Legal Separation in Arizona: Understanding Choices

Your Arizona Guide to Legal Separation


Expert Guidance To Legal Separation In Arizona 

Divorce isn’t always the best option for a married couple and their family. Instead, some people may choose legal separation, a process through which married couples can separate and live apart while still maintaining their legal status as married. Unlike divorce, legal separation does not end the marriage, but rather establishes a court-ordered agreement on important issues such as child custody, child support, spousal support, and property division.

Benjamin Legal can customize the separation agreement to meet the specific needs of the couple. We know that circumstances change. In Arizona, all property orders are permanent and final and cannot be modified. However, any agreements regarding children are always modifiable in the future.

Arizona Legal Separation FAQs 


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What is legal separation in Arizona and how does it differ from divorce?"

Legal separation is a process where a married couple can file for a legal separation agreement in court, which outlines the terms of their separation. The terms can cover matters such as child custody, child support, spousal support and division of property. Legal separation does not end the marriage, but rather allows the couple to make financial and custodial arrangements regarding their lives going forward. The main difference between legal separation and divorce is that in a legal separation the couple remains legally married, and neither party can remarry unless and until the marriage is later dissolved.

"How do I file for legal separation in Arizona?"

To file for a legal separation in Arizona, you and/or your spouse must be a resident of Arizona, or a member of the armed forces stationed in Arizona for at least 90 days prior to filing the paperwork. If you meet these requirements, there are 3 main steps to follow:

  •  First, you must file a Petition for Legal Separation in the Superior Court in the county where you or your spouse reside.
  •  After filing the Petition, you need to serve a copy of the Petition and the accompanying legal documents onto your spouse. This can be done by having a sheriff or other process server deliver the papers in person, having your spouse sign an Acceptance of Service, or by certified mail return receipt requested.
  • After the paperwork has been served, if you are unable to finalize your matter with your spouse, you must attend a court hearing where a judge will consider your request for legal separation. If the judge approves your Petition, the legal separation agreement will be put in place to establish the terms of your separation.
"What are the benefits of choosing legal separation over divorce in Arizona?"

From a strictly legal perspective, one primary benefit of legal separation is that it allows couples to remain legally married while living separately. This allows some couples to retain certain benefits of marriage, such as some tax, social security, and military benefits. 

Separation also has other less tangible benefits, including allowing couples to take time apart to sort out their issues without completely ending the marriage. It provides a chance for reconciliation if the couple decides to give the marriage another chance.

"What is the process for property division in a legal separation in Arizona?"

During a legal separation in Arizona, property division is typically handled in the same manner as a divorce case using the following process:

  • Both parties must make a complete, full, and accurate financial disclosure of all assets and debts.
  • Once the financial disclosures have been made, the court will divide the marital property and debts equitably (fairly).
  • Once the property has been identified, it is categorized as community property or separate property based on specific Arizona laws.
  • If it is determined that the property of either spouse needs to be valued, experts are often utilized to allocate assets and debts as equitably as possible.
  • Based on the valuation, the court will equitably distribute marital assets and debts, including bank accounts, real estate, investment portfolios, and all types of personal and real property and debts.
"How does child custody and support work in a legal separation in Arizona?"

Child custody and support during a legal separation in Arizona are decided in much the same way as it is ordered in a divorce case. 

  • Child Custody: The Arizona court has the power to determine the most appropriate child custody arrangement during legal separation. Custody can be granted solely to one parent or shared jointly between both parents based on the best interests of the child(ren), which considers many factors, such as: the mental and physical well-being of all parties, the child’s relationship with the parents or other close family members, which parent is more likely to allow frequent and meaningful parenting time for the other parent, the geographical distance between the parties, and the absence (or presence) of domestic violence. 

Child Support: The court may order child support depending on the parenting time arrangement, child related expenses, and the income of each spouse. Child support orders can be changed later if circumstances change, for example, if there is a significant increase or decrease in income.