A Quick NON-Attorney Guide to Arizona Divorce Laws
So, let me start by very clearly stating, I am NOT an attorney! I don’t give legal advice or draft legal documents. What I do is help individuals and couples navigate the financial side of their divorce settlements. And while the actual statutes governing marriage and divorce in Arizona are available to anyone on the Arizona Legislature website, (Title 25, chapter 3 is the chapter on divorce) with my help, couples can mutually agree on a settlement that works for them and their family and thereby avoid facing the law.
That being said, everyone going through divorce needs to understand what MIGHT happen if they can’t settle and end up in front of an Arizona judge. I have personally been through my own litigated divorce and represented many individuals that did litigate their divorces in Maricopa county and have learned a thing or two about the interpretations of AZ laws in the courtroom as well as just the “mood” of our courts. So let me give you the bottom line.
First, know going in that almost all 50 states now have no-fault statutes. Very simply this means that no one cares who cheated, who lied, who is generally a jerk, etc. It just doesn’t matter! Now when it comes to the children and parenting, it might, but not in your settlement. If you have the belief that you will have your “day in court” to finally be heard, let it go! It’s not going to happen.
This is the most misunderstood area of divorce in Arizona and often the most disappointing for a spouse expecting a substantial long-term award of maintenance. In order to qualify for maintenance, a spouse must lack “sufficient property, including property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for that spouse’s reasonable needs.” Notice that it does not say anything about the “marital standard of living”. That is a HUGE difference between our state and others like California, New York or Illinois where the marital standard of living is considered on the front end.
So what is someone’s “reasonable need”? Boy, is that a grey area or what? If a couple has been living on more than $200,000 per year, all earned by one spouse, how much is “reasonable” to support the non-working spouse? In my experience, it’s an absolute coin toss. One judge might determine that amount to be $36,000 and another judge might say $60,000.
Now other parts of the statute do allow the judge to consider the lower-wage spouse’s contribution to the education and success of the other spouse while sacrificing their own career along with other factors but it’s all very subjective and treated differently from one judge to the next.
The other big surprise is the duration. Our statutes basically say that maintenance will only be awarded for a long enough time for the lower-wage spouse to become self-supporting. Opinions have changed on whether the marriage contract still translates to a lifetime agreement. So even if you’re in your early-mid 50s, plan to go back to work. If that includes getting some education first, that’s ok but you need to have a plan.
“Custody” is no longer a word used in Arizona divorce documents. We have “Legal Decision Making” and “Parenting Time”. The courts will pretty much always start with a presumption of joint decision making and as close to equal parenting time as possible. Now of course if there are domestic violence issues or other serious things that might endanger the children, those things are taken VERY seriously. But if your concern is that when the kids are with Dad, he parks them in front of the TV and lets them watch TV all day, let it go. Each parent now has the right to parent in any way they choose as long as it doesn’t damage the kids.
And take it from me, the kids figure it out. Let them find their own relationship with each parent on an individual basis. You worry about YOUR time with the kids and let the rest go. Step one to moving on in a healthy way.
This blog only covers a tiny slice of the Arizona divorce laws so read those statutes and ask your attorney or other representative the questions you have. Education is power. Good luck.