Arizona: Help–my spouse won’t sign the papers!

Arizona law won’t let either spouse be ‘held hostage’ in marriage

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We get questions

What if  I have legally filed for divorce, and done everything I know,  but my spouse refuses to sign the papers?

Basically, what you’re asking is, “Can I be held in a marriage against my will?”

In a word, the short answer is, “No.”

Requirements must be met

However, the full answer is, “It depends.” All your paperwork must be legal, with all the T-s crossed and all the I-s dotted–and this includes proper service on your spouse.

Obviously, the easiest way to ensure everything is proper is to retain a compatible, trained and experienced attorney who knows Arizona family law inside and out as well being familiar with all local court rules and the various judges.

For example, working on your own as a pro se litigant (that is, without benefit of an attorney), your original petition (and any ancillary papers) could be flawed.  If that is the case and your spouse has hired a competent attorney, it’s highly likely the attorney has pointed out such flaws to your spouse. In such cases, responding spouses may resort to “dragging their feet,” perhaps as a stall tactic to improve their legal positions–or simply as  retaliation, knowing that doing so will cause anxiety and frustration.

In other words, if “the other side” knows the court is likely to dismiss the case, there’s no pressure because there’s little threat of a “default judgment.” Once spouses are legally served with notification of the petition, they have 20 days to respond. In lieu of a proper, legal response, the plaintiff files a motion for default judgment, and the court is almost sure to award the plaintiff all requests.

Why do respondents fail to reply? It could be for reasons previously mentioned, or it could be the respondent doesn’t realize the gravity of notice from the court (that is, “hoping it will just go away”)–or it could be something along the lines of simply being sick of the whole thing and therefore has no objection to the plaintiff’s eventual obtaining of a default judgment.

Residency requirements

One of the spouses must be an Arizona resident for at least 90 days. This applies to military personnel, as well: being stationed in Arizona for at least 90 days qualifies as residency.

The petitioner files for dissolution of marriage in the Superior Court of the county of residence.

Proper service

Several documents must be provided to the respondent, either by “a registered process server or an authorized law enforcement officer . . . or by having the other party sign a document to accept service,” according to the Maricopa County Superior Court. However, a spouse who refuses to file a response is unlikely to waive notification and will probably have to be served. The court also says, “You may also serve by means of postal or commercial delivery by which you can obtain and file with the Court a copy of the Respondent’s (and no one else’s) signature of receipt of the package containing the court papers. If the Respondent lives out-of-state, he or she may be served by means of mail, or commercial delivery, by which you can obtain and file with the Court a copy of the Respondent’s (and no one else’s) signature of receipt of the package containing the court papers.”

Waiting period

Then you wait. For one, dissolution of marriage can not be granted until 60 days have passed. As for the response, says the court, “After service of the petition, the Respondent must file a response within 20 days if he or she lives in Arizona. If the Respondent lives outside of Arizona, he or she would have 30 days to file a response. If service was completed by publication, the waiting time is 60 days after the 1st day service was published.”

Filing for default judgment

Again according to the court:”

If you want to set a default hearing, you must complete the “Application and Affidavit of Default” and file it with the Clerk of the Court. You must be sure service of the petition was complete, and that the other party did not file a written Response or Answer with the court.

At the time you file the “Application and Affidavit of Default” with the Clerk of the Court, make sure you have two (2) copies of the “Application and Affidavit of Default” date-stamped by the Clerk. You must mail or hand-deliver one copy to the other party the day that you filed the “Application and Affidavit of Default” with the Clerk of the Court. After you have given the other party a copy of the “Application and Affidavit of Default” you must wait 10 court days.

If the other party still does not file a written Response or Answer in 10 court days, you may be able request a default hearing date.

To request a default hearing, call 602-372-3332.

Obviously, this all entails quite a bit of paperwork and knowledge of the legal system and local court rules. Furthermore, your situation may be more complicated if you are seeking to end a covenant marriage.

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