In Arizona, a large percentage of divorces proceed without either party hiring a lawyer. As Arizona is a no-fault divorce state, couples do not need a specific reason to file for divorce – it is sufficient that the parties do not get along – otherwise known as irretrievable differences. While getting divorced without attorneys may be fine for some divorcing couples, it is a risk that you should not take – without, at least, consulting with an attorney who is skilled in this complex area of law. There are many risks along the way.
If the marriage has been short in duration, there are few marital assets, and there are no issues relating to child custody or child support, then a person may be able to represent him or herself. Maricopa County Superior Court has self-serve forms along with instructions that people can use at no cost. These are forms, so they do not fit every situation or set of circumstances and parties will still be responsible for court filing fees and serving the papers on the other party.
Divorces become complex when there are children, marital debt, a long marriage, or sole and separate property issues and then, you proceed without a lawyer at your own risk.
- Minor or dependent children- Issues that need to be considered are custody, legal decision-making authority, parenting time and whether or not there will be co-parenting. Who makes decisions for the children such as what religion, what school to attend, what medical procedures should the child receive are all important and challenging issues. Importantly, it may appear that everyone will get along but frequently things change and the parties (and their future spouses) do not get along – and then, it is incredibly difficult to change the existing court orders. It is wise to negotiate your agreement regarding the children during your divorce – waiting to do until later is dangerous and often much more expensive that if it was done correctly in the first place.
- Calculating spousal maintenance varies from case to case. There is no formula – and it requires experience to determine an appropriate award – both as to amount and term.
- Child support is determined by formula-at least most of the time. Should the parties deviate from the formula? What should be included in the calculation? Disability payments? Capital gains? Gifts? Loans? These are issues that have been the subject of extensive litigation in our courts.
- Who will pay the debt? What happens if the party that agreed to pay the debt files bankruptcy? Can you protect yourself from that eventually?
- Does one of the parties own a business? Should it be divided? What is the value of the business? Who owns the business? Was the business created entirely during the marriage? These are all items that can greatly impact the outcome.
- Does either party own separate property? If so, has it been commingled with community property? What is the value of the property? Should the property be appraised or valued? If so, how is that accomplished?
- What assets are owned by the community? Are you aware of the bank account? Or investment accounts? And there are other items which may be difficult to identify – 401(k) accounts, stock options, and stock investment accounts. These are valuable assets which should not be missed.
- And when you identify the assets, how do you determine the value of the assets? What is the home worth in the context of a divorce? Who owns a family cabin? These are questions that may have a significant impact on the outcome of the case.
If any of these items are present in your situation, please see a qualified attorney. The consequences of not doing so may be severe.
Remember that if you choose to represent yourself, you are treated as if you know the law – and the rules for processing your case. There are many deadlines imposed by the rules – and if you miss a deadline, you may be excluded from further participation in your case – and then, you have limited opportunity to provide any information to the judge. And if a court appearance is scheduled and you do not appear, the case will likely proceed – and that may be the end of the case. And the excuse that you did not have a lawyer will probably not help.
While many couples can and do get divorced in Arizona without attorneys, spending a consultation fee to have an experienced family attorney review the divorce before it is finalized will be money well spent. The lawyer can identify if you have any issues in your case which require more exploration or attention.
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