Legal Separation Vs. Divorce in Arizona

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The decision to separate from a spouse is not easy. Couples facing a breakup have to legally determine how they will facilitate ending their relationship. For some couples, filing for a legal separation is necessary until the specifics surrounding finances, property and children can be sorted out. For others, a divorce is the most feasible option. In Arizona, the process of obtaining a legal separation or divorce is very similar.

Legal Separation

Legal separation determines the rights as well as responsibilities of the important aspects of a married couple's relationship, such as child custody, child visitation, debt and property ownership. Although a separation legally establishes rights, it does not divorce a couple. A husband and wife still have the same legal rights and obligations as if they were a married couple living together.

In Arizona, both couples must agree to the separation before a decree will be granted. Couples must file either a "Petition for Legal Separation Without Children" or a "Petition for Legal Separation With Children" with the Superior Court of Arizona in the county in which they reside.


A divorce in Arizona is called a "Dissolution of Marriage." To file for a divorce in Arizona, one or both parties must file a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage Without Children" if there are no children common to the couple. If the couple does have children, they must file a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage With Children." Unlike a legal separation, both members of a couple do not have to agree to the divorce. One or both parties may initiate the divorce filing, and there is no waiting period to obtain the dissolution.


Couples that would like to obtain a legal separation or divorce in Arizona must meet residency and other requirements before a decree will be granted. The husband and wife must have lived in Arizona for at least 90 days. Also, couples must acknowledge a "desire to live separate and apart" if they would like a legal separation or that their marriage is "irretrievably broken" if they desire a divorce. In cases that involve children, the parties must indicate if "significant" domestic violence has or has not occurred to obtain joint custody.


Custody and visitation are handled similarly in Arizona whether the couple is separating or divorcing. Children that are either born to or adopted by the party must be listed on the respective petition along with their names, date of birth and address. Whether the wife is pregnant must be indicated as well. If spouses agree on custody matters, they may indicate the desire to share custody of the children or one parent obtaining sole custody with visitation rights to the non-custodial parent. Child support orders are normally determined by the court under the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.

Division of Debts and Property

Division of debts and property are treated the same in a legal separation or a divorce. Couples must indicate on their petition the assets acquired before and during the marriage as well as debts incurred during the marriage. They must also determine if one party is responsible for paying the marital debts or if both parties will share the responsibility. Division of property is treated in much the same way. Once the type of property and its value are determined (such as automobiles, real estate and furnishings), the decree will outline what property will be awarded to which spouse.