Arizona Divorce, Annulment, and Legal Separation
In Arizona, couples have three options for legally changing their married status: divorce, annulment, or legal separation. Divorce is a legal termination of marriage. Annulment is a legal finding that a marriage was invalid from the start. Legal separation leaves spouses married but separates their income and debts going forward and establishes a division of assets and child custody.
Because marriage is a legal contract, you need to take legal action to end the marriage. Divorce is dissolution of marriage. When a spouse petitions for divorce, the divorce is not final until the court issues the divorce decree. A divorce decree is the final order of the court ending the marriage.
Arizona is a no-fault divorce state. This means that the spouse filing for divorce doesn’t have to prove that the other spouse has done something wrong or broken the marriage. The court must merely find that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” The divorce will eventually happen even if only one spouse wants the divorce.
Either spouse can initiate divorce proceedings as long as they have lived in Arizona for the last 90 days. The divorce must be filed in Superior Court of the county where either spouse lives (Pima County Superior Court, Maricopa County Superior Court, etc.). Check our other blogs for a complete description of the divorce process in Arizona.
An annulment, once it is granted, means the marriage legally never existed. Although an annulment typically happens after just a few weeks or months of marriage, it can happen at a later point in the marriage as well.
Grounds for Annulment: Void and Voidable Marriages
A legal annulment is different from a religious annulment. When an annulment is granted the court decides that the legal relationship of marriage could not be established between the two individuals. In Arizona, annulments are granted when there is some circumstance that would make the marriage invalid.
In Arizona, a marriage between two people who share a blood relationship, such as siblings (both full and half blood), grandparents/grandchildren, niece/uncle, aunt/nephew, and first cousins, is considered void — invalid from its beginning. However, it still requires the legal action of an annulment, even though it is not valid from its inception.
Other marriages are considered “voidable;” these marriages remain in effect until one of the spouses chooses to legally annul the marriage. In granting the annulment, the court must decide that there was one of the following obstacles to the marriage:
- A prior marriage that is still in effect
- One of the spouses was underage
- Lack of mental or physical capacity
- Inability to consummate marriage
- Absence of a valid license
- Duress (being coerced or threatened)
- A party to the marriage is a bigamist, concealed a criminal past, or has a communicable disease
- Fraud and misrepresentation of religion
- Other grounds that the court finds are a valid basis for the annulment
Process for Annulment
The process for an annulment is similar to the process for getting a divorce. One spouse files in Superior Court. The filing spouse must have lived in Arizona for 90 days or more. Decisions will need to be made regarding children under 18 as well as any joint property. If the court grants the annulment, the legal status of the individuals will be what it was before the marriage.
It is possible that a judge will decide not to grant an annulment. If this is the case, one of the spouses can choose to file for divorce.
Legal separation is different from divorce and annulment in that after the separation the spouses remain legally married. However, like divorce, legal separation requires one spouse to claim that marriage is irretrievably broken. In addition, the Petitioner must show that the Respondent does not object to a Decree of Legal Separation.
Sometimes spouses will make a decision to pursue legal separation when their religion prohibits or frowns on divorce. Another common reason for legal separation vs divorce is that one of the spouses needs to continue to receive health insurance; employers may still recognize the parties as married for purposes of health insurance coverage.
After Legal Separation
After a legal separation, the spouses cannot remarry because they are still considered legally married. However, from a financial standpoint, it is important to know that any income earned after a legal separation is considered separate property, not marital property. Any debts that are incurred by either spouse are also considered separate responsibilities. So even though the couple is still legally married, they are not responsible for the debts of the other person, nor do they have a right to the income made by the other person.
Process for Legal Separation
To be eligible for a legal separation, one of the marriage partners must live in Arizona or be stationed in Arizona while a member of the armed services. Unlike a divorce, legal separation does not require that one of the spouses has lived in Arizona for a specified period of time.
There are circumstances when one spouse will file for legal separation but the other spouse does not want to separate and instead wants to divorce. Perhaps the other spouse would like to remarry. If one of the spouses wants a divorce and the other wants a legal separation, then the court must grant the divorce. Because Arizona is a no-fault divorce state, the court will grant the divorce once it finds that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
Just as in a divorce, if the couple has children, the court will make decisions about legal decision-making (formerly known as child custody) and parenting time. In addition, spousal support and decisions about debts and assets of the married couple are also part of the court’s responsibilities in a legal separation.
Just as in divorce proceedings, when it is decided that the couple will separate, one of the spouses will file a petition for legal separation with the court. There are specific procedures to follow when filing for legal separation. Many couples will make decisions together prior to filing for legal separation about parenting time, legal decision making for children, spousal support, and the division of assets and debts from the marriage.
Converting a Legal Separation into a Divorce
It is possible to convert a legal separation into a divorce. The petition for divorce is filed under the same case number as the legal separation, but it is a new and separate process and follows the same procedures as any other divorce.
AZ Statewide Paralegal offers professional legal document preparation services, including document preparation and service for divorce, annulment, and legal separation. We have decades of experience preparing documents for proceedings in Arizona. By using our service you can avoid the expense of a high priced attorney so that you can focus your financial resources on helping your family make necessary transitions after your divorce or legal separation. There is no need to worry about deadlines and properly completing the forms. We know what to ask and provide this service to hundreds of clients each year. Contact our office in Tucson, Phoenix, or Mesa today so that we can walk you through the divorce legal document preparation services we offer. Click here to get started online.