Important Arizona Divorce Information
Bishop Law Office is comprised of top notch Phoenix divorce lawyers and an experienced and welcoming support staff. Our team of family law lawyers in Phoenix provides divorce and various family law services throughout Arizona with two convenient locations for our divorce clients, including Phoenix (off Northern & the 51 Freeway), and Tempe (by Ikea off Priest Dr. & Warner Rd.).
Summary of Content
- How to hire a divorce lawyer in Phoenix
- Who has to pay the attorney fees for a divorce?
- What is the Arizona divorce process?
- Summary of Arizona divorce law
- How are property and debts divided?
- How does child custody work?
- What types of divorce cases do we represent?
- Frequently asked questions
The Arizona Bar Association is the governing organization for all attorneys in the state. Only a limited number of divorce law firms in the State of Arizona have Certified Family Law Specialists in their offices. Such is the only certification by the State Bar of Arizona that designates proven specialists in divorce and family law. William Bishop is a Certified Specialist through the State Bar of Arizona.
Contact a Phoenix Divorce Attorney Today
Divorce cases can be extremely emotional, and factually and legally complex. The last thing you need is a divorce attorney that unnecessarily complicates your divorce case, or throws fuel on the fire without your knowledge or permission. At Bishop Law Offices, P.C., our team puts their egos aside and represents you based upon your best interests. You will be involved in all aspects of the proceedings. Our attorneys will ensure that you make all-important final decisions regarding your divorce proceedings after being informed of your rights and chances of success. We make sure you understand the “why’s” and “how’s” of your case.
You do not just write a blank check at our firm. Not all divorce and family law cases fit one mold. You should not be charged for services that are not reasonable for your case. At Bishop Law Offices, P.C., we tailor your representation to your specific needs. Sometimes our clients are involved in a very nasty divorce or family law case and need assertive and diligent representation on a daily basis. Others may be in a situation that a reasonable settlement can be reached very quickly in the proceedings. Our attorneys have many years of experience. Your case is not going to be passed off onto a young and inexperienced associate. Our attorneys pride themselves on being able to take an approach that serves our client’s best interests, whether such means litigation or a quick and inexpensive settlement.
To view some of our Firm’s badges and top credentials click here.
As we have stated throughout our website, we highly recommend that you at least consult with an attorney. A little bit of preventive medicine may save you a lot of money, heartache, and headaches. In many cases, Bishop Law Offices, P.C. provides consult services without the necessity of formally retaining the firm and without having to pay a deposit or retainer fee.
Contact a Phoenix divorce attorney today for more information.
Who Pays the Attorney Fees?
One of the most overlooked issues during the early stages of the divorce or other family law proceedings is the possibility that one spouse will have to pay all or a portion of the other spouse’s attorney fees and costs. This can become very costly if you not only have to pay your own fees but end up having to pay your ex’s fees as well. Talk about salt in the wound!
A good divorce lawyer / family law attorney will keep this in mind at all times. The two main factors that a Court looks at when awarding attorney fees is the parties’ comparable financial resources (does one party make more income or have more property etc.) and whether either party took unreasonable positions. Thus, it is important for the lawyer to behave ethically and reasonably while at the same time fighting for your rights. Sometimes people say they want a “junkyard dog” for an attorney. Such an attorney does more harm than good. The Judges often know who these attorneys are and may place little credibility on the arguments presented by such attorneys. An attorney who writes scathing and nasty letters to the other side, and makes false accusations without any evidence behind such claims, often sets their own clients up for failure.
At Bishop Law Offices, P.C., we pride ourselves on advocating strongly for our clients and placing them in the best position for success while also keeping in mind the cost of litigation. During the proceedings, we take the appropriate steps and advise our clients in a manner that increases the possibility to recover all or a portion of their attorney fees, or that limits their exposure to paying the other party’s attorney fees.
Arizona Divorce Process
Arizona Divorce Law
It does not matter what city or county in Arizona that you reside as far as the divorce laws that apply to your case. Most of the laws that apply in divorce cases are found in two places – (1) Title 25 of the Arizona Revised Statutes and (2) the Arizona Rules Of Family Law Procedure. Cases published by the Supreme Court of Arizona and the Arizona Court of Appeals interpret these laws and apply them to many varying factual scenarios that help our attorneys make the appropriate arguments that help persuade the Court to make decisions that are fair and appropriate in your divorce case. New laws and rules are added every year, and changes are made to some of the laws and rules every year. The statutes and rules set forth specific laws and regulations applicable to child custody (legal decision making), parenting time, grandparent and other third-party visitation, community property, sole and separate property, spousal maintenance (alimony), and other areas of family law.
New statute changes were imposed recently that can affect your case, including the statute regarding spousal maintenance requests. New changes to the Rules of Family Law Procedure were also approved and took effect on January 1, 2019. Attorneys that do not practice family law regularly are often may not be aware of such changes that may affect your case.
At Bishop Law Offices, P.C., we meet as a team regularly to discuss new laws and the application of the law to our clients’ cases in order to obtain the best results possible.
Divorce Division of Property and Debts
Identifying and Locating Assets
Sometimes the division of assets and debts in a divorce case is fairly straightforward. On other occasions, one of the parties has not been involved as much in the finances and may not know what the parties own in assets or what they have incurred in debts. In some cases, one of the parties may be hiding assets. Not only must all assets be identified, sometimes it is necessary to make sure that the assets are properly valued so that our clients receive their fair share. Property interests in an Arizona divorce case may include real estate, personal property, business interests, retirement plans, pensions, and other tangible and intangible assets. Our Phoenix property division lawyers take the necessary steps to make sure that all marital assets are identified and all arguments are made to have such assets properly and equitably divided. This often includes issuing subpoenas, taking depositions, and other methods of discovery to obtain necessary information and documents. If the value of the property is disputed, we obtain the necessary evidence so that the Court can apply proper values to ensure that you receive your fair share.
We have much more information about the division of property and debts (including what constitutes community property and sole and separate property) on our website.
What is Community Property?
As one of nine community property states in the U.S., Arizona’s divorce and family law statutes generally describe community property as all property acquired by either spouse during the marriage except such property that is specifically defined by Arizona law as sole and separate property, such as inheritance or gifts from non-spouses, and property interests owned prior to marriage. Sometimes a party can do things that may change (transmute) their sole and separate property to community property such as adding the other party to ownership of real estate, co-mingling community and sole and separate funds, and other actions that may support a conclusion that the spouse intended to transfer his or her interests to the marital community. These can be very complex issues that require advanced community property lawyer knowledge.
Our page on Community Property explains the answer to questions like:
- What are community funds?
- How are community funds divided?
- “Real property” vs, “Personal property”
- What is Mixed or Co-Mingled property
- What is Separate property?
- What Are Community Debts?
- What are Sole and Separate Debts?
- When Does Community End?
- Who Should Pay for The Community Expenses During the Divorce?
What is Sole and Separate Property?
Generally, separate property includes anything that a party owned before marriage or inherited, as well as the gains / increase in value regarding such property. This may include various forms of property including real estate, business interests, retirement accounts and benefits, furniture and other pre-marriage personal property, financial accounts and other property interests.
Sometimes separate property can be converted or transmuted to community property. For example, adding the other party to the title of real estate, commingling separate funds and community funds within an account, and various other actions that establish that the separate property was not intended to stay that way.
In some cases the community may have a claim to a portion of the increase in value to separate property such as real estate or businesses when community efforts are responsible for such gains r community funds are used.
Waste and Improper Transfers Of Funds and Assets
Sometimes a spouse may improperly transfer or ‘waste’ assets or funds acquired during the marriage. In such cases, the spouse that wasted community assets or funds may be required to reimburse the innocent spouse for such waste. Such wasteful or improper spending may include money spent on an illicit extramarital affair, gambling, drugs and or other improper spending or transfers. If such has taken place for a long period of time, such wasteful spending or transfers may be very substantial. In such cases, we take the necessary measures and make the additional claims to obtain additional property, extra spousal maintenance or other types of compensation for our clients.
Valuation and Division of the Family Business
In cases where a business is started during the marriage, a valuation of the business may be necessary. Even if a business was started prior to marriage, the community may have a claim to at least part of the increase in value, funds or other assets held within the company. If a business is doing particularly well, there may be goodwill value in the business over and above the value of the hard assets. Our divorce attorneys in Phoenix are very experienced in business valuation cases and other complex property cases. In cases that we represent the spouse that runs the business, we will advocate making sure that the business is not ‘over-valued’. Similarly, in cases that we represent the spouse that will not be retaining the business, we take the necessary measures and make the required claims to ensure that all assets within the business are identified and that a fair valuation is obtained.
Business valuations are generally performed by experts that are certified to perform such evaluations. Some components of a business valuation are subjective, and a good family law attorney knows how to present evidence that is most beneficial to his/her client’s interests in obtaining a higher or lower valuation amount. When necessary, a good family law attorney in Phoenix should persuade the expert or the Court to apply logic and reasonableness in order to avoid valuations that are too high or too low.
We have much more information about business valuations on our website, so click here if you want to learn more.
Child Custody (Legal Decision Making) and Parenting Time
Often the biggest issues in a divorce case regard custody (legal decision making) and parenting time. Factors such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues or improper parental behavior may have a big impact on legal decision and parenting time orders. In other cases, the issues may be more subtle. In some cases, equal parenting time and decision making are appropriate. In other cases, parenting time should be restricted (including supervised parenting time where the child is endangered physically or emotionally by one of the parents).
How parents behave during the divorce proceeding can be crucial to the Court’s final decision regarding parenting time and legal custody. This seems to be lost on many attorneys, who fail to properly advise their clients on how to approach daily issues as the case progresses.
At Bishop Law Offices, P.C., we not only fight to obtain the results that serve the best interests of your children, we provide you with our honest and experienced feedback during your proceedings to make sure that you do not make mistakes that may impact the Court’s decisions.
Our child custody lawyers in Phoenix provide much more information about legal decision making and parenting time.
In divorce cases involving children, one party is generally ordered to pay at least some child support to the other parent. Considerations include each party’s income, expenses for the child’s health care insurance and uncovered health care expenses, the parties’ respective parenting time and other considerations. Arizona has Child Support Guidelines that are presumed to apply. However, in some cases where the children have a different standard of living in each household, the Court may deviate from the presumed amount (upward or downward).
Does an Affair Affect My Divorce Case?
It is no secret that many marriages are destroyed by extramarital affairs. If extramarital affairs were relevant in divorce cases, we would need many more judges.
Arizona is a no-fault state. This means that a spouse is not punished simply for the fact that he or she had an affair.
However, as explained above, a spouse may engage in waste or make improper transfers by spending money on the affair. This may include gifts to the girlfriend or boyfriend, money spent on vacations, hotel rooms or other funds spent. In such cases, the spouse who spent such funds may be ordered to reimburse the innocent spouse for their share of such funds.
Similarly, in child custody and parenting time cases an illicit affair by itself does not mean that a person is not going to be awarded joint legal custody/decision making or maximum parenting time. However, there may be circumstances in which the Court may frown upon a party’s conduct that is relevant to the children’s best interests. For example, the judge may conclude it is poor parental decision making to allow a girlfriend or boyfriend to spend significant time with the children before the children have a chance to heal from the split between their parents. If a parent allows his or her boyfriend / girlfriend to talk poorly about the other parent or engage in other inappropriate conduct in the presence of the children the parent that allows such conduct may be held accountable by the Court.
Do I Have to Go to Trial When I get a Divorce?
If you and your spouse agree to all issues regarding your divorce proceedings, Bishop Law Offices, P.C. can draft settlement documents in order to avoid going to trial. Our firm attempts to identify and resolve all of the issues in your case without expensive legal fees associated with a trial so long as the issues can be settled in a manner that is fair to you.
Our website has excellent information regarding alternate dispute resolution and mediation services designed to assist you in settling your case, which you can access by clicking here.
Types of Divorce Cases We Represent
At Bishop Law Offices, P.C., we only represent clients in divorce and other family law cases, which means we dedicate our time to just one broad area of law. Our attorneys are more knowledgeable and have more experience than various other divorce lawyers, because we do not divide our time among several different practice areas.
ARIZONA FATHER’S RIGHTS / ARIZONA MOTHER’S RIGHTS
A number of law firms sometimes hold themselves out as a Father’s Rights law firm, or a Mother’s Rights law firm. In many cases, this is just a marketing ploy. The frank truth is that most (if not all) law firms will be happy to accept qualified clients from both genders. It is also a truth that the law used to be more beneficial to mothers with regard to parenting time and legal decision making. Over time Arizona’s statutes have been changed so that parenting issues are gender neutral. In parenting cases, what the Court is supposed to focus on are the children’s best interests. Financial issues are also gender neutral under the statutes. Both wives and husbands (if eligible) can request spousal maintenance, and the law is written gender neutral in such regard. Our firm works hard to obtain the best results for our clients regardless of gender, religion, race, sexual orientation or other factors.
While there is an Arizona statute regarding spousal maintenance (Arizona Revised Statute Section 25-319), there are no math formula that Arizona courts must follow in spousal maintenance cases. The Court’s judgment regarding spousal maintenance is largely discretionary. Therefore, it is extremely beneficial to both parties meet with an experienced attorney as early in the process as possible.
Generally divorced couples equally divide between them all community property and debts. There are some exceptions.
LEGAL SEPARATION / ANNULMENT
Legal separation and annulment are 2 alternatives to divorce that may be options. Talk with a Phoenix divorce alternative lawyer if this is an option for you and the benefits involved.
Frequently Asked Questions
DO I NEED A REASON TO FILE FOR DIVORCE?
Arizona is a “no-fault state.” In other words, you do not need to state any specific reason why you want a divorce, nor does your spouse have to agree to a divorce. An exception is if you have a covenant marriage. Very few people have a covenant marriage. If you had a covenant marriage, you would know it (i.e. you would have to fill out forms prior to marriage, go through counseling, and various other legal requirements).
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO GET A DIVORCE?
Once the divorce petition and other documents have been served on the other party, you need only wait 60 days if you and your spouse agree on all issues or your spouse does not file an answer to your divorce petition. This can be done through a “default hearing” if the other party has not responded to the petition, or you can obtain a “consent decree” (where are terms are agreed upon) without ever having to see the judge. If you and your spouse cannot agree on all issues, the only other way to obtain a divorce is through a trial. In such event, the judge makes all decisions (there is no jury in divorce cases). How long it takes to get to trial depends upon the complexity of your case and how backed up the court is. The Maricopa County judges have many cases and as a result do not provide very much time for divorce trials (i.e. most divorce trials are between two and six hours of trial time).
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GET A DIVORCE?
The total fees and costs in divorce proceedings vary depending upon a number of factors. If you and your spouse agree to most or all terms, the fees and costs should be minimal. It is our belief that no matter how simple the divorce, it is always in your best interests to consult with an attorney. This does not mean that you cannot do your divorce yourself. However, many people who do not consult with attorneys may leave out certain very important provisions that can come back to haunt them later on, and cost them a great deal. A little “preventive medicine” may save you a lot of headaches in the future. Bishop Law Offices, P.C. is committed to providing its clients with quality representation at a reasonable cost.
SHOULD I TALK TO A LAWYER BEFORE I FILE FOR DIVORCE AND/OR BEFORE I MOVE OUT OF THE HOUSE?
If possible, it is always in your best interests to consult with a family law attorney before you move out of your residence or file for divorce, even if you decide to represent yourself. What happens early on in a case may turn out to be very important. For example, we generally recommend having at least a temporary parenting agreement in place before you move out of the marital residence if you have children. We also recommend that you videotape all contents of the home so that you can ensure that all items can be identified and are divided equitably. We may also recommend that you photocopy financial records stored in the home.
Each case is different, and many of our clients have special circumstances. Again, some “preventive medicine” may save you a lot of heartache and headaches in the future.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PARALEGAL SERVICE AND AN ATTORNEY?
One does not have to have any special training or certification to call themselves a paralegal in Arizona. Some people who call themselves paralegals have never even worked for a law firm. Although there are schools for paralegals and certifications, one does not need to go to school or obtain any certifications to call themselves a paralegal. Although there are undoubtedly some excellent paralegals, it is difficult to find out who has the experience and training necessary to assist you. Paralegals are precluded by the Supreme Court Rules from providing any legal advice, although some do – often-poor advice, which leads to major problems.
Many people have had very bad experiences with independent paralegal services. Often the forms are not prepared properly, causing unnecessary delays. Paralegals sometimes attempt to represent both sides, which is a conflict of interest, or align themselves with one side. Many people are not protected in the end. The biggest insult is that people sometimes end up paying more for a paralegal than they would have paid for a family law attorney to take care of them properly. Paralegals cannot represent you in court.
Paralegals are not subject to the jurisdiction of the State Bar of Arizona. If your attorney does something wrong, he or she may be subject to discipline. There are strict rules of conduct which govern attorneys. There are no such safeguards with regard to paralegal services.
Like many family law firms, Bishop Law Offices, P.C. has paralegals on staff. Our paralegals have been trained by our attorneys and are under the direct supervision of our attorneys. Our use of paralegals generally saves our clients fees based on their lower hourly rates. At the same time, our attorneys are involved in all aspects of your case.
SHOULD I FILL OUT THE DIVORCE FORMS MYSELF?
In many cases, especially ones that are uncontested, you may be able to represent yourself. The Supreme Court Office of Administration has family law and other forms available online at the Self Service Center. You can obtain forms and packets in person from at the Self Service Center located in the Superior Court facilities in downtown Phoenix or the east-side Superior Court facilities in Mesa. Maricopa County forms are available online at the Maricopa County Superior Court website. See our page on How to Find Arizona Family Law Forms.
These forms are free of charge or provided for a nominal sum. There is often no reason to hire a paralegal to simply fill out your forms, nor is there any reason to purchase forms at a “forms store.” If you have questions regarding your forms, you can simply schedule a ½ or 1-hour conference with our firm or another family law attorney and make sure you receive proper advice.
Arizona does allow for certified document preparation services. These people should never be confused with a qualified and experienced family law attorney (very few if any are attorneys). You do not need to go to law school to be a certified document preparer. Some services are pretty good, but we have seen some documents prepared that were frankly horrible and left the client in very bad shape financially or otherwise. Document preparers cannot by law provide you with legal advice, although we have heard many stories that they did provide in fact provide legal advice and it was not good. If all the document preparation company can do is fill out forms, you should ask yourself why you can’t just do that yourself and save some money. If you do so, however, you should at least consult with an attorney before agreeing upon financial and parenting terms in order to ensure that your forms are done properly, that the terms are enforceable, and that you are protected.