We all have our own ideas about divorce. When it comes to the legal aspects of divorce, most people have significant misunderstandings. The legal process to divorce in Arizona is straightforward, but cases that go before a judge can become really complicated. If you are considering a divorce, it’s very important to realistically understand the legal process and consequences. Here is a list of common misconceptions about divorce most Arizonians have:
Does Filing a Court Petition Equal a Divorce?
When you file for a divorce in a court, you are required to file a petition. Some people believe this petition to be equal to a legal divorce. It is not. You are legally divorced when a judge says so and issues a ruling which recognizes the formal Date of Separation. From that day on, your civil status will be officially divorced and single, but not a day before. This date is very important because your income and property ownership (that you retain after the proceedings) only become non-marital property after this date is set by the court.
Can Child Custody be Arranged According to a Prenup?
This is an absolutely inaccurate idea. Prenups can set provisions for things like asset division in a divorce. However, child custody is solely up to a family court to decide. Child custody is largely a matter of public policy that ensures the well-being of a child. That requires judicial assessment of a child’s current living situation. Therefore, having provisions for child custody is highly improper in a prenup agreement. It could possibly render the whole agreement void. To make sure your prenup agreement has no chance of being voided by a court, consult with a divorce attorney in Scottsdale.
Can A Spouse be Ordered to Pay My Attorney’s Fees?
In Arizona, the laws allow for a divorce court to order one spouse to pay the legal fees of the other in whole or part. However, this is very much subject to a judge’s independent review. The aim of these laws is to eliminate any income disparity between the spouses from hindering access to similar legal representation (going to court on “a level playing field” so to speak). However, the judge will see how “reasonable” both parties are. In other words, your spouse will be ordered to pay your legal fees if only the request is evaluated as reasonable and that your positions are in fact reasonable as presented in court.
Is Alimony is Forever in Arizona?
Courts in Arizona typically set alimony for a specific period of time, such as until a child comes of age. The purpose of alimony is to provisionally support a spouse in need. But alimony is not financial life support. If the receiving spouse dies, remarries or cohabits with another, then alimony can be terminated. Generally speaking, the longer the duration of the underlying marriage, the longer the potential duration of payout on spousal maintenance.
Creditors will Only Go After the Spouse for Debts He or She Agrees to Pay Off
Arizona is a “community property” state. That means that any debts incurred during a marriage become the presumptive responsibility of both spouses. The actual person who signed the loan agreement may not always matter. This status applies even after a divorce. Your spouse could agree to pay off a credit card loan or the home equity line of credit in the divorce agreement, but you won’t be completely off the hook. If the spouse fails to pay, the third party creditors could come after you. Any agreement in a divorce is between you and the spouse, not the creditor.
Filing Together: A Joint Petition
A bankruptcy case starts when an individual, a married couple, or a business files official bankruptcy paperwork to the court. A married couple filing together will submit a “joint petition” containing the financial information of both spouses in one set of documents.
Divorcing couples often file together because it can be more efficient. For example, filing a joint petition comes with the following benefits:
the bankruptcy will wipe out (discharge) the qualifying debt of both spouses, thereby reducing the issues to be decided in divorce court, and it costs less to file bankruptcy together as opposed to apart.
Married couples are not obligated to file together, however. If one spouse needs bankruptcy protection immediately, an individual filing might make sense. Or each spouse might find it easier to qualify for bankruptcy after the divorce due to a mutual drop in income. But when it’s feasible, many couples find that filing together streamlines the divorce process.
Bankruptcy and Divorce Costs
Bankruptcy filing fees are the same for joint and individual filings. So filing a joint bankruptcy with your spouse before a divorce can save you a lot of legal fees. Also, if you decide to hire a bankruptcy attorney, your attorney fees will likely be much lower for a joint bankruptcy than if each of you filed separately. However, you should let your bankruptcy attorney know about your upcoming divorce as there may be a conflict of interest for him or her to represent you both.
Filing for bankruptcy before a divorce can also simplify the issues regarding debt and property division and lower your divorce costs as a result.
Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a liquidation bankruptcy designed to get rid of your unsecured debts such as credit card debt and medical bills. In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you usually receive a discharge after only a few months. So it can be completed quickly before a divorce.
By contrast, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy lasts three to five years because you have to pay back some or all of your debts through a repayment plan. So if you were looking to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it might be a better idea to file individually after the divorce because it takes a long time to complete.
Wiping out your debts jointly through bankruptcy will simplify the property division process in a divorce. However, before filing a joint bankruptcy, you must make sure that your state allows you enough exemptions to protect all property you own between you and your spouse. Certain states allow you to double the exemption amounts if you file jointly. So if you own a lot of property, it may be a better idea to file a joint bankruptcy if you can double your exemptions.
If you can’t double your exemptions and you have more property than you can exempt in a joint bankruptcy, it may be more advantageous to file individually after the property has been divided in the divorce. Also, keep in mind that if you file bankruptcy during an ongoing divorce the automatic stay will put a hold on the property division process until the bankruptcy is completed.
Discharging Marital Debt
Litigating which debts should be assigned to each spouse in a divorce can be a costly and time-consuming process. Further, ordering one spouse to pay a certain debt in a divorce decree does not change the other spouse’s obligations toward that creditor.
For example, let’s say your ex-husband was ordered in the divorce to pay a joint credit card you had together. If he doesn’t pay it or files bankruptcy, then you are still on the hook for the debt, and the creditor can come after you to collect it. If you end up paying the debt, you have a right to be reimbursed by your ex-husband because he violated the divorce decree. This holds true even if he filed bankruptcy because he can discharge his obligation to pay the creditor but he cannot discharge his obligations to you under the divorce decree.
However, trying to collect from your ex will usually mean spending more money to pursue him in court. As a result, it may be in both spouses’ best interest to file bankruptcy and wipe out their combined debts before a divorce.
Income Qualification for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
If you intend to file a Chapter 7, the decision to file before or after a divorce can come down to income if you maintain a single household. If you wish to file jointly, you must include your combined income in the bankruptcy. If your joint income is too high and you don’t pass the Chapter 7 means test, you might not be able to qualify for a Chapter 7.
This can happen even if each spouse’s income individually is low enough to qualify on his or her own. This is because Chapter 7 income limits are based on household size and the limit for a household of two is not twice that of a single person household (it’s usually only slightly higher). In that case, it may be necessary to wait until each spouse has a separate household after the divorce to file bankruptcy.