Frequently Asked Questions
At Bishop Law Offices P.C., we are here to answer any questions you have about your divorce or family law concerns. To sit down with one of our lawyers to learn more about any of the following questions, contact one of our offices in Phoenix or Tempe, Arizona.
Arizona Divorce Process Chart
We have created a simple flow chart to help you understand what you can expect at each stage of your divorce and/or custody case.
How it Works
Common Divorce and Parenting Time Questions
Do I need a divorce/family law attorney?
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. 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.
Do I have to have a reason to get a 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.
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 approximately 60 days if you and your spouse agree on all issues. This can be done through a “default hearing,” or you can obtain a “consent decree” without ever having to go to court. In Arizona there is a 60 day waiting period from the time the divorce proceedings are served (or an acceptance of service is filed) before the Court can sign off on your final decree. However, this does not mean that you cannot get the final agreements drafted and signed in the meantime.
Even if you and your spouse do not agree to all terms in the beginning, Bishop Law Offices, P.C. has been successful in settling the vast majority of its clients’ cases. Bishop Law Offices, P.C. commits itself to settling your case if the issues can be settled in your best interests.
If you and your spouse cannot agree on all issues, the only other way to obtain a divorce is through a trial. Most trials in divorce cases generally last about four hours. 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 judge is.
Bishop Law Offices, P.C. is committed to expedite your case and to conclude the proceedings for you as soon as possible so that you can get on with your life.
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 represent 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 an affordable cost. Find out more about our fee structure here.
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 court 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.
The Supreme Court of Arizona has adopted certification requirements for “document preparers”. Document preparers cannot by law provide you with legal advice. Bishop Law Offices, P.C. recommends that you consult with a family law attorney first to assess your case and circumstances.
Like many family law firms, Bishop Law Offices, P.C. has paralegals on staff. These paralegals have been trained by our attorneys and are under the direct supervision of our attorneys. Our use of paralegals generally save 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 adequately 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, the Northeast Phoenix Superior Court, or the east-side Superior Court facilities in Mesa. Maricopa County forms are available online at the Maricopa County support web site.
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 get the best advice.
As we have stated, 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. See Legal Fees for more information.
Common Parenting Time and Legal Decision-Making Questions
What is Parenting Time?
The term “parenting time” in Arizona is essentially the same thing as the term “visitation” in many other states. Arizona previously referred to the time spent by the parents with the children as visitation. However, because of changes in the Arizona Revised Statutes, the Courts now use the term “parenting time” regarding the times that each parents is to have the children. Time with the children legally designated for grandparents or other ‘non-parents’ that qualify for legal time with the children is still called visitation, i.e. grandparent visitation or third-party visitation.
If you and the other parent agree on the parenting terms, the Court will generally approve your parenting plan so long as you comply with the procedural requirements. If parenting time is disputed, sometimes the parents are ordered to share equal parenting time. Sometimes one of the parents is awarded the majority of the parenting time. In extreme cases a parent may only be allowed supervised parenting time until he or she complies with Court orders.
Title 25 of the Arizona Revised Statutes sets forth the factors that the Court is supposed to apply in determining parenting time if the parties do not reach their own agreement. These factors are set forth in the sections starting with A.R.S. §401. Such factors are based upon what the Court determines to be in the children’s best interests.
What legal decision making (legal custody) options do I have?
Contrary to popular belief, there are many different options that you have regarding custody (legal decision making) and parenting time. Such options again focus upon what is in your children’s “best interests.”
If the parents can agree upon what is in the best interests of their children between themselves, the Court will generally adopt such agreement. We suggest that you consult with an attorney with regard to parenting time and legal decision making issues.
What are the types of legal decision making (legal custody)?
The term custody generally refers to “legal decision making” and not parenting time. The statute has been changed to eliminate the term custody and to use the term “legal decision making” instead.
- Sole Decision Making: This is generally where one of the parents makes all of the important decisions regarding the children (i.e. decisions regarding education, medical, personal care).
- Joint Legal Decision Making: This is where the parties make all important legal decisions together regarding education, health care and personal care. This can apply were the parties have equal parenting time. Or, this may apply where one of the parents may have more time with the children, but the other parent has equal rights with regard to decision-making. The parent with more time with the children is sometimes called the “primary residential parent”. The Parenting Plan may provide that one of the parties make the important decisions after consulting with the other parent. The Parenting Plan may provide instead that the parties make such decisions together.
- Joint Legal Decision Making with Final Decision Maker. This is a hybrid where the parties share joint legal decision making, but one of the parents is basically given veto power over the other parent if they are unable to resolve the issues between themselves regarding education, health care or the child’s personal care issues.
If parties are unable to reach agreement between themselves (or with the assistance of their attorneys), there are various methods that a court may utilize or the parties may agree to in order to assist the Court in determining what parenting time or legal decision making decisions are in the children’s best interests. Some of these options are discussed in the following FAQs.
What is a “Parenting Conference”?
The Court may order (but is not required to order) a Parenting Conference. The Superior Court provides certain programs to assist the Court in determining what is in the children’s best interests if the parties cannot reach an agreement between themselves.
The first step in a Parenting Conference is generally for a mental health provider to meet with the parents and attempt to explore an agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached, the mental health provider will interview the parents and may then interview the children. The mental health provider may contact other persons that have a significant role in the children’s lives (i.e. teachers, etc.). The mental health provider may then provide recommendations to the Court. Unlike mediation, the matters addressed during Parenting Conferences are not confidential and may be addressed to the court. There is a small charge to the parties for this service. A parenting conference may not necessarily result in full legal decision making or parenting time recommendations and thus sometimes have limited use.
What is a Limited Focus or Limited Family Assessment?
Private mental health specialists have a less expensive and more expedient procedure for providing a tailor made assessment specifically applicable to the parenting issues involved in specific cases. Rather than conducting a comprehensive family evaluation (sometimes called a full custody evaluation), which often leads to a very lengthy report, a Limited Family Assessment may be a great alternative in some cases. The parties to a Limited Family Assessment agree in advance regarding the specific issues and categories that need to be addressed during the assessment. The mental health provider will thus limit the assessment to those matters that are directly relevant to the legal decision making and parenting time issues as addressed in advance by the parties. The cost for such assessment generally ranges from $1,500.00 to $4,000.00 depending upon the extent and complexity of the issues. Sometimes the costs are divided equally or in some proportion (i.e. proportionate to each parent’s respective income). Other times, one of the parties is ordered to pay the entire amount.
What is a Custody Evaluation or Comprehensive Family Evaluation?
The Court may order, but is not required to order, a comprehensive family evaluation). This is where the Court assigns a private psychologist or other mental health expert to determine and to provide recommendations to the Court regarding legal decision making, parenting time and other parenting issues.
These types of private comprehensive evaluations are generally more involved than Parenting Conferences and Limited Family Assessments. They often take longer than the other options. However, the mental health provider is required to do more as well. For example, the mental health provider (if a licensed psychologist) may provide for psychological testing of the parents. They may obtain documents from the parties and other sources (for example, prior counseling records, criminal records, etc.). They may interview the parties more often, and may interview the children more often. They may contact people involved in the children’s lives. They may also determine whether one of the parties is attempting to alienate the children against the other party.
Sometimes a Parenting Conference or a Limited Family Assessment is sufficient. Sometimes a comprehensive evaluation may be more helpful. Such evaluations cost generally between $5,000.00 and $10,000.00 or more. Sometimes the costs are divided equally or in some proportion. Other times, one of the parties is ordered to pay the entire amount.
Can I Change or Modify Legal Decision Making (legal custody) or Parenting Time Later?
A parent can request that legal decision making or parenting time be modified. Sometimes a parent wishes a complete change in legal decision making. Sometimes a parent just wants more parenting time with the children. You generally must wait one year after the last court order to change legal decision making (custody) unless the children are or may be endangered physically or mentally, or unless the other parent has violated the Court’s parenting orders. This one-year requirement does not apply to minor changes in “parenting time”.
The Court generally requires at least some changed circumstances to modify its orders. Sometimes a change in parenting time or decision making is warranted because the children want to live primarily with the other parent. Sometimes such change is warranted because of the children’s ages and changed needs. Sometimes parenting time needs to be changed because one of the parents has moved away. If the parties agree to such change, the Court will generally adopt any agreements. Again, the parents should consult with an attorney to make sure all necessary terms are covered.
Can I Move With the Children, Or Can the Other Parent Move With the Children?
Whether a parent can relocate with the children out of state or even to the other side of town depends upon whether such event is covered in the Court’s order and/or what is in the best interests of the children and various other considerations. There are strict statutory requirements that may apply. You should always consult with an attorney before moving with the children. You should always consult with an attorney if you think that the other parent is planning to move with the children and if such move may affect your rights or your parenting time.
How Old Does A Child Have To Be Before He Or She Can Decide Who He Or She Lives With?
In Arizona, a child’s wishes can always be considered regardless of their age. However, the Court looks to the maturity of the child as part of its determination regarding how much weight to provide to the child’s desires. Just because a child favors one parent or prefers to live with one parent over the other does not mean that the Court will decide that this is in the child’s best interests. Judges generally do not interview children although they have the discretion to do so. Judges generally prefer that a mental health expert provide information regarding the children’s wishes and circumstances. Judges will sometimes allow the parents to tell the judge what the children want, however, the judge may not allow such testimony if the other parent objects.
These are only a few of the major questions that our clients often ask. Bishop Law Offices, P.C. is more than happy to answer any questions you may have during your consultation with us.
Are There Guidelines for Visitation or Parenting Time?
The first place to look regarding what “guidelines” apply are the Arizona Revised Statutes Title 25, Arizona Revised Statutes beginning with A.R.S. §25-410. These are more than just guidelines, but rather the statutes that the Courts are supposed to follow.
Maricopa County has previously published certain “guidelines” regarding parenting time. However, every case is different. These prior “guidelines” are not set in stone, nor do they state which parent (i.e. mother or father) should be considered the primary parent if either. Rather, the Court looks at what is in the children’s best interests. Sometimes it is best that one of the parents is the primary residential parent. Sometimes it is best if the parties have equal time.
Arizona Statutes provide that the courts cannot base its parenting time and decision making orders upon a parent’s gender, i.e. there is no presumption in favor of mothers or fathers. Read more about Arizona’s Parenting Time Guidelines.
Arizona statutes provide the presumption that parenting time orders should maximize each parent’s parenting time with the children and provide both parents with frequent and meaningful parenting time. Generally, the Court starts with the presumption that equal parenting time is in the children’s best interests unless and until it hears evidence that such is not appropriate under the circumstances. Parenting time options vary with the children’s best interests. Nevertheless, the courts are required to evaluate what parenting plan is in the children’s best interests. Sometimes it is in the children’s best interests that one parent is the primary residential parent. This may be because the children are much closer to one parent, one of the parents abuses alcohol or drugs, or various other reasons as outlined by A.R.S. §25-403. If the parties agree to a parenting time plan, the courts will generally accept such agreement so long as all of the necessary terms are included in such agreement.
What Does The Court Look At In Determining Who Should Make the Legal Parenting Decisions And How Much Parenting Time Should The Other Party Receive?
Arizona has statutes (rules) that set forth specific factors that the Court should address in deciding the best interests of the children. As stated above, these start at A.R.S. §25-401 et seq. There are other factors, which may not be written in the statutes, but may be important. These factors include but are not limited to the following.
- The past, present and future relationships between each of the parents and the children.
- What the children want and why (if of suitable age and maturity).
- How the children get along with each of the parents and other family members, significant others, etc.
- How the children are doing in each household, and how they do in school and the community.
- Whether the parents use appropriate discipline and reinforcement.
- The mental health of each of the parents.
- The mental health of the children.
- The physical health of each of the parents.
- The physical health of the children.
- Whether the parents have any problems which effect the children’s best interests – For example – drug use, alcohol abuse, physical abuse of the children or the other parent, and criminal history in some cases.
- Which parent is more likely to work well with the other parent regarding parenting time and other issues.
- If psychologists or other mental health providers have been involved, the Court will consider recommendations from such experts.
- Whether one of the parties is attempting to alienate the children or is engaging in other inappropriate behavior.
- Whether there are events or factors which may endanger the children.
What Is A Parenting Coordinator (PC)?
A Parenting Coordinator (PC) is a mental health expert, attorney, or other expert appointed by the Court after final parenting orders are entered. A PC can meet with the parties and attempt to resolve parenting issues as they arise. Examples of such issues are numerous; i.e. where the children go to school, the effect of new significant others on the children, continued communication problems between the parents, vacation and travel disputes, enforcement of parenting time issues, inappropriate parenting, parenting complaints, and essentially any other issues that directly or indirectly involve the children. Generally, a PC attempts to guide and assist the parents in reaching an agreement on how issues are to be addressed.
The PC is much more than a mediator however. The PC has the authority to make recommendations to the Court regarding the various parenting issues. A PC can be an invaluable resource to assist parties who are unable to communicate or resolve ongoing issues.
A PC generally does not have the authority to recommend significant changes in legal decision making or parenting time. If a party desires an expert’s input regarding significant legal decision making or parenting time changes, a comprehensive family evaluation, limited focus assessment or Parenting Conference may be appropriate.
Parenting Coordinators are only appointed if both parties agree to such appointment, and are appointed for a specific period of time (generally one year to begin with). If you and the other parent have ongoing issues, this may be an excellent alternative.
Common Child Support Questions
How much will I receive in child support?
During your initial consultation with the firm, we can provide you with an estimate regarding what we believe you are entitled to receive for child support , or what you may have to pay depending upon the circumstances.
Whether you receive child support depends in part upon who has more parenting time with the child and how much parenting time the other party has. Child support is based upon Arizona Statutes and written guidelines. The amount depends on each parent’s gross income, childcare costs, medical and dental insurance for the children, day care or school costs, the children’s ages, whether the children have special needs, and other factors described in the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. The Supreme Court Child Support web page provides a child support calculator and additional general information.
How is child support calculated in Arizona?
There are a number of factors used by the court to determine what amount of child support to award in a divorce. Some of the factors the court considers include:
- The parent who has primary parenting time
- The income of each parent
- Costs associated with day care and education
- Health and dental insurance costs
- The age of a child
- Any special needs of a child
Is a Child Support Deviation Appropriate?
The Court has the discretion to award more or less than what the child support guidelines provide. Such may be based upon the children’s standards of living in each household and other statutory factors.
Who processes child support payments?
Support payments are received, recorded and processed by the Support Payment Clearinghouse:
Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE)
Support Payment Clearinghouse
P.O. Box 52107
Phoenix, AZ 85072-2107
Note: Local Division of Child Support offices will also accept payments. Click here to view a list of the locations nearest you.
We welcome inquiries from attorneys in other states seeking representation for their clients in the Arizona courts, including clients involved in interstate disputes regarding divorce, child custody or child support. Such includes Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act UCCJEA issues and Uniform Interstate Family Support Act UIFSA issues.