The process of divorce is long and complicated, and several factors prevent married couples from deciding to file for divorce and go through divorce proceedings. Most couples pursue legal separation instead and only consider divorces as a last resort.
Legal separation may be a better option for married couples under these circumstances:
- They want a trial run before filing for divorce.
- They wish to avail of tax benefits for married couples.
- They need to stay legally married to receive medical benefits and other insurance benefits from their spouse.
- They don’t meet their state’s residency requirements under divorce laws.
- Their marriage is not irretrievable or irreconcilable.
If you’re considering filing for legal separation, read on below to find out how to do it in six steps.
1. Check your eligibility
Before you start working on your legal separation petition, make sure to check your state’s residency requirements to make sure you’re eligible. In Arizona, the requirements for residency are as follows.
- At least one of you has been a resident of Arizona for at least 90 days at the time of filing; or
- You or your spouse is a member of the armed forces who are currently stationed in Arizona.
Additionally, if you have children who are under the age of 18, they should’ve resided in Arizona for at least six months before you can file for separation.
You should also meet these qualifications to have grounds and be eligible for legal separation.
- The married couple doesn’t have a covenant marriage;
- One spouse wants to live separate and apart from the other;
- The other spouse doesn’t object to the legal separation;
- The marriage is irretrievably broken.
If you’re unsure whether you meet the residency requirements or have grounds to file a petition, talk to a local family law attorney regarding your situation.
2. Complete your petition.
If you’re eligible, you’ll need to fill out the petition for legal separation. There are separate forms available for couples who have minor children, and for those with no children.
3. Draft an agreement.
Once you’re done with the legal separation forms, you’ll need to draft a legal separation agreement. This document details the separation arrangements such as:
- Custody arrangements of your children;
- Visitation, parenting time, and parenting plan for your children;
- Child support guidelines;
- Spousal support and spousal maintenance;
- Division of property between; and
- Division of marital debts.
If both spouses are on the same page with regards to property division, child custody, and other matters about the separation, you may choose to discuss the agreement together. The legal process is quicker if the separation agreement is uncontested. Having a family lawyer for legal help will make negotiations easier for your case.
After filling out your petition and other necessary paperwork, you need to file it with the court and pay the fixed filing fee for your county-court.
4. Serve the agreement.
Similar to the divorce process, the filing spouse or petitioner has responsibility for the service of the process. You’ll need to file proof of service to family court, and your spouse needs to respond within a certain period. If they don’t, you can apply default and receive a default judgment after the hearing.
5. Settles disputes.
If your spouse doesn’t agree with your proposed agreement for legal separation, you may still file a counterclaim. You’ll need to negotiate and come up with an arrangement that both of you agree on. If the couple can’t reach an agreement with collaborative law or through mediation, a judge can settle the remaining disputes.
6. Finalize your separation.
After separate agreements are agreed upon by the couple, whether by yourselves or with the help of a judge or mediator, both parties need to sign and have it notarized. Once notarized, you can file it with the county clerk and get it approved by a judge. Make sure to keep a copy of the agreement and follow its guidelines once it is on record with the court.
Are you considering filing for divorce or legal separation in Arizona?
Getting divorced or legally separating is difficult enough as it is. You don’t need to add the difficulty of navigating the proceeding on your own. Having a professional who can give you legal advice ensures that you’re making the best choices for you and your children. Call us today at The Dodds Law Firm, PLC, and consult with an experienced attorney that you can depend on and trust with your legal separation and divorce case.