Although there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all divorce advice, there are certain considerations that need to be taken into account in every divorce. The following is a simplified list of areas to consider before and during your divorce.
Identify All Actual Property
This includes land, homes, vehicles, motorhomes, motorcycles, furniture, jewelry, appliances, and personal items. If the items were purchased during the marriage, then in Arizona, they are considered community property. (There are exceptions to this rule but this is a general guideline.) Begin thinking about who will get each item. If you are already separated, ask yourself, "Is there anything remaining in the home that I wish to possess?"
Identify All Intangible Assets
These are things like retirement accounts (401k, TSP, Pensions, mutual funds, stocks, bonds), life insurance, and various investment accounts. You need to know estimated worth, how much was contributed during the marriage, and names and addresses of plan administrators. These assets are also treated as community property to the extent that they were invested in during the marriage. Retirement accounts require a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order) to be drawn up and delivered to the plan administrator with the divorce decree.
Identify All Debt
And write it down. No. Really. Create a list with each credit card, each personal loan, and each medical bill. You need to get a full picture of what is out there. Worried about unknown debt? Pull a credit report and see what else might be out there.
This is the most emotional piece. You probably have heard people call it "custody," but now the state of Arizona calls it Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time. You need to think about decision-making as co-parents. This involves the big three: Education, Religion, and Medical. Will you be able to make these decisions together? What will parenting time look like? What about holidays and special family events? The more you and the other parent can agree on, the better it will be for your kids in the long run. Temporary orders may be necessary to put a plan in place both for parenting time and child support until the divorce is final.
Time to make a personal budget and crunch the numbers. Supporting two separate households is expensive and usually means a decrease in the standard of living for all involved, at least initially. This is when you need to think about child support, the employability of the other parent, and whether spousal maintenance will be needed and/or afforded. In general, judges calculate child support payments based on the state guidelines. I always encourage people to go to the child support calculator and run the numbers themselves. The number you calculate is not the guaranteed amount, but it does help you understand the effects of different parenting time arrangements and different income levels. (http://www.azcourts.gov/familylaw/2015-Child-Support-Calculator)
Path to Divorce
There are many ways to obtain a divorce and many different kinds of services available. Here is a summary of some of those services and some pros/cons of each. Determining which service is best suited to your needs and situation will help facilitate accomplishing your legal goals efficiently and satisfactorily.
A paralegal service can fill out the necessary documents and file them with the court on your behalf. They can also explain the general process. They are relatively affordable, however, they cannot give you legal advice because they are not lawyers. They can only fill out the forms with the information you provide. After your documents are filed, you are on your own.
A mediator can also fill out all the necessary forms and can assist you in the filing process. The mediator provides a neutral place to sit down and find an agreement on all areas of the divorce. Mediators can be lawyers, and they use their legal expertise to ensure all issues are properly addressed. The mediator does not represent either party, and cannot give you legal advice Instead, she or he helps facilitate your conversation and ultimately, write down any agreement you come to in the form of divorce decree. (The decree is a document that includes all the final terms of the divorce.) If you and your former partner will likely agree on all items with a bit of outside assistance, then this is a great way to go. It is more expensive than the paralegal service, but also guides you to the finish line of obtaining a divorce when the parties are able to agree on all areas.
A litigator can fill out all necessary forms and file them with the court. He or she will handle all aspects of the process from filing, to exchanging exhibits, and attempting to settle with the other party, if you authorize such an action. They will represent you in court and prepare the final decree once the judge has made his or her decisions regarding the areas that you could not agree on. To some degree, the litigator takes the problem off your shoulders by telling you exactly what to do and when to do it. He or she becomes your voice and guides you through the process. These services do not come cheap, nor should they. Most family law litigators charge by the hour with overall costs being difficult to gauge because of the varied circumstances of each case. If your case requires a trial, the costs can quickly accumulate.
Limited Scope Representation is the hybrid option. This service combines the paralegal and litigator model but, with certain important distinctions. Unlike the paralegal, a licensed lawyer can provide you with legal advice tailored to your specific case. However, unlike the litigator, the goal of limited scope service is to assist you in representing yourself during the process. You are in the driver's seat and, as such, the services provided are at a much lower rate than a traditional litigator. This service allows you to have continued legal advice, the moment you need it, and for the length of time you require.
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