Initial Court Filings
To initiate a Court proceeding, a party files a "Petition" with the County Clerk and pays the appropriate filing fee.
Following the filing on the initial pleadings, the court will assign the case to a Superior Court Judge. The same Judge will hear all matters throughout your case unless they are moved to another area of law within the court, which happens from time to time.
Parent Information Program
In all cases where custody and/or parenting time of minor children are an issue, a state statue mandates that both parties must complete a court approved Parent Information Program. You are required to attend the 3 hour class within 45 days of the initial court filing. Be sure to retain a copy of the Certificate of Completion from this program. The court requires the certificate to be filed prior to issuing final orders for custody and parenting time.
Negotiation or Litigation
Once the Petition and Response are filed, cases can proceed in one of two ways. The parties may negotiate a full settlement and jointly sign a consent Decree where the division of every asset and every debt, child support, spousal support and tax issues must be agreed upon. A consent Decree signed by both parties is submitted for the court's approval and a hearing will not be necessary. If an agreed upon settlement cannot be reached, the case may be resolved by trial. At trial any outstanding issues will be decided by the Judge. Typically it takes anywhere from 4-5 months to get on the Judge's calendar for a trail date.
While a case is pending, both parties are entitled to request "discovery" from the other party. Discovery is essentially the exchange of all relevant information regarding a case.
Custody Evaluations of Children
In cases where custody is an issue, a party may request a custody evaluation. Upon a motion of a party, an evaluator may be appointed by the Court from an approved list of mental health professionals.
Protection of Children's Interest
If issues regarding a child(s) become worse during the case, either party can request the court appoint a "Best Interest Attorney". This attorney is independent of either party and their counsel and operate solely in the child(s) best interest.
In some cases, parties request court-ordered relief in the interim of a case (before trial). This is referred to as "Temporary Orders". These orders govern both parties' actions while the case is pending.
Resolution Management Conference
The purpose of the Resolution Management Conference is to assist the Court with case management to keep cases moving along to final resolution. It can also help the parties identify what matters can be readily agreed upon and put those agreements on the record; and determine which matters are in dispute and how disputed matters may best be resolved.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Conference
With the recent changes to the rules that govern family law cases in Arizona, there is a new emphasis on using Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) to try to resolve cases. Maricopa County has an excellent program in which a Commissioner or Judge Pro Tem is appointed to oversee a formal settlement conference and offer their opinion on the likelihood of success of each party’s position.
Mediation is another form of ADR in which the parties and their attorneys meet with a Mediator to discuss the outstanding issues in a case. Mediation is confidential, voluntary, and there is no requirement that you must reach an agreement. Either party may also request that the court schedule a Parenting Conference with a court-appointed Mediator to mediate child custody and parenting time issues.
If a full resolution cannot be reached through Mediation, ADR, settlement conference, or negotiations with the opposing party, a trial will be necessary. There is no way to predict how the Judge may decide certain issues in a case. If you disagree with the Judge's decision, you have the right to appeal. However appeals are usually only successful when the Judge has clearly reached a decision that was not supported by the evidence adducted at trial, or if new evidence has been discovered. A Judge's trial decision will not be overturned unless it can be clearly shown that an abuse of discretion has occurred.