In Arizona, family law cases generally fall into two categories: parties who are taking their family law case to court for the first time (also known as “pre-decree” matters, such as the initial divorce) and parties who are returning to court, usually to enforce or modify prior court orders (also known as “post-decree” or “post-judgment” matters, such as changing parenting time or for enforcement of support).
Divorce or Dissolution Hypothetical: David and Christina
Hypothetically, let?s discuss the situation with David and Christina, who have been married for 12 years and have two children, DJ, age 10, and Eliza, age 6. David has been employed as a computer technician for most of the marriage and Christina is a teacher who has her summers off. They bought a house eight years ago and the mortgage is $1,200 per month. David moved into a small apartment three months ago. Christina also inherited $18,000 from her uncle Huck three years ago that she used to buy her car, a Volvo SUV. David has a vehicle with a loan, Christina has a retirement plan with the state of Arizona and David has almost no retirement, because they had a medical emergency three years ago for DJ?s fractured leg, suffered in a ski accident. They also incurred an additional $8,000 in MasterCard debt when Christina took time off to care for DJ.
Both David and Christina have their differences and they have both decided that they need to get divorced. They are able to talk together, but they just do not agree on what they should do about custody, child support, the house and their debt. They are not even sure what custody is all about. What happens with the pension? How do they get it divided? Who pays child support and how do they pay it? Who pays for Eliza?s piano lessons and summer soccer camp for both kids? Who has to pay back the MasterCard debt? Can David expect Christina to help pay rent for his apartment?
Because David and Christina have decided that they cannot each afford to pay for an attorney and they cannot afford to litigate and argue about the decisions that they have to make, they have set up a meeting at Best Law Firm. The attorney meets with David and Christina together, and they sign the mediation agreement and pay the mediation fee. After that, the real work begins. They all work together, outlining parenting and financial issues. The mediator will provide the parties with pertinent legal statutes that may apply to their issues. Remember that anything the parties say in mediation cannot be used against them in court; it is a confidential process. It is decided at the first meeting that both David and Christina need to get copies of various documents: the retirement plan, pay stubs, tax returns, credit card statements and so on. All financial documents must be disclosed, so that each party is aware of the assets and liabilities of the party under Family Law Rule 49.
At the second meeting, the parties and the attorney are able to resolve all the issues. The mediator drafts a Rule 69 agreement and the parties sign it and leave the office. The mediator then uses that agreement to draft the pertinent legal documents; for David and Christina, that includes a Joint Parenting Agreement, a Property Settlement Agreement and a decree. David and Christina had decided to make all of these decisions before actually filing for divorce. Once the court receives the initial filings, it will be a minimum of 60 days before a judge will sign any final decree or other documents. The parties must also attend a mandatory parenting class and file the certificate with the court before their decree will be approved.
Post-Decree Hypothetical: Jackson and Jenna
Jackson and Jenna have three children, ages 8, 10 and 15. They have been divorced for four years and share joint legal custody, which allows both parents to be involved in major decisions of their children?s lives. Jack has a new job in Nebraska and is going to relocate. What happens to the parenting schedule of week on and week off? What about 15-year-old Annie, who does not want to ever visit Nebraska and has a summer job at the local Dairy Queen? Does Jack have to pay more child support, and how do they figure it out?
Jack and Jenna meet with a mediation attorney at Best Law Firm, who outlines and discusses various choices and options that the parents can choose from. The mediator has experience with this particular scenario and is able to offer some creative and flexible solutions that are positive for everyone. This mediation lasts the better part of the afternoon, and the parents leave with a Rule 69 agreement that they are going to keep, but not file with the court. You might recall that a Rule 69 agreement is a written signed agreement. It was drafted for them while they were in the office, and they took it with them when they left the mediation. They decided they did not want or need to file it with the court.