Finding an attorney that you’re comfortable with in Mesa, AZ to handle everything related to Family Law doesn’t have to be difficult. Let Udall Shumway help you get the results that you need. Listed below you’ll find our complete list of services in this area of the law, as well as a list of our lawyers who specialize in exactly what you need. We also have a glossary of terms and an F.A.Q section below for you to use as needed.

Services

Our large Family Law practice includes two of Arizona’s pre-eminent Family Law attorneys, both of whom are Certified Family Law Specialists.  The professional staff includes associate lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, and filing clerks with over 200 combined years of experience. Our team is committed to handling your matter with skill and compassion when you’re dealing with:

List of Our Family Law Attorneys

Udall Shumway has a large Family Law practice with two of Arizona’s Preeminent Family Law attorneys, both of whom are Certified Family Law Specialists.  The professional staff includes associate lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, and filing clerks with over 150 combined years of experience to assist in all phases of Family Law matters, including:

Attorneys representing clients in Family Law:

Barry C. Dickerson

Steven H. Everts

Sheri D. Shepard

Jonathan D. Brooks

Why Choose Udall Shumway?

Why choose us? In addition to being the longest-tenured law firm in the East Valley with superior qualifications of each of its lawyers, there are many other reasons for retaining the Family Law Section at Udall Shumway PLC to handle your family law matter:

  • Ten qualified professionals work in the Family Law Section full time (4 lawyers, 3 assistants, 2 paralegals, and one case manager). This allows for significant collaboration, problem-solving and responsiveness to the needs of your case.
  • The Family Law Section has a significant 247 years of combined   experience in the legal field.  There is no substitute for experience. It would be hard to find another family law group in any firm in Arizona with this level of experience.  Many in the Family Law Section have a lengthy history of working with others going through the divorce process.
  • The Family Law Section has the resources of the entire firm at its disposal all under one roof.  This includes bankruptcy, real estate, business, estate planning, school law, tax, employment law, commercial litigation, etc.  This saves both time and money for family law clients whose matters touch on other disciplines so they do not have to seek out multiple lawyers in different firms.
  • The firm has a fully-staffed administration team with a firm administrator, IT technician, billing and account clerks, a scanning office, marketing director, full-service copy and supply center, receptionist and runner.  As a result, your family law team has reliable in-house resources and the ability to concentrate full-time on client matters and not on running the office.
  • The firm has brand-new offices at the Riverview Point Office Park in a convenient close-to-the-freeway location.  There are 6 large conference rooms available for client meetings, mediations and work sessions.  Everybody knows that location, location, location is paramount.  The intersection of the 101 and Red Mountain 202 is centrally located to Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Ahwatukee, Apache Junction, and San Tan Valley.  Parking is free right next to the doors and there is no complicated high-rise, parking garage or intricate directions to figure out.
  • The Family Law Section has a long-standing reputation of stability and professionalism with the Bench and the Bar.  Also, many in the Section have worked all or most of their careers together in the same firm.
  • At least 15 or more hours of continuing legal education by each lawyer each year, with other training and seminars for all Section staff members, provides current information in all areas of Family Law.
  • The Family Law Section has a high level of client satisfaction.  Specific client comments are posted on individual biographies.  The firm was named Best of Mesa in 2014 by the East Valley Tribune and one of the top ten law firms for 2014 by Best of Arizona Business. Please click Our Special Achievements to view.

Glossary of Commonly Used Family Law Terms

Minor Child

This term may seem like it would have a very obvious definition. However, depending on the context in which it is being used, it actually can mean two different things.

When defining legal decision making authority or parenting time rights (which will be discussed, below), a child is a “Minor Child” so long as they are under the age of 18 years.

However, when defining the term for a child support obligation, the line gets a little more blurry. In the State of Arizona, a child remains a Minor Child for purposes of child support until they turn 18 or until they graduate from high school, whichever is later. Child support will end at age 19 regardless of whether the child is still enrolled in high school unless the Court has determined that the child has special needs such that they are unlikely to be self-sufficient even as an adult. For most, but not all cases, the “18 or high school graduation” rule will apply to define what a Minor Child is for purposes of child support.

Legal Decision Making Authority 

Legal decision making authority defines how major decisions in a child’s life will be determined. There are presently two kinds of legal decision making authority designations recognized by Arizona statute: Sole Legal Decision Making Authority and Joint Legal Decision Making Authority. Depending on the legal decision making authority designation, one or both parents will have the right to make choices for the children with regard to their non-emergency medical care, education (i.e. what school to enroll them in), and religious training. If the parents do not agree on a legal decision making authority designation, the Court must make this decision after considering the best interests of the minor children as defined by statute.

Sole legal decision making authority is the condition under which one parent has the right to make major decisions for the children and only has to keep the other parent informed about those decisions. There is no requirement that the parties agree on any of these decisions (however, even in a sole legal decision making authority situation, a parent may be under an obligation to notify the other parent before moving far away within the state or out of state with the minor children therefore, it is extremely important to contact a legal help if contemplating a relocation with your children). The designated sole legal decision making authority has to make decisions that are in the best interests of the minor children or they may face a legal challenge from the non-designated parent.

Joint legal decision making authority is the condition under which both parents have the right to make decisions for their children. The parents have to discuss and agree on a course of action that is in their children’s best interests. Of course, parents will not always agree and, usually, there will be a requirement that parents seek mediation to try and resolve their differences before initiating a court action. The State of Arizona has a policy preference towards awarding joint legal decision making authority where possible and in the children’s best interests. If there is a serious concern about the other parent’s ability to co-parent (i.e. drug use, significant domestic violence, criminal history), it may be cause to advocate for a sole custody plan.

Legal decision making authority is logically connected to the next topic, parenting time, however, it is important to note that even the non-designated legal decision making authorized parent will be entitled to parenting time in most circumstances. That is, sole legal decision making authority designation to one parent does not mean zero parenting time to the other parent.

Parenting Time

Parenting time is the schedule which controls when each parent gets to see the children. Parties may be familiar with the terms “visitation” or “physical custody” which are older ways of defining the currently used term of parenting time.

Parenting time works on a variety of different schedules – there is no one “right way” to do it. Some parents work on the very familiar “every other weekend” kind of schedule while others work on an equal-parenting time arrangement. It is a strong policy in the State of Arizona to maximize each parent’s time with the minor children where at all possible to do so. In situations where there are concerns for parental fitness and/or a parent has gone an extremely long time without seeing the children, parenting time may even be supervised by another person.

If the parents cannot reach an agreement on a parenting time schedule for their minor children without assistance, they can try to use one of a number of court-offered programs to do so with some help. Ultimately, if no agreement is reached, the Court will determine a parenting plan after considering the minor children’s best interests.

Visitation

This is an older term that has been replaced by the term “Parenting Time.” Please see the discussion on parenting time.

Physical Custody

This is an older term that has been replaced by the term “Parenting Time.” Please see the discussion on parenting time.

Full Custody – Now Referenced as Legal Decision Making Authority (Sole or Joint)

“Full custody” does not, strictly speaking, exist in Arizona law. Often times, when referencing this term, people may be referring to Sole Legal Custody. Please see the discussions on Legal Decision Making Authority and Parenting Time.

Primary Residential Parent

The primary residential parent designation is used mostly when one parent has more parenting time than the other. It does not mean that the primary residential parent has more “power” or “say so” over the other parent unless the primary residential parent also has Sole Legal Decision Making Authority. Because legal decision making authority is really the driving force in parental authority, the primary residential parent designation may be of little to no consequence as it is simply a label to say which parent has more time than the other. Conversely, the designation may be tremendously meaningful if a parent is seeking state aid such as food stamps or cash assistance which may have requirements that a parent carry the primary residential parent designation in order to qualify for services.

Final Decision Making Authority

Recently, a growing trend has arisen to award a parent “Final Decision Making Authority” over the other parent even in a Joint Legal Decision Making Authority situation. That is, the parents would still be under an obligation to try and agree on major decisions for their children, however, if they are unable to agree, the parent with Final Decision Making Authority may be able to trump the other parent’s position by making a decision that the parent does not agree with subject to review by a Court if the non-Final Decision maker wants to challenge the decision. This is typically reserved for very contentious co-parenting relationships or parents with a history of deadlocking on issues.

Child Support

Child Support is support paid by one parent to the other for the benefit of the minor children. In Arizona, child support is calculated using the Arizona Child Support Guidelines which consider factors such as the parents’ incomes, parenting time, the cost of medical insurance, and the cost of day care.

The structure of our Guidelines is what is known as an “Income Shares Model” which attempts to prevent the minor child from having wildly different financial resources in each of their parents’ homes. It is important to note that child support will not necessarily be spent on items that are only for the minor child. That is, it is perfectly acceptable for a parent receiving child support to use that child support to pay rent, an electric bill, on groceries, or even on clothes for that parent. There is no rule about what actually has to be paid with that money. It is money to help balance the experience of the minor child in each house.

Child Support also determines which parent gets to claim a minor child for tax purposes and how unreimbursed expenses like medical co-pays and extra-curricular activities will get paid.

Child Support will be calculated in any family law matter that involves a minor child. In nearly all cases, child support will be paid by wage assignement from the support-paying party’s wages. Parents are free to agree on a figure but the Court reserves the ultimate discretion to determine if the parents’ agreement is in the minor child’s best interests. The Court also retains jurisdiction to modify child support of circumstances impacting how much should be paid change (for example, a parent gets a new job, a parent has another child, parenting time changes).

Community Property

Arizona is a Community Property state. This means that any property and any debt that either of the two spouses acquire during their marriage will be just as much the asset or obligation of the acquiring spouse as it is the non-acquiring spouse. There are certain exceptions to this blanket rule (including, for example, an item of property received as a gift or inheritance by one party during the marriage). How title is taken to the property or in whose name a debt appears usually will not determine whether something is community property or not, although, it can be some evidence of how the parties intended to own the property or apportion the debt.

Upon dissolution, the Court must divide property and debts fairly and equitably. Typically, this means equally but that is not the case in all situations as there may be reasons to divide property and debt unequally in order to achieve fairness and equity.

Legal Separation / Annulment / Dissolution

Legal Separation is the process by which the Court orders a division of property and debts, makes provisions for the payment of spousal maintenance and child support, if applicable, and enters orders for the custody and parenting time of minor children. The process defines that the spouses, while still legally married, are now separated for the purposes of acquiring additional property or debt. The process and the issues involved look very similar to a divorce, however, at the end of the case, the two people are still legally married and may not marry anyone else. Common reasons to select a legal separation instead of a divorce include religious convictions or because one party needs to stay on their spouse’s health insurance. A legal separation may become a divorce either during the legal separation process or after a Decree of Legal Separation is entered. A legal separation is not required before a Court will grant a dissolution.

An annulment is a declaration by a Court that a purported marriage never validly existed. This is different from a dissolution which recognizes that a valid marriage existed, however, it has now come to an end and will be terminated. An annulment can only be granted if there was an impediment to the marriage recognized by law. Annulments are relatively uncommon but are important to understand particularly since, if granted, an annulment will prevent a “spouse” from receiving spousal maintenance and will affect entitlements to property and debt obligations.

Dissolution is the formal and statutory label for a divorce. During a dissolution proceeding, a Court will enter orders about property division, debt division, child custody, parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, and other relevant matters. The Court will also restore the parties to the status of single persons such that they are each free to marry other people. This is the biggest distinction between a dissolution and a legal separation, as discussed above. In Arizona, neither spouse has to prove fault on the part of the other spouse in order to be granted a dissolution (unless the parties entered into a covenant marriage as defined by statute); they only have to prove that the marriage is irretrievably broken, a finding which is generally adopted by the Court after a party testifies to that fact.

Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance is known in other places, and also historically known, as “alimony.” It is support paid by one spouse to the other upon divorce or legal separation. It may be paid in addition to child support, if applicable. An award of spousal maintenance is governed by Arizona statute. However, there is not a strict rule about how long someone has to be married before they are entitled or any hard and fast mathematical rule associated with determining an amount or duration of a spousal maintenance award. Spousal maintenance is highly discretionary from judge to judge and no two cases are exactly alike. If your case involves a claim for spousal maintenance, it is very important to discuss this with someone who is qualified and skilled in dealing with spousal maintenance awards.

Temporary Orders / Pendente Lite Orders

During any family law action, either party may request the Court enter certain orders on a temporary basis which means during the litigation and until a final decree or other final order is entered. Parties may want to consider requesting temporary orders for child custody, parenting time and support, spousal maintenance, exclusive use of the marital residence, attorney’s fees and costs, or temporary payment of debts, as some examples.

If a parent has a concern about a minor child’s immediate health, safety or welfare while in the care of the other parent, they can request temporary orders on an emergency basis. Typically, there has to be an immediate risk that could be considered a “life or limb” emergency before emergency temporary orders are granted.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve just been served with documents.  What do I do?

The first thing you ought to do is to contact a law professional to discuss your options.  Call sooner rather than later as you will have only a short amount of time to file a Response before the Court may find you in “default.”  Typically, that time frame is 20 calendar days from the date you were served with documents.

My spouse just handed me a Petition for Dissolution.  Have I been served?

Not unless you also signed a document called an “Acceptance of Service.”  Just being handed a set of documents does not mean you were served unless a law enforcement officer or a process server handed them to you.  You may not serve your spouse by personally handing them documents and your spouse may not serve you this way.  You can also be served by signing the “green card” to accept a piece of certified mail.  Call a lawyer to determine whether the “service” you have experienced is proper.

How long will it take me to get divorced?

The soonest anyone can be divorced in the State of Arizona is 60 days from the date the Respondent-spouse was served with the Petition for Dissolution.  If there is a complete agreement, or the Respondent-spouse is in default, your dissolution process could be this short.  More often than not, however, the process takes much longer – possibly several months to a year or more.  The time frame mostly depends on what issues must be litigated and how cooperative the parties are with each other.

Why should I hire an attorney?

Attorneys have training and expertise to guide you through the Court system efficiently and effectively.  Attorneys also can provide a sense of perspective and objective advice in terms of what claims to pursue and what claims might be unreasonable.  This can save you time and, possibly, money, during your case.

What’s the difference between custody and parenting time?

“Custody” is now known as “Legal Decision-Making Authority.”  It is the determination of which parent has the right to make decisions for the children’s education, non-emergency medical issues, religious training, and personal care.  It is either “Joint” or “Sole.”  “Parenting Time” is the schedule dictating when each parent has the care of the child(ren).  Parenting Time schedules vary depending upon the needs of each family.

How long do I have to be married before I qualify for spousal maintenance/alimony?

There is not a strict rule as to how many years someone must be married before they may qualify for spousal maintenance (known as “alimony” in some other states).  Certainly, though, the longer a couple is married, the more responsibility that might be placed on the higher-earning spouse to assist the lower- (or non-) earning spouse in the event of a dissolution or legal separation.  The Court must look at the needs of each party and determine what, if any, contribution can and should be made to the spouse requesting maintenance.  Contact an attorney to discuss whether you, or your spouse, might qualify for an award of spousal maintenance.

How does the Court determine child support?

Our state uses a set of Child Support Guidelines that the Court uses to calculate child support.  It takes into account each party’s income, any amounts paid for health insurance or daycare, and the amount of parenting time exercised by the paying-parent, among the most commonly utilized factors.  Sometimes a “deviation” from the Guidelines is appropriate and is something that should be discussed with an attorney.

What do I do if I want to change something about my current orders?

A modification of Legal Decision-Making, Parenting Time, Child Support, or Spousal Maintenance may be appropriate.  You will want to discuss your situation with an attorney to decide whether, and when, such a filing should occur.

My spouse and I agree on everything related to our split.  Can s/he just sign my Petition?

Yes and no.  Your spouse cannot just sign on your Petition in order to prove their agreement with the proposed terms.  However, you and your spouse can enter into a “Property Settlement/Separation Agreement” which can be considered binding.  You should discuss the details of such an Agreement, and whether you should enter into one, with an attorney prior to signing.

How old does my child have to be before they can decide where they live?

Eighteen, or legal adulthood.  There is no specific age at which a minor child becomes eligible to make such a determination.  A child’s opinion does matter to a judge but it is just one of several factors the Court must consider when determining Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time.  The older and more mature the child, the more persuasive that child’s opinion would be.  However, there is no definitive age that binds a judge to a child’s opinion.

Additional Resources for Family Law

Parenting Classes and Parenting Counseling

Maricopa County Superior Court’s List of Resources for Parenting Counseling or Parenting Classes.
http://www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/SuperiorCourt/FamilyCourt/resources.asp

Child Centered Residential Guidelines

Click on the link above to access the Child Centered Residential Guidelines. This information was  recently published by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers to address the concerns regarding parenting time. These guidelines help in making decisions to focus on the best interests of the child when the parents are going to divorce.

East Valley Child Crisis Center-Family Resource Center

A variety of classes are offered from expectant parents to children’s self development. Anger management for individuals & families, and parenting skills. Certificates of Completion are offered, which satisfies Court -ordered classes. http://www.childcrisis.org/featured-slider/142-2/

Parenting Time booklet

Arizona Supreme Court model parenting time booklet, which contains sample parenting time calendars, parenting time plans and long-distance parenting time suggestions. While many judges may not follow the guidelines in this booklet, it does have some good graphical calendars which can be used to develop parenting plans.
http://azcourts.gov/Portals/31/ParentingTime/PPWguidelines.pdf

Maricopa County Superior Court

Access information about your case, judges, commissioners and other useful information.
 http://www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/index.asp

Arizona Revised Statutes – Title 25

Review the statutes governing family law matters.
http://www.azleg.gov/arizonarevisedstatutes.asp?title=25

Maricopa County Family Support Center

Review payment information, get information on direct deposit for your support payments, what you need to do to change your address with the Clearinghouse, etc.
http://www.familysupportcenter.com/

Maricopa County Conciliation Services

The Parental Conflict Resolution Class (PCR) is a single four-hour class taught at the court designed specifically for parents in high conflict.
https://www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/SuperiorCourt/FamilyCourt/Services/ConciliationServices/parentalConflictResolutionClass.asp

The Center for Divorce Education

Click on this link to access a variety of education classes. There are classes for couples who are separating, divorcing, as well as a variety of classes for families.online.divorce-education.com/locale/arizona/maricopa

Supreme Court of Arizona Family Law Center

Review various information pertaining to family law matters including how to find and select an attorney.
http://azcourts.gov/Default.aspx?alias=azcourts.gov/familylaw