When people marry and say their vows to one another, they most likely are not thinking of the day several years later when they decide to call the marriage to an end. If a couple is in a covenant marriage, this can be especially upsetting. A covenant marriage is designed specifically to encourage long-term marriages and discourage divorce.
Regardless of the divorce circumstances, it can be an emotional experience. Working with an experienced attorney is one way to make decisions based on long-term goals and the best interests of your children.
Child custody is either legal or physical custody, either of which can be joint custody or sole custody. In Arizona, there is no preference given to either the father or the mother. There is preference given, however, to the best interests of the child.
Legal custody is most often shared and is the ability of the parents to make important decisions regarding religious upbringing, education and medical or health decisions.
Physical custody is often shared, although sole custody remains a frequent option. The parents will need to determine a parenting plan or visitation schedule. Some common physical custody options are:
- Joint custody in which each parent cares for the child on alternating weeks
- Joint custody in which each parent cares for the child for two weeks at a time
- Joint custody in which each parent cares for the child six months at a time
- Shared custody in which the noncustodial parent cares for the child every other weekend
- Shared custody in which the noncustodial parent cares for the child during school vacations
- Shared custody in which the noncustodial parent has daily contact, and no overnight visits (picking up the child from day care every day, for example)
Parents will also need to determine a schedule for important holidays, doctor visits and extracurricular activities.
Child support is determined according to a formula set by the state of Arizona. Whether you are a parent who expects to receive child support, or a parent who expects to make a payment, it is important that accurate numbers are used when the formula applies. There are some costs which impact both sides of the formula, such as alimony paid to the other parent. There are other costs which only impact one side of the formula, such as child support paid to a child from a previous relationship.
There are other child support-related costs which must be negotiated. For example, if the noncustodial parent believes it is important to send the child to a private religious school, that cost may not be shared by both parents.
An experienced attorney should be able to provide you with an accurate estimation of a potential child support payment. If you and your spouse are not able to agree on the amount, the court will make a decision on your behalf.
Child Custody Modifications
When major life changes occur, it is possible to alter the child custody arrangements and have the new agreement approved by the court. Minor changes would typically be within the purview of the couple to change on their own. Major changes that could alter a child custody modification include:
- A new health concern (diagnosis or accidental injury) of either parent, or the child
- Remarriage of either parent
- Adoption or relinquishing parental rights
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Job changes for either parent which impact the parenting plan or physical custody
If the sole custodial parent wishes to relocate outside of Phoenix, or Maricopa County, he or she would need to obtain approval from the court. This move may be prevented if the court determines it is not in the best interest of the child or children. If the noncustodial parent wishes to relocate, it could change the parenting plan, which should be approved by the court.
If you would like to move, or your ex-spouse has stated the desire to move, it is a wise idea to consult with an attorney to discuss your legal options.
Alimony Or Spousal Support
Alimony, called spousal support in Phoenix, is typically awarded on a temporary basis. The lesser-earning spouse may need time to find a job, re-enter a career path, or obtain education or job training in order to become self-sufficient.
Permanent spousal support is rarely awarded in Arizona courts even after long-term marriages. The exception to this trend is in the instance where advanced age or infirmity makes it difficult or impossible for the alimony-requesting spouse to become self-supporting.
Couples can reach a decision on their own regarding spousal support, or ask the court to make a decision. Spousal support ends when an award date is reached (age 65, for example), when either party dies or when the award recipient remarries.
Marital property is considered community property in Arizona and is divided equally upon divorce. This does not mean that each person gets half of everything (a coin collection might not be split) but rather that each person gets half of the total value of the assets and debts. To continue with the coin collection example, one party might get the coin collection and the other would get the ATV or other similarly valued item.
Items which are hard to sell could be either valuated by someone knowledgeable, or could be owned jointly and sold at a later date and the proceeds split. A home is a good example of this. The spouses may agree to keep the family home until the children graduate high school, and then sell it and split the proceeds.
It is recommended that the couple come to an agreement on a division of marital property. If the couple cannot, the court will make a decision which neither party might like. A skilled attorney can work with you during this negotiation process to protect your rights as well as your short and long-term financial goals.
Divorce And Bankruptcy
It is important to note that both assets and debts are divided during divorce. This means if there is a $5,000 balance on a credit card in one spouse’s name, both spouses are responsible for that debt. An exception to this may be if one spouse intentionally ran up the debt immediately prior to or during the divorce proceedings. In that case, the court may assign that debt to the offending spouse.
After divorce, if one ex-spouse declares bankruptcy, it could easily impact the other party. The credit collectors may not care that the debt was assigned to the bankruptcy-declaring spouse, and would attempt to collect from both spouses.
If you or your spouse is in danger of declaring bankruptcy, it would be a good idea to consult with an attorney who has experience with divorce as well as bankruptcy, or one who has access to the appropriate financial experts.
The flip side of divorce and bankruptcy is divorce among high net worth couples. If this describes you and you signed a prenuptial agreement, many of the property division decisions may have been made. Lacking that, you may need to consult with financial experts in addition to an experienced divorce lawyer. Forensic accountants, business valuation experts and CPAs may be needed to untangle the following types of assets:
- Closely held businesses or family-owned businesses
- Foreign assets including real estate holdings
- Hard-to-value assets such as artwork or rare antiques
- Multiple real estate holdings including rental or income-earning property
- Patents or intellectual property
- Silent partners in a Limited Liability Partnership
- Stock options
In addition, there may be inheritance issues and tax planning issues to consider.
The issue of domestic violence is one that crosses the line between family law and criminal law and can impact child custody determinations. There are two very distinct issues to be considered. If you are a spouse who feels in danger, you can obtain an Order for Protection. Safety of yourself and your children would be the paramount issue. If you are a spouse who has been wrongfully accused of domestic violence, your ability to be a parent to your child may be at risk.
Domestic violence is not limited to married spouses but can apply to relatives, unmarried parents of a child or children, roommates and others. An attorney who has experience with divorce as well as domestic violence would be a valuable asset for you during this difficult time.
Why Hire A Divorce Attorney?
Although many of the forms required to obtain a divorce can be found online, a form cannot provide advice or give legal counsel. Many of the decisions made during divorce proceedings can have a lifelong impact upon your children, yourself and your financial well-being. An experienced divorce attorney can provide you with the advice and legal counsel that you need, and can also provide an experienced ear to listen to your concerns.
A divorce attorney can explain the legal process to you each step of the way, and offer you choices where perhaps you thought you had none. An experienced attorney can work in a collaborative fashion if that is what you prefer, or can be a tough negotiator if that is your choice.
How To Choose A Divorce Lawyer
When selecting a divorce lawyer, it is a wise idea to select one who focuses on divorce, rather than a general practice attorney. If you live in Phoenix and Maricopa County, make certain that is where your attorney practices. Although divorce laws are statewide, there are subtle differences in the way judges interpret those laws. Having an attorney who understands these subtleties can be important.
Many attorneys will provide a list of references, which you should feel free to contact. It’s also a good idea to meet face-to-face with an attorney before hiring him or her. You will be in close contact with your divorce lawyer for several months, so he or she should be someone with whom you have a rapport. Choosing your divorce lawyer is a very important decision. Choose wisely!