Marriage is supposed to be forever, but reality sometimes intervenes, and divorce becomes the only option. While a divorce is a difficult time personally, it doesn’t have to result in financial strife. Each party just needs to make sure they know the laws so each one can plan ahead. Divorce laws vary by state, so this page will take people living in Arizona through the steps they’ll need to follow for a successful divorce proceeding. If you have more specific questions about getting a divorce, a financial advisor can help.
How to File for Divorce in Arizona
To file for divorce in Arizona, at least one of the spouses must have lived in the state for at least 90 days prior to filing.
Grounds for a Divorce in Arizona
Most divorces in Arizona are no-fault, and one spouse must only state that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” The only fault divorces granted Arizona are for couples that got a legally binding “covenant” marriage. These are only available in Arizona, Louisiana and Arkansas, though. To get a covenant marriage, a couple must first participate in premarital counseling, decide how they will deal with a divorce and agree to attend predivorce counseling.
The following are the only acceptable grounds for a fault divorce of a covenant marriage:
- One spouse being sentenced to death or jail for a felony
- Physical or sexual abuse of the filing spouse
- Habitual drug or alcohol abuse
The best and least expensive option for a divorce in Arizona is an uncontested divorce. This means both spouses agree to the divorce and can come to an agreement on issues surrounding assets, child custody and alimony. To get an uncontested divorce, one spouse files and has the other spouse served. Next, the other spouse has 20 days (30 if they live outside of Arizona) to respond. If there’s no response, a judge can grant a divorce by default.
Once the other spouse has responded, and assuming all the relevant issues have been agreed to, the judge will grant the divorce. Another option is for the spouses to jointly file a consent decree 60 days after the second spouse has been served.
If both parties can’t agree to terms, there must be a contested divorce. The filing process is the same, but after the served spouse responds, both parties’ attorneys will engage in a discovery period where evidence is gathered and witnesses are interviewed. The legal teams for both parties will try to come to a settlement.
If a settlement cannot be reached, there is a trial where evidence is presented and witnesses are called. Afterwards, the judge makes a decision on all relevant issues, including alimony and child custody.
How to Split Up Assets During a Divorce in Arizona
Arizona is a community property state, meaning all assets and debts a couple acquires during their marriage are owned equally by both spouses. The only property not considered “community” is anything one spouse owned before the marriage or property received as a gift or inheritance. Likewise, property that’s part of a legal document, like a prenuptial agreement, is separate property.
For more complicated property situations, an appraiser or a certified public accountant (CPA) can help evaluate things.
How to Divide Property in Arizona After a Divorce
Unlike in some community property states, the split of assets in Arizona does not have to be exactly equal. Instead, it only has to be what the court decides is fair. This will often lead to the property being essentially evenly split, though.
During a trial, property values are established, using experts if needed for retirement accounts or anything else that needs one. Likewise, property that’s part of a legal document is automatically separate.
How to Manage Child Support and Alimony Under Arizona Divorce Laws
A judge can order one spouse to pay the other temporary alimony if the supported spouse needs money to make ends meet during the trial. This is also known as “pendente lite,” and it ends when the trial is over. The judge will decide as part of his verdict if there will be alimony paid after the divorce. This could be rehabilitative alimony, which is paid for a set period of time to allow the spouse who needs support to get whatever training or resources is required for self-support.
Arizona allows for permanent alimony, but it’s reserved for select cases where illness, disability or age means one spouse can’t support themselves. The amount of alimony is determined by the judge.
Child support, meanwhile, has a formula used to determine how much each parent is responsible for. The court will determine how much the family spends on children each month and divide that based on how much money each parent makes. If one parent is the custodial parent, the other parent pays them. That’s because it’s presumed the custodial parent is already spending their money when the child is with them.
401(k) and IRA and Divorce in Arizona
If you have a 401(k) or other workplace retirement plan, you may have to take some money out of it to give to your spouse as part of a divorce. Normally, taking money out of a retirement plan early will incur some fairly hefty fines and taxes. But in this case, the court will issue a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) to waive these extra costs.
For an IRA, a QDRO isn’t needed. However, the judgment or separation agreement must explicitly state that money is to come from the plan.
Divorce and Estate Planning in Arizona
Hopefully you and your spouse have an estate plan already. You’ll likely need to change it once you get divorced, though. While you were married, your property might’ve went to your spouse if you died. You’ll need to name someone new and set up trusts if you want to pass assets on to minor children. Also, make sure to change the designated inheritor for any accounts, including retirement accounts.
In addition, make sure to change the designated inheritor for retirement accounts and any other financial accounts. If you filed any advance directives or powers of attorney during the marriage, make sure to change them unless you want your ex-spouse to make medical decisions for you.
Lastly, work with your spouse so you have a plan for what happens to your children if both of you die. You may already have a plan, but check to make sure it still works for everyone involved.
Most divorcing couples in Arizona will get a no-fault divorce, unless they got a covenant marriage. To get this kind of marriage, a couple must first first meet a few requirements that focus on counseling and determining divorce terms pre-marriage. The property acquired during the marriage will be split by a judge in a way he or she thinks is fair. But before this happens, the spouses will have the opportunity to come to an agreement on a way to solve these issues.
Financial Planning Tips
- If you’re getting a divorce, it may already be too late to build a strong financial plan. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start, as finding a financial advisor who can help doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. Get started now.
- Estate planning isn’t just for the super-wealthy or the elderly. Even if you’re young and middle class, start thinking about your estate plan now. After all, you want to ensure your assets are distributed the way you want if something unfortunate happens.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Oleksii Liskonih, ©iStock.com/Kameleon007, ©iStock.com/Delmaine Donson