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Written by Canterbury Law Group

Three Tips to Enduring Divorce

Divorces are difficult for everyone. While nobody wants to go through the process of divorce, it is, of course, can be necessary.

According to Psychology Today, nearly 40% of marriages ended in divorce in 2017. Think about that. That’s quite many people terminating their marriages.

When marriage trendy headed south, what should you pay attention to reduce overall stress and financial burdens in your life?

Divorce lawyers in Scottsdale recommend these three tips to make the divorce process as smooth as possible. Or you can choose not to file.  Either way, knowledge is power.

UNDERSTAND BOTH PARTIES’ FINANCIAL ASSETS

Before you can even begin negotiating marital assets, each spouse should seek to understand the others’ financial status. Too often, one spouse is in the dark about exactly what assets their significant other has/owns. It’s important to consider ALL financial assets: pensions, retirement accounts, bank accounts, properties, vehicles, etc. Having just a general understanding of these assets can lead to problems during divorce.

Here is the good news: If you file for divorce, your divorce attorney will seek and acquire all the “hidden assets” from your spouse through Court appointed rules and regulations.

AVOID EXPENSIVE LAWYERS

While many people feel the need to hire an “established lawyer” right away, you will be draining your finances more than you really need to. Since the system immediately starts generating work for the attorney (as soon as you submit your filing), you will be charged from the get-go. Things that will be set in motion include, but are not limited to, include financial relief for child support and counsel fees.

Sooner rather than later, you are thousands of dollars in the hole, and that may not even include a court appearance. Initiating the divorce in such an aggressive manner will not only prove to be costly but will also lead to greater tension and potential resentment.

Rather than rushing into the legal process, approach things amicably and have productive conversations. If both parties agree to work together in a civil manner, mediation may be a better option. Not only is this more affordable, but it can alleviate things quicker and more efficiently.

DETERMINE THE RIGHT TIME

Instead of rushing to make divorce official, consider all of the financial matters that come into play when deciding to file for divorce right then and there or at a later time. Timing can also largely impact the “equitable distribution of assets and liabilities.” Your house, amongst other assets, can be a huge factor in determining when you want to file.

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Written by Canterbury Law Group

Divorce Settlement in Arizona

Divorce settlement via private mediation is common in some states, where some courts may require couples to settle their problems before contested trial. Arizona is not one of these states. Divorcing couples can directly go to trial without any legal obligation to negotiate via a mediator. But that does not mean divorce settlement is impossible or not worthwhile in Arizona. The state’s family courts are dealing with a massive backlog.   Six or twelve-month backlogs are not uncommon.  Therefore, if you want your divorce case to proceed faster, the settlement might be the best option through private mediation.

There are multiple ways to settle your divorce case with your soon-to-be-ex. The easiest path is to talk to him or her civilly with your divorce attorney in Scottsdale present. You can also hire a third party mediator, with your attorney attending such mediation, to facilitate talks. Divorce mediators are not attorneys, but impartial third-parties who help couples hold discussions. Mediators can help when spouses are not on speaking terms.  You can have your lawyer present, as can your spouse.

Some individuals may refuse to talk to their divorcing spouse and prefer to sort out differences in court. This, however, could be counterproductive to both parties. Here are several reasons why settling a divorce case can be to your advantage:

Save Money

The biggest motivator that drives many divorcing couples to settle via mediation instead of going to trial is the money and expense. Make no mistake, divorce is expensive in Arizona. When an attorney has to represent you at trial, the expenses can pile up because the trial prep is extensive and time-consuming. You will also have to pay documentation fees. Attorney fees and other costs are much lower when you settle.

Save Time

As mentioned above, state divorce courts in Arizona hear so many cases that you should not expect your case to sail through the court without a hitch. Even setting the initial trial date could take months if not a year or more.   If you don’t want the divorce to drag on for years, do consider talking things through and settling through private five-way mediation.

Make Your Priorities Clear

Settling the divorce with your spouse and attorneys is the best way to make your priorities clear. You will have plenty of opportunities to have your say before the final divorce decree is signed. When the case goes before a judge, it is the judge who ultimately gets the final say. The trial won’t go on forever either. The judge is under pressure to conclude the case within a limited amount of time. Therefore, it’s not unlikely that you may not like the judge’s final ruling. It’s possible that the judge may rule in a manner that neither party is satisfied with. It’s usually the case when it comes to decreeing property division and alimony. When you settle, you will have more control over the outcome.  It’s better to choose than to be chosen by a random person in a black robe.

Protect the Children from Unwanted Hostility

Most important, active divorces take the biggest toll on your dependent children. If your divorce involves kids, you do them a disfavor by dragging out a divorce case for years. If you don’t want your children embroiled in a nasty divorce fight, choose to settle with the spouse. Negotiations can also make co-parenting plans more bearable.  Private mediation can get you to the finish line far sooner and with less expense.

If you want the best outcome from your divorce, try to settle your differences and focus on practical issues. Negotiating a settlement civilly is the best case scenario for both parties and for children in most divorces. If you need more information, contact us to discuss options without charge.

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Written by Canterbury Law Group

Divorce and Taxes in Arizona

The tax season for 2018 starts on January 29. It can be a particularly stressful time, especially now that the national tax laws have changed. If you are in the middle of a divorce or have recently filed for a divorce, this season’s filings can be quite overwhelming. Here is what you should know about divorce and filing taxes in Arizona so that you don’t make a penalty-incurring mistake:

Divorce Attorney Fees are Not Tax Deductible in General

Clients in divorce cases often want to know if attorney fees are tax deductible. Typically, the answer is no. The IRS does allow a minor exception for divorce attorney fees paid during “collection or production of gross income.” This clause doesn’t cover a majority of fees you would pay a divorce attorney. But you can ask your divorce attorney in Scottsdale whether the fees you pay are tax deductible.

Your Filing Status Determines Tax Liabilities

When you file your IRS form, you are given three options to choose from as your civil status: married, single, or head of household. Tax liabilities for each category slightly differs, so the box you check matters a great deal for your individual tax obligations. If the divorce is not yet final, it can be difficult to determine whether to file as a single person or jointly with your soon-to-be-ex. You can consult with a lawyer to decide what to do. Or you could calculate what you owe under all three categories and determine which is most advantageous to you.

Spousal Support and Child Support are Distinct Categories

When filing your taxes, do not confuse alimony or spousal support with child support. Spousal support, which is sometimes referred to as alimony, is paid by one former spouse to another, for the benefit of the recipient. Child support, on the other hand, is paid to an adult who oversees the well-being of a child, but for the direct benefit of the child.

If you are a custodial parent recipient of child support, you don’t have to list it as taxable income. If you are the parent paying child support, you cannot obtain a tax deduction for the amount paid.

Spousal support works the other way. The individual who receives alimony payment must list it as taxable income. The paying spouse can obtain a tax deduction on the alimony payment. Note that the new GOP tax bill made an important change to this provision that will take effect on December 31, 2018. So it won’t affect this tax season but will start next year. Under the new law, alimony tax deduction is eliminated. The tax obligation is reversed. The spouse that pays the alimony will not be able to report a deduction, while the spouse that receives alimony no longer has to report it as taxable income.

Property Division may be Subject to Tax When Sold

When spouses divide property during a divorce, it is not a taxable act under the IRS Code. However, there’s a hidden clause called “tax basis” that might result in a tax payment. Tax basis is the purchase price of a property that is used to determine capital gains tax. Not all properties, such as a residence, incur capital gains tax following a divorce. However, certain property, such as investments, may incur capital gains tax when sold after a divorce.

For the most part, your divorce decree would determine how taxes should be paid for some property categories, such as IRAs.

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Written by Canterbury Law Group

Holidays and Parenting Time in Arizona

The end-of- the-year holiday season is typically the biggest time of the year for many families to get together. If the parents are divorced, the Christmas season could bring forth new disputes. It’s very important to protect children from any sort of drama during the holiday weeks, especially when they expect to spend their school vacation enjoying themselves. In Arizona, the divorce decree usually also includes a separate parenting time plan that lays out who time is shared over the holidays.

Holiday Parenting Time Under Arizona Law

The family courts in Arizona have a statutory requirement for divorcing couples with children to provide a holiday schedule. Under A.R.S. §25-403.02 (C), this plan must include a “practical schedule” for how parenting time is allocated during the holidays. There should be specifications for with whom the child would reside, how the child should be transported, and a reconciliation method in case disputes arise.

Parents should specifically arrange a parenting time plan for the year-end holidays. Unlike other vacation times, the November-December period involves many public holidays, seasonal celebrations, and family gatherings. The child might require transportation more so than during other long holidays like the summer vacation. It’s highly recommended that divorcing parents get family law help in Scottsdale to come up with a reasonable plan.

Organizing a Parenting Time Plan for the Holidays

Very generally speaking, parenting plans during the holidays can be developed in three primary ways. First, some parents agree to have the children for Christmas every other year. For example, mom could have the kids for Christmas and Thanksgiving during even years, and dad during the odd years. Some parents divide holiday time evenly during the day. For example, the kids would spend Christmas mornings with mom and the evenings with dad. Other parents designate certain holidays for themselves. For example, the kids may spend every Thanksgiving with mom and Christmas with dad.

Of course, parenting plans can be adjusted according to different religions and cultures. Adjustments can also be made depending on the vacation time the parent gets. However, it’s very important to have the holiday season planned ahead and in writing. The arrangements are ideally made months in advance unless it’s already specified during the finalization of the divorce. But practical concerns do arise every year, so ex-spouse’s with children should make arrangements early.

Be Specific with the Details

More importantly, divorcing parents must make sure the parenting plan is highly specific. For example, separating parents may decide to give mom the kids for Christmas during even years. But that’s a very basic provision. Is “Christmas” limited to just Christmas day? Will the children require transportation from parent to parent? On which day and at what time will the kids be dropped off and picked up again? These specifics should be handled in the parenting plan.

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Written by Canterbury Law Group

Same Sex Divorce in Arizona

Same sex marriage has finally become possible in Arizona, after the landmark Oberfell vs. Hodges Supreme Court ruling in 2015. Arizona’s prior definition of marriage as “between a man and a woman” was struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. In another two cases, U.S. District Court Judge John Sedgewick gave favorable ruling recognizing rights of same sex couples as the same as rights of heterosexual couples.

While this is all good news for the LGBTQ community in the state, not all marriages survive, and that includes same sex marriages. Some marriages inevitably end in divorces.  If you are seeking to divorce your same sex spouse in Arizona, you can discuss legal options with our firm.

In September 2017 the Arizona Supreme Court handed down its landmark ruling in McLaughlin v. Jones which now mandates that same sex female co-parents be granted identical legal and custodial rights in a divorce between a same sex female couple.

Rights of Divorcing Same Sex Couples

In Arizona, same sex couples now have the same rights as heterosexual  couples when divorcing. The separating couple will also have the same obligations when dividing property and paying alimony or child support. Child custody will be determined the same as in the case of hetero couples, with priority given to the child’s health and wellbeing.  It no longer matters which Mother “carried the baby to term” when allocating rights to both Mothers in a divorce.   This is a significant shift in the legal landscape as of late 2017.

Residency Requirements

Arizona’s residency requirement applies to same sex couples just like any other couple. At least one party of the divorcing couple must have resided in the state for 90 days at least before filing the divorce papers. This can be a somewhat difficult requirement to fulfill for same sex couples who may have recently moved. Because federal law now recognizes same sex marriage in all 50 states, you will have to check with your local divorce attorney on the jurisdictional time limits in your state.

Grounds for Divorce

Arizona does not require couples in non-covenant marriages to provide any grounds for divorce when filing a case. As same sex couples fall into this category, the only ground required is that the marriage is irretrievably broken. One spouse can successfully claim so even if the other doesn’t want to divorce. In case either one of the spouses wants to live apart, it’s possible to file for a legal separation as well.  Some people pursue legal separation so that they can remain on each other’s health insurance after the fact.

Child Custody

Determining child custody in a contentious divorce can be as difficult for a same sex couple as it is for any couple. Because of the 2017 McLaughlin decision, the requirements, rules, and the family law that apply to hetero couples apply equally to same sex couples.  As always, it’s strongly recommended for the couple to resolve custody disputes amicably with the aid of a mediator if possible. It’s best to negotiate shared parenting time in advance with the help of lawyers instead of going to battle in front of a judge.

Same sex couples in Arizona have no reason to believe that a divorce case will be handled much differently than divorce cases for heterosexual couples. If the divorce is particularly contentious, then getting advice from an experienced attorney will be a must. You will have to consult with a family law expert to learn more about child custody.

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Written by Canterbury Law Group

What is the Difference between Divorce and Legal Separation in Arizona?

In Arizona, there are two ways to formally and legally remove your estate from your spouse: divorce and legal separation. It’s important to understand that these are two different processes. Legal separation is not another term for divorce. While there are certain overlapping legal similarities between the two, it’s important to understand that these are two different things. Read below to find answers to commonly asked questions about divorce and legal separation in Arizona:

What is the Difference between Divorce and Legal Separation?

Obtaining a divorce means that the marriage is legally dissolved, with all assets separated, and both spouses legally become single people capable of remarriage and child custody rights are legally established. In contrast, a legal separation does not dissolve a marriage. The spouses will be technically still married to each other, but also judicially separated. However, like with a divorce, virtually all assets and debts are typically separated between the two spouses. But unlike in a divorce, the spouses cannot claim to be single persons for any legal reason nor can they remarry.  Most people pursue Legal Separation to maintain valuable health care coverage, among other reasons.

Why Seek Legal Separation Instead of a Divorce?

Legal separation may be suited for some people over a divorce for several reasons. Most spouses who do not want to divorce due to religious reasons or personal convictions can still undergo legal separation to judicially extricate oneself from a spouse. Spouses that want to live apart but without getting a divorce can obtain a legal separation.

Some people prefer to legally separate rather than divorce in order to keep valuable health insurance benefits of a group plan. As mentioned above, legally separated spouses are still considered married, and thus can benefit from continued spousal health insurance coverage. Similarly, those who have been married for less than 10 years can continue to receive social security benefits on their spouse’s federal benefits following a legal separation, unlike with a divorce in which such benefits are completely terminated for the lower earning spouse.

If you need to formally cut all legal, civic and other ties to a spouse, then you will need a divorce.

Grounds for Divorce or Legal Separation

Arizona is a no-fault state. It does not matter who did what to whom, or who cheated with whom.  Therefore, for both divorce and legal separation, you don’t need to show any reason for divorce to a court. If one spouse desires to divorce then the court will grant the divorce. Similarly, spouses do not need to prove a reason to get a legal separation. Claiming that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” is reason enough to obtain a Decree of Legal Separation as long as the other spouse does not object.  Only one of the two spouses must desire the divorce.  The person who “wants to hang on” cannot prevent the legal divorce from ultimately taking place.

What if One Spouse Insists on a Divorce?

Unlike in a divorce, legal separation is only granted if one spouse does not object. If one spouse wants a legal separation but the other wants a divorce, the court will convert the case and grant the divorce. Because a spouse can object, it’s important to discuss and make sure this is what both parties want. Consult with a local divorce attorney in Scottsdale to discuss your options.

What if the Legally Separating Couple has Children?

Child custody issues for legally separating couples are handled similarly to a divorce by Arizona courts. The courts will always prioritize the needs of the children. A family court will also determine parenting time and parental responsibilities.  You will receive formal judge imposed custody orders from the Court under either scenario.

What Happens to Marital Assets and Debts When a Couple Legally Separates?

Asset and debt separation for legal separations are also handled similarly to divorces. A court will make the determination.   Usually, the date upon which the original Legal Separation or Divorce Petition is “served” on the receiving spouse is the date that the community terminates.  Put another way, any salary or paychecks received after the date of service will usually be the earning spouse’s sole and separate property.  Exceptions apply, however.  Please consult seasoned legal counsel on all of these issues.

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Written by Canterbury Law Group

Alimony Factors in Arizona

Alimony is the former name for what’s now called spousal maintenance. Alimony is financial assistance that the court orders one spouse to provide another spouse when a marriage ends. One spouse must request spousal support for the court to issue an order compelling the payments. There are several factors that a court takes into account when determining alimony. The court first examines certain qualifying factors to determine if one spouse even can procure alimony and then and only then decides how much and for how long.   There are no juries in Arizona family court, only a sitting judge.  So whether you like it or not, one person, in a black robe, will someday make a big decision on how much and how long your ex-spouse may or may not be paid upon divorce.

The Need for Spousal Maintenance

The court first decides whether one spouse actually qualifies for spousal maintenance and whether the other has the means to pay, before ordering maintenance be paid. A spouse may request alimony if he or she does not have enough property after marital distribution to provide for oneself, or is somehow unable to find proper employment. If one spouse has significantly contributed financially to the other spouse’s education, then alimony can be requested by the spouse who contributed. The court will look at the other’s spouse’s financial situation as well. A divorce lawyer in Scottsdale can help you file an alimony petition.

Duration of Marriage Affects Alimony

The longer the separating couple has been married, the higher the chance for alimony for one spouse may be. Generally speaking, if married less than 5 years, procuring maintenance from the wealthier spouse can be a challenge, or impossible. Once one hits ten years or more, the ability to obtain maintenance for some period of time appears to jump significantly.  If you have been married 30 years or more you can almost guarantee that someone is going to be paying spousal maintenance to the other.

The law of Arizona specifically states to take the duration of marriage into consideration when setting alimony. However, the law does not specify the ideal duration or a minimum duration. So even a spouse that was married for just a week can technically request alimony.  As noted, however, marriages of short duration rarely qualify for a payout.

Can Alimony Be Granted to Unfaithful Spouses?

The short answer is yes.  This is a common question for some divorcees. Understandably, a spouse may not want to pay alimony to another who has been unfaithful throughout the marriage. So, some spouses may prefer to have such spousal misconduct be a factor in determining alimony. However, in Arizona, divorce is not granted based on spousal misconduct. Arizona is a no fault jurisdiction.  Thus, couples can file for divorce in Arizona without providing a reason. If one spouse contests the divorce, the other spouse only has to show to the court that the marriage is broken beyond repair. Marital misconduct is not legally relevant to the divorce proceedings, and therefore will not play a role in any alimony fight. Unfaithfulness on one side does not lead to automatically denying alimony for that spouse, nor does the court demand the cheating spouse to pay the other. The same applies for dissolution of covenant marriages.  Long story short, while he or she may have cheated—he or she may still get paid by the Court depending on your income and length of marriage.

Prenup Roles in Alimony

A prenuptial agreement is an optional private contractual agreement that spouses enter into before marriage. When a couple divorces, a prenup is upheld for the most part if all provisions are in accordance with the law. If one spouse has agreed not to seek alimony in a prenup, the court will often uphold this in divorce proceedings. However, the court may rule otherwise if the spouse that needs alimony could end up in a welfare state without spousal maintenance. Arizona law allows courts to decline the validity of prenups if one spouse could end up in dire financial need following divorce.

Determining alimony is affected by many factors. Consult with a competent divorce lawyer to secure alimony as you desire, or to defend vigorously against paying it.

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Written by Canterbury Law Group

Common Misconceptions about Divorce in Arizona

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.

Hopefully, now you are a bit more enlightened about what getting a divorce means in Arizona.

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Written by Canterbury Law Group

How to Find a Divorce Mediator in Arizona

A divorce mediator is a neutral third-party that tries to facilitate legal negotiations between spouses who are getting divorced. If you and your spouse cannot come to conciliatory terms on your own, you may require the services of a divorce mediator.  Some spouses conduct the mediation with just a mediator and no lawyers (3-way mediation), and others bring their own lawyers to aid their representation in front of a private mediator (5-way mediation).

Hiring a divorce mediator is not the same as hiring an attorney. A divorce mediator has the interests of both spouses in mind. That’s why your divorce lawyer in Scottsdale cannot typically act as a mediator; the lawyer will always act on your behalf, and the same goes for the other party’s lawyer as well. Divorce mediators listen to both parties, assist positive communications, and try to get the divorce negotiations going.

Here is a list of qualities to look for when finding a divorce mediator in Arizona:

Neutrality is Very Important

The purpose of hiring a divorce mediator is to level the playing field and make the talking table less hostile and aggressive. So make sure the person you hire is absolutely neutral. That means no friends, family, colleagues or divorce lawyers. The divorce mediator will act as an advocate, but not a legal advocate. All responsible divorce mediators encourage spouses to hire divorce lawyers separately to review any legally-binding agreements.  Mediations can be one day or a series of days.  Both spouses may want to consult their own privately retained lawyers before, during or after mediation sessions.

Search for Mediators who Offer Flat Fees

No matter what, you will both have to pay for a divorce mediator. Good divorce mediators understand that the financial costs of divorce are high, and offer affordable rates. Ideally, find a mediator that charges only a flat fee for all services provided. Avoid the ones that charge various additional fees. Divorce mediation in Arizona can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000. The spouses can split the costs.  This is usually far cheaper than heavily contested litigation with lawyers on both sides.  Even if mediation ‘fails’, you will be far better equipped to enter the court system against your spouse with your separately retained legal counsel.

Choose a Mediator who Knows the Law

Divorce mediators do not have to be lawyers, but they typically are and are always knowledgeable about the law. It’s best to choose one of these mediators so he or she can help you both make informed decisions regarding the separation process. During negotiations, an educated mediator will be able to make suggestions according to the established law. You can then have these suggestions run by your lawyer to see if they are in your best interest.

Strong and Stable Communication is a Must

Divorce mediators typically excel in communication. However, communication goes both ways. If you are, for any reason, uncomfortable communicating with the divorce mediator, it’s time to look for a new one. Mediators must encourage fairness with the other spouse and act swiftly to diffuse problematic situations. Without the proper manner of communication, a divorce mediator will not offer many benefits to you.   You can walk out, your spouse can walk out, and in some cases, the mediator will terminate the session if he or she believes that a final mediated settlement is not achievable.

It’s best to hire an experienced divorce mediator who has been doing this job for years. Many private litigation attorneys practice divorce mediation part-time. You might also consider a full-time divorce mediator who can dedicate full attention to your case. The problem with divorce lawyers acting as mediators is that lawyers are used to battling for a client, not acting as a neutral party. So, hire a neutral mediator and hire a lawyer separately to watch out for your best interest in the negotiations.  As noted, some parties elect to conduct 5-way mediations: (1) Husband (2) Husband’s legal counsel (3) Wife (4) Wife’s legal counsel and (5) the Mediator.

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Written by Canterbury Law Group

 How to Divide Property When Getting a Divorce in Arizona

Property division can become challenging for divorcing couples. However, this need not be a challenge.  And If you and the soon-to-be-ex cannot come to good terms on your own, a court will have to do it for you. Under Arizona’s community property law, debts and assets accumulated during a marriage belong to both parties 50/50 in the absence of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that says otherwise.  Arizonian family courts emphasize fairness when dividing up a property. Unlike in some states, the property may not be divided equally 50/50, but equitably in the eyes of the judge assigned to your case.  This can sometimes mean 55/45 or 60/40 or 40/60—every case is unique.

No matter what the facts, you will have to hire a talented divorce attorney in Scottsdale, Phoenix or your local area in the state. Absent years of litigation experience, you likely won’t be able to capably represent your interests in court without a deep knowledge of divorce and property laws in the state. If you are undergoing a process of dividing property in a divorce, here are some important items you should be aware of:

Determine if the Property Belongs to the Community or the Separate Category

There is a very clear distinction between community and separate property under Arizona law. Separate property is assets a spouse owned before marriage, inherited solely during the marriage, was gifted solely during the marriage, or purchased alone during the marriage with sole and separate finances. A prenuptial or postnuptial contract may also designate that certain items are to be treated as separate property.  Absent these facts, the law presumes all property and all debt, acquired or originated during the marriage, is community property.

Courts in Arizona only have jurisdiction over community property, not either spouse’s sole and separate property. Each party will have to provide evidence for separate property claims in the form of financial documents. It is possible that property that was originally separate later becomes community property during the marriage. For example, a house purchased by one spouse before marriage may become community property following the marriage if both spouses names are later placed on the recorded deed.

The reason that each is different is that the distinction between community and separate property during the marriage can be blurry. Some spouses may have unknowingly turned separate assets into community property by the “commingling” process, where two assets are combined. A bank account owned by one spouse before marriage becomes marital property if the other spouse makes deposits to it later with community income. Sometimes assets are partially community and partially separate, such as houses and retirement accounts. A business that one spouse operated but later received contributions from the other spouse after marriage can fall into this category.   A seasoned lawyer can walk you through these issues, and advance them in a court of law.

Set Values for Property

Regardless of whether community or separate property, all assets and debts must be assigned a monetary value before equitable division. The two spouses can do this themselves, or a court can do it in case the parties cannot agree on values. Typically appraisals are used to set values of real assets, like houses, antiques, or vehicles. The toughest asset to value can sometimes be retirement accounts.  You may have to hire a financial professional like an actuary to ascertain the value of a retirement account and the growth in value of such retirement assets since the original marriage date.

The Process of Dividing Property

You can see the first section above that determining whether a property is community or separate can be complicated. Ideally, both parties come to an agreement out of court. But this rarely happens when multiple assets are in question and the stakes involve hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.

Courts may divide up property in multiple ways. In the case of property that is partially separate, the court may offer a spouse the option of buying out the remaining portion from the other. In some cases, it may be recommended to mutually sell the assets and divide the proceeds. Some property, like family homes, can be co-owned even following a divorce if children are living there or visiting each year.

Arizona courts typically divide property approximately equally among the divorcing partners. There are only a handful of exceptions to the rule. For example, if one spouse is known to have squandered money through irresponsible activities like gambling or drug use, the court may rule in favor of the other. In the case of property under massive debt, the court may rule against the spouse responsible for the debt.  At the end of the day, you will need the guidance and stewardship of experienced legal counsel to navigate these issues for you.

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