When spouses file for divorce, Arizona wants the process to be as mutually agreeable as possible. To that end, state law encourages spouses to work together by recognizing marital settlement agreements that may result from amicable negotiations. In Arizona, settlement agreements can cover everything from property division and spousal maintenance to child support and custody. So long as all statements are in writing and the court finds the terms to be fair, the settlement agreement becomes incorporated into the divorce decree.
When you file a Petition for Dissolution with the court, your divorce process in Arizona begins. Arizona state law expressly encourages spouses to agree on the terms of their own marital settlement agreement, which is also known as a separation agreement. This means that divorcing couples can decide how best to resolve their marital issues rather than face an uncertain outcome by having the court decide for them. Only certain settlement terms are legally binding on the parties; the court cannot alter these terms once the divorce is final. Binding agreements concern property distribution and spousal maintenance. Settlement terms involving children, such as support, custody and parenting time are not binding, and the divorce court retains authority to change these agreements, if necessary, after the divorce.
In Arizona, marital property is any property or debt you or your spouse acquired after your marriage date. Separate property, on the other hand, is anything either of you acquired before marriage or during the marriage by inheritance or gift. The court has the authority to divide only your marital property, and it will do so equitably, which may or may not result in a 50-50 split. But if you come up with your own property settlement, you can mutually decide how to divide your property and debts. Such a property agreement is permanent and binding on the court, meaning that it cannot be modified or changed once the divorce is final. Arizona courts will only revisit a finalized property agreement if it is determined to be unfair, based on the parties' economic circumstances and evidence submitted to the court.
As with property settlements, agreements regarding spousal maintenance, or alimony, are binding on the parties. The court will not modify your agreement after it becomes final, unless the terms are proven to be unfair. With that in mind, you and your spouse should approach this issue very carefully. Unlike couples who let the court determine spousal maintenance awards, you will be unable to go back to court to have the terms modified, if circumstances substantially change if one of you becomes permanently disabled, remarries or experiences a job loss.
Custody and Child Support
When it comes to matters involving children, agreements you reach with your spouse will not be binding. This means the court will always have the authority to modify child support, custody and parenting time agreements, even after the divorce is final. But Arizona courts typically make modifications only when there has been a substantial and continuing change in circumstances, such as a custodial parent's planned move out of state; criminal activity or drug use by a parent; or increased child care or education costs. Parents also have the option of modifying custody and parenting time arrangements by agreement. Such arrangements must always be in the best interests of the children.
Once you and your spouse create a marital settlement agreement and place it in writing, you must submit it to the court for approval. If the court finds the property and maintenance terms are fair, and child support, custody and parenting time arrangements are reasonable, it will approve the agreement and incorporate it into the final divorce decree. You and your spouse will then be legally bound to the agreement terms. If either of you fails to comply with the settlement terms, the other spouse can file a motion in court to enforce the decree.