Most of my clients expect that a document must be filed to start a dissolution action. This document is known as the Petition. What is usually unexpected, however, is the number of additional documents that are filed along with that initial Petition, which leaves them asking the question, “What are all these documents?” I generally refer to the Petition as the “meat and potatoes” of the documents – it is the document that opens the case and which sets forth at least the basic positions of the initiating party. However, a party to a dissolution would be remiss in not paying at least some attention to the remaining documents. This blog is a cursory overview of what those documents are and what they mean.
Sensitive Data/Family Court Coversheet:
With widespread concern about identity theft, it goes without saying that parties’ dates of birth, addresses, and social security numbers should be left out of the public domain. Unfortunately, with only limited exception, dissolution documents are public record and the Clerk of the Court does generally need this information for administrative purposes. The solution as provided by the Clerk is this Sensitive Data/Family Court Coversheet. This document is not available to the general public and, indeed, it is not even served upon the other party (each party prepares and files one independently and does not share it with the other party). This document contains the data that we generally do not want available to third parties in a manner that is relatively secure.
The Summons advises the Respondent in the action that they only have a specified amount of time to file a Response to the Petition once it is served. Failure to file a Response could lead to entry of default against the Respondent. If the Respondent is served with the Petition within the State of Arizona, then the Response to the Petition must be filed within 20 calendar days (including business and weekend days). If the Respondent is served with the Petition outside the State of Arizona, then the Response to the Petition must be filed within 30 calendar days (including business and weekend days).
I often refer to this document as the “Big List of Don’ts.” These “don’ts” apply during the pendency of the dissolution and are intended to keep the status quo while the case marches on. Indeed, they are typically substituted by other “dos” and “don’ts” in the final Decree. Among the most important of the “don’ts” are: 1) do not take your children out of the State of Arizona (even temporarily) without permission of the other parent and/or a court order; 2) do not remove your spouse or your children from any insurance policy (health, dental, vision, auto, life, etc.); 3) except under very particular circumstances which should be discussed with an attorney, do not hide, liquidate, encumber, or otherwise dispose of any community assets.
Notice Regarding Creditors:
This document advises parties of an essential fact of dissolution law: a creditor is not bound by a divorce Decree. This is best explained by example. Assume that Bank of Anywhere Credit Card is assigned 50% to Husband and 50% to Wife in the final Decree and each party is ordered to pay one-half of the minimum monthly payment. Further assume that Husband has been diligent in his portion of the payments on the debt but Wife has failed to make any payments. The Bank of Anywhere starts calling Husband to inquire as to the deficiency in the account and what he intends to do about it. Husband says, “Call my ex!” Unfortunately, that is not going to be acceptable to the Bank of Anywhere. The Bank of Anywhere might say, “We sure will, but you still owe us that money!” This is because the Bank of Anywhere, the creditor, is not required to only take payments pursuant to the terms of Husband and Wife’s divorce Decree. Both parties still owe the money, as far as the Bank is concerned, and the Bank of Anywhere may still engage in collection efforts against one or both parties. Husband’s recourse in this situation is to alert the Family Court and request that Wife be held accountable for the payments she is supposed to make. Other damages may be requested depending on the language of the Decree.
Notice of Your Rights About Health Insurance Coverage:
In many cases, one spouse will cover the other spouse’s health, dental, and/or vision insurance on their employer’s group policy. What happens when a divorce occurs in that situation? This document advises parties covered by their spouse’s policy that they are entitled to maintain insurance under COBRA Continuation Health Coverage. Parties have a very small window of time to elect such coverage before the option lapses – only 31 days after the Decree.
Affidavit Regarding Minor Children:
In any Family Court case, the Court must assure that it has jurisdiction, or authority, to hear the case and make decisions about the issues. With respect to minor children, the Court must be satisfied that certain residency requirements have been met (generally, that the children have resided in Arizona for the last 6 months pre-Petition). The Affidavit contains information about the Children’s recent residence and other matters pertaining to the jurisdiction of the Court.
Order and Notice to Attend Parent Information Program Class:
Everyone involved in a Family Court matter involving children must attend a class under the Parent Information Program. It is generally referred to as “that parenting class,” but make no mistake, this is not a class telling you how to parent your children. Rather, it is a class designed to help you parent your children through the conflict of Family Court actions and to assist them by insulating them from parental conflict and disputes. In recent years, I have heard positive feedback about the class from my clients. It is offered multiple times a day across the Valley – every party should be able to accommodate the Order. There are other options available for out of State (or even out of Country) parties.
As stated above, this is only a general overview of each of these documents. Specific questions regarding any of the content should be discussed with a qualified Family Law attorney.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact family law attorney Lindsay A. M. Olivarez at www.udallshumway.com or contact an attorney in your community.