The length of an Arizona divorce can vary between 60 days and 18-24 months depending on the complexity of the case and the stamina and resources of the two spouses. The first reality is the Arizona 60 day “cooling off period” which mandates that no person can obtain a divorce in Arizona without first having the case pending for at least 60 days. This is also known as the “cooling off period” to give both spouses the chance to reconsider the divorce and perhaps consider reconciliation or saving the marriage. During this initial phase of the case, either party may divert the case to Mediation at Conciliation Services (a court-managed mediation department housed at your local courthouse). This “diversion” automatically stays the case while the two spouses attempt to work things out and possibly save the marriage. After the parties have completed their first session, either party can then return the case to full litigation mode if they so desire—or continue on with more conciliation
Reasonable Positions Taken in the case usually means a reasonably fast divorce.
The next major factor which will dictate the length of your divorce case is you and your spouse. Are you approaching the case with strength, harmony and a willingness to compromise? If so, your case should wrap up fairly soon (e.g. 6 months or less). Is the opposing spouse “out for blood” or wanting to “take you to the cleaners”, if so, you should expect 12 to 18 months of litigation or longer.
The next factor impacting the length of your divorce case is the lawyers hired by each side to prosecute the case. If you hire the wrong lawyer, or she hires the wrong lawyer, your expenses, fees, and length of time in court can skyrocket overnight. When selecting counsel, trust your gut. If being in the same room with your possible divorce lawyer doesn’t feel right, get out and find someone else. You should seek to hire a lawyer who matches up well with your temperament, your viewpoint on the case, and the best method to achieve a final Decree and Joint Parenting Plan if there are children.
In Maricopa County, Arizona over 17,000 divorces are filed annually and only about one-third of those cases involve parties who hire family law attorneys. If you have a meaningful family asset base, and particularly if you have children, you must seriously consider retaining legal counsel as early as possible. While it may seem expensive at first glance, realize that a lawyer can be critical to maximizing your recovery and payout from the family estate and from your opposing spouse. Engaging a lawyer when children are in dispute is almost a no-brainer, lawyer up and fight for your kids.
The more complex a case, the longer it takes to route through the court system. A standard case with less than $500,000 in assets and no child should wrap up within 60 to 120 days of commencement of the case. Assets between $500k and $1mm with children, you can expect a full year to resolve your divorce. If your assets exceed $1mm and there are child custody disputes, expect your case to run from 12 to 24 months. Virtually all cases are opened and closed in less than 2 years, although some multimillion-dollar cases can span up to 3 years in rare instances.
Alternatives to Filing For Divorce and Going Through the Court House
You should not automatically run to the courthouse and file your legal petition for marital dissolution. You have several other choices, several of which can be far less costly and less stressful on you personally.
Consider Mediation: Mediation is a fancy word for sitting down together outside the courthouse and engaging a third party neutral “mediator” who attempts to work you through the issues, one by one until all issues are compromised and “mediated.” At the end of this process, you will both sign lawfully binding agreements which can then be converted into formal legal documents filed with the Court. 60 days later you’ll be divorced. You should certainly hire legal counsel in advance of and even have the lawyer attend mediation so that you are certain to be awarded a maximum recovery allowed by law. Mediation is optional, not mandatory and either party can “walk out the door” at any time without any binding agreement. Mediation is for people willing to compromise, willing to seek closure, and willing to save time money and emotion otherwise experienced in a court of law setting.
Consider a Special Master: Under Rule 72 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure, two spouses can mutually select a third party neutral and award that person full court authority to serve as their ‘private judge’ to adjudicate the matter. Special Masters, as the name implies, are literally private judges for hire—who hear evidence (inside their office conference room, rather than down at the courthouse), swear in witnesses under oath and otherwise perform the function of a state court judge all in the privacy of a high-rise conference room without any public viewing or participation. Many higher net worth spouses will consider a Rule 72 special master as an option to keep their divorce private, sealed and out of sight from the public.
Consider Arbitration: The arbitration process is very similar to the Special Master and Mediation process, but also unique. Speak to your family law attorney about the nuances and costs of this option for more complex cases.
Consider Collaborative Divorce: This is another form of resolving your divorce case beyond the walls of the courthouse. In these cases, both spouses agree to avoid pursuing formal litigation in the court and work together with their two lawyers, a Financial Neutral, a Mental Health Specialist, a Divorce Coach, a Child Specialist and sometimes other professionals to collaborate and work together toward a global and unified settlement that can meet the needs of both spouses and the children. This process can run 60 to 180 days and is usually the least emotional of any of the divorce methods described in this article. Only specially trained collaborative lawyers can be hired to conduct this method of resolution, so make sure you engage the proper legal professional experienced in collaborative law. For more on collaborative law, click here.
Regardless of how you get there— you will end up divorced at the end of any of these processes. Critical to the journey is partnering with the right fit lawyer with the right experience for your family asset base and your children. No two divorces are the same, and each case presents unique challenges and opportunities to move on to the next phase of your life. Do not avoid your case or the reality of your ending marriage, take a proactive approach and go hire the best lawyer for you to push you forward to the next phase of your life.