it's information filled in by the petitioner or respondent, write the understanding of the clause in mutually agreed upon terms, and have both parties sign and date
  • When children are involved, it is recommended an attorney be consulted

Warnings

  • A legal separation, like a divorce, is actually a civil lawsuit; deadline adherence is crucial to protect individual rights
  • Do not sign any paper, no matter how informal, without fully understanding its affect on the separation or later on the divorce
  • If either spouse has lived in Arizona for more than 90 days and does not want a legal separation, the Court may order that the papers submitted for legal separation be converted to a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage."

About the Author

Eric Jay Toll has been writing since 1970, influenced by his active lifestyle. An outdoorsman, businessman, planner and travel writer, Toll's work appears in travel guides for the Navajo Nation, "TIME" and "Planning" magazines and on various websites. He studied broadcast marketing and management at Southern Illinois University.

Photo Credits

  • man and woman divorced image by Ivonne Wierink from Fotolia.com