This really depends on many factors. I am asked this question very frequently by my divorce clients in Arizona. Try to think of this question as being similar to figuring out how much a house is worth. In order for someone to determine the value of a house, they need to know certain details such as where it is located, how big it is, what condition it is in, etc. With divorce cases, I need to know lots of information before answering that question, too, such as how many issues are in dispute, the kinds of issues that are in dispute, how far apart the parties are in their positions, how likely they are to reach agreements on some or all of those disputed issues, how many witnesses will be needed, how much evidence will need to be presented, what stage of the case the divorce is in right now, whether the opposing side is represented by counsel, who the judge is, etc. Most cases require a retainer of anywhere from $2,500 to $4,500. A retainer is essentially an advance deposit to cover the hourly charges as they are incurred. This should give you a rough idea of the typical fee range but in order for me to give the prospective client a more meaningful estimate, I will need that client to come to my office for a consultation. The consultation is sometimes free but usually costs $125 and there is no obligation for the client to retain my services. During that consultation, I will get some general information about the situation, answer the client’s questions, dispense appropriate legal advice, and provide a quote of how much will need to be paid if you’d like me to take the case. By the way, when I have charged for consultations, I’ve never had even one single client complain that the $125 consultation was not worth their money. As long as there are no time-sensitive issues, I can also offer payment plans and other payment options. We also accept payment by credit card, which can be helpful to clients who do not have the cash on hand to pay the retainer. If you have an uncontested divorce (see definition below), we offer much lower flat fees because those cases do not involve most of the procedures we typically see moderately to heavily contested cases.
Typically, most divorce cases in the Phoenix, Arizona are over in roughly six to eight months. If you have an “uncontested divorce,” which in Arizona I define as a divorce in which the parties completely agree on all issues from the outset of the case to completion, you can be divorced in as little as 61 days, although 90 days is a more realistic estimate in most Maricopa County Superior Court locations. On the other hand, I have seen some very heated Arizona divorce and custody cases last more than a year. We typically handle moderately to heavily contested cases.
Most divorce and custody trials in the Maricopa County courts last a half day or less. This is a sad situation because a judge really needs more time than that to hear all the details of your case. Decades ago, a divorce trial could last one to two weeks. That was sufficient time for a judge to really get to know the parties and make better decisions. Nowadays, with the crowded court dockets, it is very important to present your case in a highly organized, effective way so that you can put as much useful information in front of the judge in the short amount of time available. Over the many years I have been practicing law, I have refined and refined again how I present cases so that judges can get the most important details in a memorable way. This, I believe, has been very helpful to my clients.
In Arizona there is no such formal terminology. At our office, however, we use this term to mean a divorce in which there are no issues in dispute at all stages of the case. If you have such a case, we charge a very low, flat rate. You will know exactly how much your case will cost, because we know there will be no negotiations or arguments in court or out of court. Thus, we can offer a relatively low flat fee. Most divorce attorneys in Arizona do not offer flat fees for contested cases, because it is hard to know in advance how much time and effort each issue will take to resolve.
Unfortunately for people in this situation, Arizona, like most states, is a “no-fault” state, which means that either party can obtain a divorce at any time for any reason. The only restriction is a 60-day waiting period, measured from the time the divorce petition is legally served (delivered). That said, free counseling is available to any party to a divorce in Arizona. A certain document is filed and this document places an additional hold or freeze on the case until the counseling is completed or the filing spouse properly opts out of the counseling process. In some states, there are one or two year waiting periods before a divorce can be issued, unless certain grounds exist, such as adultery, abuse, abandonment, imprisonment, or insanity. But here in Arizona, there is no restriction. Attempts have been made in the past decade to implement a fault-based system, but those bills were killed in the legislature. Fault based systems also typically permit an unequal distribution of assets if one spouse is found to have committed one of the fault-triggers (some of which were mentioned earlier in this answer). In Arizona, judges have no such options to unequally divide assets based on the factors identified above. Even if a spouse has repeatedly cheated on the other spouse, physically abused that spouse, or otherwise did other inappropriate things toward the other spouse, the way the assets and debts are divided would be no different that if it were a “friendly divorce.” The worst thing a spouse receiving a divorce petition can do is to ignore it. There are some people who understand all of what has been mentioned in the previous part of this answer and simply stick their heads in the mud, hoping the problem will go away on its own. There are others who are working toward reconciliation with their spouse and so they ignore the legal time-bomb that has been served on them. Trying to reconcile may be commendable and appropriate, but it is still critical that the legal end of things not be ignored. Otherwise, you may find yourself defaulted and lost much of what you would have liked to have in the way of assets. You may find yourself paying unfairly large spousal maintenance or child support; if and when you can’t pay those amounts, you may find yourself locked up in jail. You may find yourself getting socked with most of the debt and losing important heirlooms or other items you assumed were yours. You therefore should call our office as soon as possible after you have been served. Do not wait until the 20th day to call our office. Although we can still help you at that late point in time, it may cost you more legal fees and you may be hampering our ability to time things in a way that’s most advantageous for you.
In Arizona assets are divided equitably, which means fairly. In practice, this often means equally. But it does not have to be equally and we’ve won cases in which an unequal distribution was made. The assets that can be divided by a court are community property assets, which are assets that were acquired during the marriage (unless by gift or inheritance). This area of the law can be tricky, but the general rule is that, in the absence of a prenuptial agreement that says otherwise, if something was acquired during the marriage and it was purchased with funds earned by either spouse during the marriage, then that item/asset/property is community property and will be divided equitably (usually equally). It can get complicated though, when you have an asset that was purchased before marriage but then payments were made on it also during the marriage. It also can be complicated when premarital funds in an account are combined with funds earned during the marriage. This is why it is often advisable for people to obtain a prenuptial agreement because it usually eliminates the litigation over these kinds of issues.
In Arizona community debt is divided equitably, which means fairly. In practice, this often means as equally as possible. But debt does not have to be divided equally even if that debt was incurred during the marriage. People often have the misconception that because a debt is in one spouse’s name alone it means that particular debt belongs entirely to that spouse. Not true. If the debt was incurred during the marriage, it is the debt of both spouses even if the debt is in the name of one spouse alone, unless certain exceptions apply. When it comes to dividing debt that is secured by collateral, typically the spouse who will be keeping the collateral also will be responsible for the debt. For example, if you are awarded a particular vehicle and there is a loan balance that is secured by that vehicle, you most likely will be the spouse who will have to make the payments on that loan.
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