While many times a divorce or legal separation is a mutual decision, there are times when it is not. When that is the case, it is hard to even consider making a call to see a lawyer, let alone start making decisions on how to determine custody, support and divide assets. Yet, under no-fault divorce, you may have no choice but to address these often stressful and emotional issues. Here are three questions that often arise in such cases.

My spouse left home weeks ago. I don’t want a divorce because I feel our marriage can be saved. Should I still see an attorney? 

Yes, it is still a good idea to see an attorney even if you think your marriage can be saved. Whether you want a divorce or not, there may be important actions for you to take now to protect your assets, credit, home, children, and future right to support. If your spouse files for divorce, a temporary hearing could be heard in just a matter of days. It is best to be prepared with the support of an attorney, even if you want to try and resolve the differences with your spouse.

Your lawyer can also advise you about how to file a Petition for Conciliation Services (available in Arizona and similar services in many other states).  The purpose of filing for conciliation services is to attempt to preserve the marriage by amicably settling any controversies between the parties. The judge of the conciliation court will set a time and place of the hearing to determine whether an amicable resolution can be reached. The hearing is informal and may be one conference or a series of conferences to effect a reconciliation.   The Petition for Conciliation Services can be filed prior to any dissolution action being filed, or even after your spouse has filed for divorce. No steps towards obtaining a divorce or legal separation can take place until the presiding officer conducting the conferences determines that there is no likelihood that there will be a reconciliation and terminates the proceedings. At that point the proceedings will then continue in the superior court.

The thought of going to a lawyer’s office to talk about divorce is more than I can bear. I canceled the first appointment I made because I just couldn’t do it. What should I do?

Sometimes the most difficult part of the process is making that first call to set an appointment with the lawyer. Many people going through a divorce never had had to speak with a lawyer and this is the first time.   It is natural for you to feel anxious about the experience. Your lawyer understands this and will try to make you feel as relaxed as possible. You may want to ask a trusted friend or family member to go with you to the appointment. Even if they do not sit in on the consultation, having someone in the waiting area to support you will help you feel less nervous about the experience. After you meet with your lawyer, it is very likely that you will feel greatly relieved just to be better informed.

There is some information about my marriage that I think my attorney needs, but I’m too embarrassed to discuss it. Must I tell the attorney?

Your attorney has an ethical duty to maintain confidentiality. Past events in your marriage are matters that your lawyer is obligated to keep private. Attorneys who practice divorce law are accustomed to hearing a lot of intimate information about families. Although it is deeply personal to you, it is unlikely that anything you tell your lawyer will be a shock.

It may feel uncomfortable for a short moment, but it is important that your attorney have complete information so that your interests can be fully protected. If speaking directly about these facts still seems too hard, consider putting them in a letter.


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.