Arizona Divorce Laws

In Arizona, couples "dissolve" the marriage, rather than divorce.  This means that the married relationship between husband and wife ceases to exist (as opposed to an annulment which declares that a legal marriage never occurred).


Arizona Divorce Grounds:  Arizona is known as a "no-fault" state, meaning that the court does not have to find grounds such as adultery, cruelty or abandonment grant a divorce.  Except in circumstances of a Covenant Marriage (see below), either spouse may petition for divorce based upon a finding that the marriage is irretrievably broken with no prospects of reconciliation. 

Court of Conciliation: If one spouse files for divorce on the basis of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, the other spouse may petition the Court of Conciliation to request some assistance in preventing the dissolution from going forward.  Dissolution proceedings are temporarily stopped for 60 days while the court determines whether reconciliation is possible.

Covenant Of Marriage:  Arizona recently enacted a law that recognizes a covenant marriage.  A covenant marriage is a "higher" form of marriage where the parties essentially enter into a contract that they will not divorce each other.  If a couple has entered into a covenant marriage, the possible grounds for divorce are:

  • Adultery
  • Commission of a felony and imprisonment
  • Abandonment for one year
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Living separate or apart without reconciliation for at least two years before the petitioner filed for dissolution of marriage
  • Living separate and apart without reconciliation for at least one year from the date of the decree of legal separation
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Mutual consent

Arizona Dissolution Procedure: Dissolution of Marriage proceeding begins when one party enters a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the Superior Court of the County where they reside.  The party filing the petition is known as the Petitioner, the non-filing party is the Respondent. 

Residency:  In order to file for dissolution in Arizona, residency must be established.  Either party must have lived in Arizona or been active in the military and stationed at a military base in Arizona for ninety days prior to the filing of the petition.

Preliminary Injunction:  Once the petition is filed, a summons is issued which must be served on the respondent spouse, along with other necessary documents, including a Preliminary Injunction that prohibits either party from transferring, selling or giving away marital property, prohibits either party from removing the children of the marriage without the consent of the parties or permission of the court, and prohibits the parties from harassing one another.

Response:  After the respondent spouse has been served, they must respond within 20 days (30 days if respondent is served out of state).  If the respondent spouse does not file a response within the time allowed, the petitioning spouse files an Application for Entry of Default and mails a copy to the respondent, who has 10 working days from the filing to file a Response.  If no response is filed, the petitioner can proceed with the dissolution.

Marital Settlement Agreement:  If the parties are able to reach an agreement on all of the issues without going to trial, they can set forth the terms in a Marital Settlement Agreement.  This signed contract between the spouses concerning all issues is submitted to the court.  So long as the agreement is fair and equitable and addresses all of the issues that exist between the parties, the court will usually adopt the terms as part of the decree.

Trial:  If the parties cannot agree, the case will go to trial, where each party tells their side of the story to the judge, and the judge determines the outcome.

Final Dissolution Decree: Once all issues have been settled, the judge signs the final court orders or decree, legally ending the marriage.  The decree may contain orders deciding how the spouses’ property and debts will be divided and what financial support, if any, will be paid.  If children are involved, the decree will also provide for custody, parenting and child support.

Regardless of how quickly the parties can resolve the issues, a final decree cannot be entered until at least 60 days from when the initial Petition of Dissolution is served upon the Respondent.

Fees: The filing fee for a Petition for Dissolution (or a Petition for Legal Separation) in Arizona is $236.00.  The filing fee for the Response filed by the Respondent is $231.00.  These fees may be waived based upon financial need (forms and guidelines available when filing for dissolution or response).

Arizona Common Law Marriage:  Arizona does not recognize common law marriages.  Even if the parties have been holding themselves out as husband and wife, the state does not recognize their relationship as a marriage.  The court will treat the division of property and debt of a couple that has been cohabiting as a business partnership rather than a marriage.

Arizona Legal Separation: Legal separation resolves the same issues as dissolution of marriage, including the separation of all income, earnings, assets, debts, custody and visitation.  The marriage is not yet dissolved, so the parties may not remarry unless the separation is converted to a divorce.  Both parties must agree to the legal separation or it will be amended to a petition for dissolution of marriage.

Conciliation Services: Conciliation services are offered at no charge as part of the family court system in most counties in Arizona.  This branch is made up of trained family counselors and mediators who are available to assist couples in resolving marital issues and mediating disputes over custody, parenting and visitation of a child or children.  Conciliation services also oversee the parent education programs required in Arizona.

Mandatory Parenting Education: In Arizona, all couples seeking dissolution of marriage or who are involved in a case establishing paternity, custody or support and who have a minor child or children together must attend a court approved program educating the parties about the impact of dissolution on children.  The program can last from three to four hours.  The Court also has discretion to order parental education after the dissolution decree is final.

Mediation: Mediation is not mandatory in Arizona, however in conjunction with the Conciliation Services offered within the court system, more and more judges are ordering mediation or a formal settlement conference with the parties’ attorneys.  Parties may choose to go to private mediators to settle their disputes, usually sharing the cost of such services.

Same Sex Marriage:  Arizona has adopted the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as between a man and a woman as state law.


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