Arizona married couples have the option of filing for a legal separation instead of a divorce when they decide they no longer wish to live together as husband and wife. A legal separation can address the same issues as a traditional divorce, such as community property division, maintenance and child support. Filing for legal separation in Arizona starts with filing a petition in your local family court.
Meet State Requirements
By Arizona law, you or your spouse must have lived in Arizona for the 90 days preceding the filing of the petition. If minor children are involved, they must have lived in the state for at least six months prior to your filing. In addition to residency requirements, you must be able to show that either the marriage is irretrievably broken or that one or both of you desires to live separate and apart. If one party does not want the legal separation, the court may reject the petition and convert the proceedings to divorce proceedings.
Fill Out the Petition
Visit the family court in the county where you reside. Ask for a "Petition for Legal Separation Without Children" or a "Petition for Legal Separation With Children." Some counties have these forms available to download from their website. The petition asks for basic information about you, your spouse, your marriage and your children. List any property you own and specify whether the property should go to you or to your spouse. Generally, the court will split the marital property equally unless good reasons exist not to do so. Use the sample petition on the Superior Court of Maricopa County website to help you complete the forms.
Gather Supporting Documents
If you have children, the required documents include an affidavit regarding minor children, a child support worksheet and a parenting plan. On the forms, specify where the child will be cared for and how you will organize parenting time. Consult "Planning for Parenting Time: Arizona's Guide for Parents Living Apart" to help create your parenting plan, which you can download for free from the state court's webpage.
File and Serve the Papers
Bring three sets of the paperwork to the court clerk of the family court in the county where you are a resident. Pay the filing fee, which may vary by county – in Maricopa County, for example, the fee is currently $341. Give or mail the court papers to your spouse and have him sign the "Acceptance of Service" form in front of a notary public. File the Acceptance of Service with the court as proof of service.
Attend the Parent Information Program
In Arizona, it is mandatory for the separating parents of minor children to attend classes in the Parent Information Program within 45 days from the date the Petition for Legal Separation is served. The classes are designed to give you and your spouse information about the impact the legal separation may have on your children. The class provider will notify the court when you have completed your class. The court will issue a court date.
Attend the Hearing
After looking at the evidence and hearing your testimony, the judge will make a ruling. If you and your spouse agree on arrangements for spousal maintenance, division of property, child support, custody and visitation, and other issues that arise on the dissolution of your marriage, then the judge will likely "rubber stamp" your arrangements. The judge will enter a judgment for separation at the end of the hearing.
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- 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
- 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."
A former corporate real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and personal finance, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts. Find her at www.whiterosecopywriting.com.