Written by attorney Scott D. Stewart

12 Mistakes People Make in a Do-It-Yourself Divorce -- Part Two

This is a continuation of a four-part Arizona do-it-yourself divorce guide. MISTAKE #5 Failing to Prepare a Clear and Concise Parenting Plan Consequence: Not receiving the custody rights you had anticipated were yours. Solution: Submit a well-devised parenting plan that is as specific as possible. When you seek joint custody of your child, Arizona law requires you to submit a comprehensive, written parenting plan to the court. Those “one-size-fits-all" online forms for parenting plans are useful only as an outline. They’re vague and generic and contain undefined terms that leave too much room for interpretation. Not only that, but generic forms don’t say anything about your child’s extracurricular activities, summer vacation schedules, out-of-state travel, and so on. Minimally under A.R.S. 25-403.02(A), Arizona requires that these provisions be included in any parenting plan: 1. Each parent’s rights and responsibilities for the personal care of the child and for decisions in areas such as education, health care, and religious training. 2. A schedule of the physical residence of the child, including holidays and school vacations. 3. A procedure by which proposed changes, disputes and alleged breaches may be mediated or resolved, which may include the use of conciliation services or private counseling. 4. A procedure for periodic review of the plan’s terms by the parents. 5. A statement that the parties understand that joint custody does not necessarily mean equal parenting time. If you are not able to come to an agreement with the other party regarding any part of the plan, then the court will step in and decide for both of you. MISTAKE #6 Being Unprepared for a Child Custody Evaluation Consequence: Losing control of your child custody choices and spending thousands on a child custody evaluation. Solution: A custody evaluation is a vital part of any custody dispute. Gather the documents and evidence you need to support your position on child custody and be fully prepared for the evaluator’s interviews. If child custody is an issue in your divorce case, either party may ask for an expert evaluation by a child custody evaluator. If you and the other party can’t agree on legal or physical custody of your children, the court will most likely grant this motion. The custody evaluation process takes several months and can cost thousands of dollars. The custody evaluator will interview you and the other parent in detail and observe how each of you interacts with your child. The evaluator will also interview other family members and review any records pertaining to your child. The evaluator’s report will be very detailed and include recommendations for custody, parenting time, and which parent is designated as the child’s primary residence. It is vital for you take the expert evaluation seriously. If your divorce goes to trial, the expert’s evaluation on your custody issues has tremendous influence with the family law judge. MISTAKE #7 Missing Important Filing Deadlines Consequence: The court may make important decisions for you -- without your input -- with which you must comply. Solution: Always calendar and keep important dates and deadlines in your divorce. Remember! You will be expected to meet the court’s deadlines in your divorce case just the same as if you were an attorney. Every ordinary court procedure has at least three important dates associated with it:

  • the date one party may act

  • the date the other may respond

  • the date the court makes its decision

All court cases are time-sensitive. Your failure to meet any of these deadlines can create severely negative consequences, such as having the family law judge make important decisions about your future and the future of your children without hearing your position on the matter. The judge may issue orders against you regarding:

  • child support

  • spousal maintenance payments (alimony)

  • child custody

  • property division

  • payment of the other party’s attorneys’ fees

Expect changes in scheduling and keep careful track of the court’s calendar. There will be periods of time when it seems like nothing is happening with your family law case. There will be delays, sometimes one right after the other. Judges are busy. They will have conflicts that require rescheduling, and so will the other party's attorney. But stay alert because, just when you think things are never going to get rolling, a series of proceedings will come up, one on top of another. The important thing is that you NEVER MISS THE DATES on which you are required to provide information, file, respond, or appear in court. Ready for more common DIY divorce mistakes? Continue to Part Three of 12 Mistakes People Make in a Do-It-Yourself Divorce.

Additional resources provided by the author

For DIY online help when you need it, visit our website at

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Avvo child custody email series

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer