Excerpt from Divorce in Arizona by Marlene Pontrelli and Robert Schwartz
Going through the divorce process can be a frightening and often intimidating experience. Many people have never had to meet with a lawyer before, or been involved in any type of litigation. At the same time you are facing the challenges of understanding the legal process, you are also trying to address the emotional issues that often come with the decision to terminate a marriage.
Your first step should be to understand the divorce process and then consider whether you need to hire a lawyer. In Arizona, you are not required to have an attorney to obtain a divorce. However, if your case involved children, spousal maintenance, significant property, or debts, you may find it easier to have an attorney than proceeding on your own.
If your divorce does not involve any of these issues, contact the self-help center at the superior court in your county, or call the clerk of the court to request documents and instructions that may be used in filing your own case and proceeding on your own. In some counties, the forms are online. A person who proceeds in a legal matter without a lawyer is referred to as being in pro per or pro se, on one’s own.
If you are considering proceeding without an attorney, you may want to at least have an initial consultation with an attorney to discuss your rights and duties under the law. You may have certain rights or obligations you are unaware of. Meeting with a lawyer can help you decide whether to proceed on your own. Accordingly, consider the following questions that may help you decide how best to proceed.
- What is your particular experience in family law, and in handling this type of situation in particular?
- Do you work evenings and weekends? If something occurs of importance over the weekend, what is your policy for addressing those issues?
- Will you personally be handling my case or will other lawyers or paralegals be assisting?
- What is the best way to communicate with you? (Telephone? E-mail?) How do you charge for each?
- Do you have a policy on how long before you return a telephone call?
- How many times do you expect that we will need to meet in person? Under what circumstances will we need to meet in person?
- What is the specific divorce process and how long do you expect it to take?
- What is likely cost? (This will be a difficult question for your lawyer to answer. Be wary if you are given a specific cost since so many variables exist which are unknown at the initial consultation. However, the lawyer may be able to give you an idea of what similar cases have cost, or the potential range of costs depending on whether the action is contested, settled, or litigated).
- Will there be a need to hire other individuals to assist with the divorce such as financial planners, valuation experts, forensic accountants, vocational evaluators? If so, what are the likely expenses for these individuals?
- If I do not have access to obtain all the financial information, how will the information be obtained?
- Based upon the situation that I have explained, what do you see as the most challenging aspects of my case? How do you believe these challenges should be handled? What is the likely outcome?
- Is this a potential case that may be good for mediation or some other dispute resolution process? Why or why not?
- Are there any steps now that I should take to protect myself financially?
- What are the first steps you would take if I were to retain you?
Finding out information to these questions can help you decide whether you may wish to proceed on your own or obtain some representation for your divorce.
About the Authors:
Marlene Pontrelli is a Member in our Phoenix office. Marlene is a certified specialist in family law. Her practice focuses on all aspects of family law including dissolution, post-dissolution, paternity, child custody and child support matters. She is admitted to practice in California and Arizona. She is a member of the State Bar’s Family Law Practice and Procedure Committee and is a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family law. She has extensive trial and appellate experience including appearing before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ms. Pontrelli has written several books, including as a co-author of the Divorce in Arizona book. She is a frequent lecturer in the area of family law and has conducted workshops throughout the country. Ms. Pontrelli is also an adjunct professor at The Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University, where she teaches the family law class. Marlene may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5081.
Bob Schwartz is a Member in our Phoenix office. Bob has been practicing law for over 40 years, specializing in family law. He is a member of the American, Arizona and Maricopa County Bar Associations. He is admitted to practice in the federal courts of New York, Arizona, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Schwartz is a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and past president of the Arizona chapter. He serves as a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family court matters. He is a certified family law specialist by the State Bar of Arizona; is a frequent lecturer on family law and related matters; and, former member of the State Bar Family Law Advisory Commission. Mr. Schwartz has tried numerous complex business valuation cases as well as complex custody cases. He has testified as an expert in family law matters. Bob co-authored the Divorce in Arizona book. He may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5020.