Family Law

Family law

CLS assists low income Arizonans to navigate the Family Court process, focusing on victims of domestic violence and children at risk of abuse or neglect.

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2018 financial impact of CLS Family Law cases
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Approximate percentage of Arizonans representing
themselves in Family Court

Typical Family Law Issues

CLS assists with various types of family law issues, but not Juvenile Court cases for dependency or termination of parental rights. CLS can help with some guardianship and adoption cases, through the opens in a new windowChildren’s Law Center

Available family law services vary slightly from office to office.  Typical Family Law issues may include:

  • Divorce (dissolution of marriage) including property division, debt division, spousal maintenance, and legal decision making and parenting time for children.
  • Paternity
  • Legal Decision-Making (formerly “child custody” or “legal custody”)
  • Parenting Time (formerly “visitation”)
  • Enforcement – a court action to make someone follow court orders.
  • Modification – a court action to change court orders.
  • Child Support (CLS does not assist with cases involving only child support)

How do I
represent myself
in Family Court?

"How to Represent Yourself in Family Court"

Booklet
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What is the basic Family Court process?

Divorce /
Legal Separation

Flowchart
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What happens if I avoid being served with court papers?

Consequences of Avoiding Court Service

You must respond to have your voice heard in court
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“Do you need access to these documents in a language other than English? Please email us at info@clsaz.org

FAQ

Answers to the most frequently asked questions.

What are family law cases?

Family law cases are cases in the Family Court, and the cases are usually between spouses or two parents of child(ren), as opposed to cases in the Juvenile Court (dependency, guardianship, adoption, etc.). Family law cases include divorce, paternity, and child custody (now called “legal decision-making and parenting time”).

What are the family-related cases in Juvenile Court?

In Arizona, the Juvenile Court handles cases such as dependency, termination of parental rights, guardianship, and adoption. CLS does not assist with dependency cases or cases for termination of parental rights. CLS can help with some guardianship and adoption cases, through the opens in a new windowChildren’s Law Center.

What is guardianship? What is adoption?

Guardianship of a child is a legal relationship created by a court, where a non-parent (a guardian) is given the legal right and duty to care for a child (the ward).  For instance, many grandparents obtain guardianship of their grandchildren in order to enroll them in school and obtain medical care, when the children’s parents are not capable of caring for them.

Adoption is a court procedure by which an adult becomes the legal parent of someone who is not the adult’s biological child. 

CLS can help with some guardianship and adoption cases, through the opens in a new windowChildren’s Law Center.

What happens in Family Court?

In Arizona, family law cases are handled by the county Superior Courts. Family courts throughout Arizona handle cases in similar ways; however, details may be different, depending on the county where your case is. In very general terms, one party starts a case by filing a Petition with the court and having the petition served on the other party. If the other party disagrees, they file a response. To resolve the case, the parties either reach an agreement, or the court decides the issues the parties cannot agree on.

What are typical issues involved in a divorce case?

  • Divorce (dissolution of marriage) – a court process to dissolve or end a legal marriage. The divorce decree will specify everything between the spouses like legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, division of property and debt, spousal maintenance (alimony), and can change the name of either party if they took the name of the other spouse at marriage and now want to go back to the former name.
  • Property division – the court will divide the parties’ community property, which is generally all of the property acquired during the marriage, except property received by gift or inheritance.
  • Debt division – the court will divide the parties’ community debt, which is the debt incurred during the marriage.
  • Spousal maintenance (alimony) – the court can order one spouse to pay money to support the other spouse, depending on the length of the marriage, the financial resources of the parties, and other factors. If you want the court to consider whether spousal maintenance is appropriate in your case, you must ask for spousal maintenance in the Petition or the Response.
  • Legal decision-making – for minor children of the parties, the court will order who has the authority to make decisions about the children’s major life issues, such as education, counseling and medical care.
    • Joint legal decision-making – both parents make major life decisions about the children together.
    • Sole legal decision-making – one parent is given the authority to make major life decisions about the children. A parent with sole legal decision-making is still expected to keep the other parent informed.
  • Parenting Time (formerly “visitation”) – the amount of time each parent is permitted to spend with the child.

What issues are involved in a Family Court case when the parents are not married?

  • Paternity – determines the legal father of a child when the parents are not married. Unmarried parents often establish paternity by signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity at the hospital when a child is born. Once paternity is established, parents can request Family Court orders for legal decision-making, parenting time, child support, and other issues involving the children. opens in a new windowFind more information on paternity here
  • Legal Decision-Making (formerly “child custody”) – the authority to make decisions about the children’s major life issues, such as education and medical care.
    • Joint legal decision-making – both parents make major life decisions about the children together.
    • Sole legal decision-making – one parent is given the authority to make major life decisions about the children. A parent with sole legal decision-making is still expected to keep the other parent informed.
  • Parenting Time (formerly “visitation”) – the amount of time each parent is permitted to spend with the child.
  • Child Support – an amount of money one parent must pay to the other parent to contribute to the living and care expenses of a child. The amount depends on the parties’ income (or what they are capable of earning), expenses paid for the children, like medical insurance and daycare costs, and the amount of parenting time each parent has with the children.

What issues can come up after orders are entered? Can I change my orders or move?

  • Enforcement – a court action to make someone follow court orders. Filing for enforcement is a good place to start when someone is not following family court orders, rather than just requesting to have the orders changed.
  • Modification – a court action to change court orders. A party can only request to have a court order modified if there has been a substantial and continuing change in circumstances since the date of the last court order. Also, a party cannot request to change their court orders for one year after the orders are entered, unless a child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health may be in danger.
  • Relocation – If a parent plans to move to a new address, that parent may have to give advance notice to the other parent and/or file something with the court. Parents should research the current opens in a new windowArizona family law (statute) on relocation, when planning to move.

Does CLS represent people in Family Court?

CLS has attorneys who represent people in their family law cases; however, we typically only provide representation in cases involving domestic violence or child abuse. Also, because of the very high demand and limited number of staff, most often we assist people by giving legal advice, reviewing court papers, helping to draft documents, and providing referrals to additional resources.

Do I need an attorney to represent me in Family Court?

While many people would benefit from having an attorney represent them in court, most people can’t afford to hire an attorney. Around 80% to 85% of people in family court represent themselves. There are opens in a new windowresources  for people who are representing themselves in Family Court, and it is always a good idea to get advice from an attorney, if possible.

If CLS can't take my case, how can I find an attorney to represent me?

Resources for finding an attorney to hire to represent you can be found here

If you are in Maricopa County and want to hire an attorney to represent you, you can find attorney listings on the opens in a new windowMaricopa County Superior Court Self-Service Center Lawyer Roster 

find additional help

Resources & Information

opens in a new windowLaw Library Resource Center

The Law Library Resource Center is a program provided by the Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County to help individuals help themselves in court.

opens in a new windowLawyer in the Library

Yavapai County only
(928) 445-9240, Extension 2025

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