Mesa Family Law and Divorce Attorneys, Edwards & Petersen

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If you are consulting a family law attorney, chances are good that this is a stressful, highly emotional time in your life. You need an experienced attorney guiding you through the process, someone who respects the gravity of your situation, who will support you and advocate for the best interests of you and your family. At Edwards & Petersen, we support you every step of the way, making sure you understand the full impact of every decision, every choice. We treat each client with the respect and compassion he or she deserves, working tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome as you face this difficult time.

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Family Law Services

Family law involves human emotions in a way that no other area of law does. At Edwards & Petersen, no matter how heated things may become, our number one goal is always obtaining the fairest, most amicable result possible for our clients and their families. That is what it means to be outcome driven!

We provide representation for the following family law areas:
Divorce (Dissolution of Marriage)
Child Custody (Legal Decision Making)
Spousal Maintenance (formerly Alimony)
Child Support Enforcement
Court Order Modifications
Hidden Assets
(Select the family law service above to go immediately to that section on this page)

Divorce (Dissolution of Marriage)

experienced mesa divorce attorneyDissolution of marriage is Arizona’s legal definition of divorce. The attorneys at Edwards & Petersen are Mesa divorce lawyers dedicated to informing you of your rights and educating you about the divorce process in Arizona.

Even when both partners agree to part amicably, divorce is a stressful, often frightening time. You’re likely worried about your future and you want to know what happens next. At Edwards & Petersen, we help alleviate some of your anxiety by explaining each step of the process, guiding you through this transition to the next phase of your life.

Clients choose Edwards & Petersen because we recognize the unique nature of each case and provide compassionate, confidential support, giving you one less thing to worry about during this trying time. Our approach is outcome driven, meaning working tirelessly to bring about the realistic results that you the client desire. The best solutions are always those that you and your spouse develop and agree to between yourselves. However, it is not always possible to avoid needing the Judge to make decisions. When this happens, our team fights to bring you the best possible outcome, by helping you navigate the court’s procedural rules, evidential rules and burden of proof.

Arizona is a community property state, which means that generally assets accrued during the marriage are equitably divided between both parties, regardless of which person is named on the title or considered the primary breadwinner. Even so, circumstances such as substantial debts or an underwater mortgage complicate property distribution. In addition, some assets do not fall under the community property umbrella, including property owned prior to the marriage, inherited property, and certain funds obtained via lawsuit(s). However, much like life itself, things are not always as straight forward at they appear; that is why we work with you to arrive at a fair resolution to your case.

We offer counsel on the following areas common in divorce cases:

• Child custody, visitation, and support
• Real estate properties, including your home
• Financial assets, including retirement savings, pensions, and other long-term investments
• Physical assets, such as vehicles, artwork, jewelry, and other valuable possessions
• Spousal support
• Dividing debts equally
• A business or professional practice

To protect your and your family’s best interests, you need an experienced divorce attorney fighting on your side. If you are considering divorce, schedule your free consultation with Edwards & Petersen today.

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Child Custody (Legal Decision Making)

Determining child custody, legal decision making, and parenting time is probably the most emotionally fraught and consequential aspect of family law. You want to protect your rights and do what’s best for your child, while also protecting your child from the tensions surrounding this process.

At Edwards & Petersen, we help our clients navigate their way through this emotional minefield, working towards an amicable, fair parenting plan. In cases where this is truly not possible, we advocate for your rights in court.

Arizona Child Custody Explained

Beginning in January 2013, Arizona courts began focusing on a shared custody model and deciding which parent has legal decision making authority (sometimes referred to as legal custody). This includes decisions regarding healthcare, education, and religious training. The court also considers joint and sole decision making.

Joint decision making requires both parents to work together in making decisions regarding their child. A parenting plan is developed and signed as an order of the court.

The parenting plan includes each parent’s rights and responsibilities in relation to the child’s healthcare, education, and physical residence. In addition, it discusses how parents will handle disputes should they occur (typically through mediation or arbitration).

Sole decision making authorizes one parent to make decisions regarding the child’s welfare and daily life, even over the objection from the other parent.

Determining the Best Interests of the Child

Arizona courts determine legal decision making based on what it considers to be the child’s best interests. To do this, the court considers the following factors:

• The child’s wishes, if he or she is of suitable age and maturity
• The wishes of each parent
• The child’s interaction and interrelationship with siblings and any other individuals who may significantly impact the child’s best interest
• How the child adjusts to home, school, and community
• The mental and physical health of all involved parties
• Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and meaningful contact with the other parent
• Whether the child has ever been the victim of abuse or domestic violence

Courts consider other factors as well, particularly if it believes that one parent presents a significant danger to the child. In deciding this, the court considers:

• Each parent’s history of drug offenses
• Whether either parent is a convicted sex offender
• Whether either parent has a murder conviction

Arizona’s family courts also consider counseling session attendance and the type of criminal offense.

If you cannot want to wait until the end of the case to settle matters such as decision making authority, parenting time, or child support, you may request a temporary order.

Finally, please recognize that Arizona statute forbids favoritism based on gender when awarding legal decision making authority.

For further information regarding legal custody, please refer to A.R.S. 25-403.

Does the Child Have to Appear in Court?

Most parents prefer to protect their child from the stress of a court appearance. Fortunately, children rarely have to appear in court. If it is needed, the judge holds something called a “camera interview” with your child or orders a neutral trained third party to talk with the child and issue a report to the court. This private session does not include either parent, nor their attorneys. The judge will only hold a camera interview with a child deemed able to articulate facts or who demonstrates clear knowledge about what’s happening.

Third Party Legal Decision Making Rights

Arizona allows a third party (someone other than the child’s legal parent) to petition for legal decision making authority or visitation. A successful petition requires the third party to prove that:

• He or she is in loco parentis to the child. This Latin phrase means “in place of the parent” and refers to a person who assumes parental status and responsibilities for the child.
• It would not be in the child’s best interest to be placed in the care of either parent seeking legal decision making power.
• A court of “competent jurisdiction” has neither entered nor approved an order related to parenting time or legal decision making in the 12 months prior to the third party making his or her petition. The petitioner may circumnavigate this timeframe if he or she can prove that the child’s existing environment endangers his or her mental, physical, or emotional health.

Additionally, the third party petitioner must prove one of the following:

• At least one of the child’s legal parents is dead.
• The legal parents of the child were not married to each other when the petition was filed.
• A dissolution of marriage (divorce) or legal separation of the child’s legal parents was pending at the time the petition was filed.

A.R.S. 25-409 covers third party rights in full.

Arizona Child Custody FAQs

What Is An Ex-Parte Order?

This is a decision made regarding a party without a hearing taking place. An Ex-Parte order is typically based on the sworn affidavit of the party that requested the order and no notice is given to the other party.

What Happens If The Legal Parents Disagree?

Unfortunately, this will lead to a trial where both parties must present evidence to the court in order to decide who gains legal decision making powers over the child.

What Is Parenting Time?

This refers to the time a parent is allowed spend with a child; the decision is made by an Arizona family court.

Can I Modify Orders For Parenting Time & Legal Decision Making?

Yes, if one of the following is true:

• If the court’s previous order relating to custody has been in place for more than 12 months.
• If a parent fails to comply with a joint decision making order 6 months after it was entered.
• If you believe the child’s current environment endangers his or her emotional, physical, mental, or moral health. In this instance, you can file a motion to modify the order along with an affidavit outlining your belief that the above is true.
• If there is evidence of child abuse, spousal abuse, or domestic violence at any stage after a joint decision making order has been entered.

(If you have more child support questions, see our complete list of Arizona Child Support FAQs)

Learn more about modifications at A.R.S. 25-411.

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Spousal Maintenance (Formerly Alimony)

Formerly known as alimony, spousal maintenance is the money one spouse pays to another after receiving a dissolution of marriage decree. The intent is to provide financial support when one spouse is unable to provide for his or her own needs, assuming that spouse meets the other requirements to receive maintenance (see Eligibility). Typically, spousal maintenance is ordered for a specific length of time.

Spousal maintenance is one of the most complex areas of divorce, as two judges looking at the same set of facts may reach drastically different conclusions. In addition, Arizona has no guidelines surrounding spousal maintenance, such as its guidelines for child support. The support of an experienced attorney helps ensure the best outcome regarding spousal maintenance.

Eligibility

The court only considers spousal maintenance requests if you can prove that you meet one or more of the following criteria:

• You do not possess ample property to provide for your “reasonable” needs, even after distribution of marital assets
• You contributed to your spouse’s education opportunities
• You are the custodian of a child whose age or condition is best served by you not working outside the home
• You do not have the skills or health required to be self-sufficient

If the court decides that you are eligible, it next decides the appropriate amount and duration. To make this decision, the court considers a number of factors, including:

• Your living standard during the marriage
• The duration of the marriage
• Your age, emotional and physical condition, work history, and earning capacity
• Your spouse’s ability to meet your needs while still maintaining his or her own standard of living
• How your and your spouse’s financial resources compare, including your respective earning abilities
• Whether and in what way you contributed to your spouse’s earning capability

How Is Spousal Maintenance Paid?

In many cases, the court requires the paying spouse to make payments via an Income Withholding Order, meaning that the payer’s employer deducts the amount directly from his or her paycheck, sending the funds to the appropriate authority. The payment house then records the payment and sends it directly to the recipient. If the paying spouse is unemployed or self-employed, he or she sends payment to the appropriate authority.

Termination and Modification

Arizona allows couples to enter joint agreements as regards spousal maintenance. For example, you and your spouse may decide to waive maintenance, or to make provisions so that, at some point in the future, neither party feels the needs to seek changes to the agreement.

Typically, spousal maintenance ends when the term set by the judge expires, when either spouse dies, or if the spouse receiving payments remarries. However, you or your spouse may petition the court to terminate or modify payments due to a material change in circumstances.

An attorney experienced in Arizona spousal maintenance can assist you in protecting your best interests.

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Child Support Enforcement

Though child support payments are paid to the main custodial parent, these funds are for the child, not the parent, and intended to provide food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and much more.

Ideally, both parents willingly provide the financial support every child needs and deserves. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some parents refuse to follow the court’s ruling as regards support. The state of Arizona has a variety of methods designed to collect unpaid child support.

Enforcing Child Support Payments

Once a court orders one parent to pay child support, he or she has a legal obligation to obey. Failure to do so triggers one of Arizona’s enforcement tactics.

The Child Support Enforcement Program (CSE) originated in 1975. Part of the Social Security Act, CSE helps reduce taxpayers’ burden, as studies show that parents who are financially invested in their children are more likely to be active in other areas.

Collection methods vary according to the amount owed and the length of time. For example, the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) has a Wanted list on its website as part of its Child Support Evader program. The page posts the photos of debtors here, and an arrest warrant is issued. To use the Child Support Evader program, the debtor must:

• Be at an unknown location
• Owe more than $5,000
• Fail to make payments for six months
• Have an arrest warrant issued

How Can You Get Your Child Support Enforced?

You have a number of options to pursue child support enforcement.

Wage garnishment: An order from a court or other government agency that requires an employer to withhold a specified amount of money from the debtor’s paycheck, with the funds sent directly to the creditor.
Personal property lien: Typically filed in the same office where a property is recorded or registered, it attaches to a property owned by the debtor and forbids selling the property without first paying off the lien.
Lottery prize intercept: If the debtor wins more than $600 in the lottery, the amount owed may be subtracted from the winnings and given to the creditor. When this happens, the Child Support Program sends a letter to the debtor explaining its intention to take these funds.
Asset seizure: CSE may seize bank funds, stocks, or bonds to cover delinquent child support payments.
Child Support Evader Program: Statute requires the Arizona Division of Child Support Services to publicly identify parents who are in arrears with their child support payments, including publishing the parent’s photo and profile.
Credit bureau reporting: All child support cases are reported to credit reporting agencies every month, including whether payments are past due.
Federal Tax Refund Offset Program: This is a cooperative effort between the IRS, the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Management Service, and the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. If the debtor owes child support payments and receives a tax refund, monies owed are deducted from the refund and paid to the creditor.
Passport denial: The U.S. State Department may deny the debtor’s application for a passport or refuse to renew an existing passport.
License suspension or revocation: A debtor six months in arrears may face license suspension, though Arizona also allows it if a contempt order is levied.
Going to court: The creditor may hire an attorney to take the case to court and ask the judge to quickly enforce a child support payment order.
Payment modification: If the non-custodial parent’s circumstances change, he or she may be able to reduce the amount owed. If there is only a single spouse or child, the court may only withhold 60 percent of the debtor’s disposable income. If there is more than one spouse or child, that amount reduces to 50 percent.

Nationwide, state agencies only collect around 20 percent of all child support monies owed. Most experts agree that people avoid paying support because they don’t want to, not because they don’t have the money, based in part on the fact that most debtors are up-to-date in their house and car payments.

CSE works to help creditors collect monies owed, but the process is long. If you are owed a sizable amount of child support, hiring an attorney experienced in child support enforcement significantly speeds up your case.

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Court Order Modifications

If life teaches us anything, it is that circumstances change. People lose jobs, illness strikes, and schedules change. If you experience significant changes in your circumstances, you may wish to request a modification to a court order, including:

• Child custody (legal decision making)
• Parenting time
• Spousal maintenance
• Child support

Requesting a court order modification comes with a variety of stipulations and requirements that an experienced family attorney helps guide you through.

Child Custody

To request a modification on court-ordered legal decision making, the judge considers the following factors:

• The mental and physical health of all involved parties
• Whether there had been child neglect, abuse, or domestic violence of any kind
• The past and present relationship between the child and parents, as well as potential future relationships
• Whether one parent is found to have deliberately misled the court in order to delay the case as a means of increasing the cost of litigation or ensuring a decision in his or her favor

If you believe your child is suffering harm from the other parent, contact an attorney immediately.

Parenting Time

Due to how rapidly circumstances change, parenting time modification is one of the most common alterations we see at Edwards & Petersen. Three typical reasons people request modification include:

• The child ages or switches schools and is able to have more say in what environment makes him or her happy
• One parent becomes incapacitated due to illness or addiction and it is in the best interests of the child to be shielded from this parent’s issues
• One parent relocates for wok and it is in the best interests of the child to not move with him or her
Spousal Maintenance

Not all spousal maintenance orders are modifiable. However, evidence of continuing and significant changes in circumstances may lead to the court granting a modification. Examples include:

Loss of income or employment: Typically this must be expected to be permanent and ongoing; the court is not likely to reduce payments due to short-lived layoffs.
Lost or reduced health insurance: If health insurance costs increase significantly, it may be enough to warrant modification.
If you are in arrears at the time a modification is granted, you must still pay the amount owed.

Child Support

Non-custodial parents have two types of child support modification available to them:

Standard modification: Applies when circumstances change in a “substantial and continuing manner” to the point where the child support amount should be changed
Simplified modification: Applies when circumstances change to a point where new child support payments would be at least 15 percent higher or lower than the original court-ordered amount

Usually, changes need to be quite substantial to warrant modifying child support. An experienced child support attorney can work with you to determine whether changes in your circumstances qualify.

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Hidden Assets

In an acrimonious divorce, one of the more common issues is one spouse hiding assets from the other (and the court). Your attorney uses a tool called “discovery” to uncover hidden assets.

There are numerous reasons a spouse may choose to attempt to hide assets, as well as a wide variety of assets he or she may attempt to shield. People typically consider the family home, savings and checking accounts, and retirement funds as the extent of marital property. In reality, these assets are rarely hidden – at least not for long – as they are so easy to discover. Common forgotten types of property in a divorce case include:

• Tax refunds (typically those not yet delivered)
• Frequent flyer miles (do not underestimate their value)
• Vacation property and timeshares
• Collectibles such as art or pop culture memorabilia
• Intellectual property, including copyrights, patents, and trademarks
• Security deposits for purchases such as storage units and rental property

The Discovery Process of Hidden Assets

If your spouse handled most of the financial affairs during your marriage, your attorney may refer to you as the “out spouse,” meaning you lack immediate knowledge of financial information while your spouse has full access. In this case, your attorney works with you to request copies of all financial records.

The Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure requires all parties to disclose certain information, and it allows you to request other information and seek the court’s help when the other spouse fails to provide the information requested.

The discovery process is where you attorney gains access to all relevant information and documentation. Discovery provides your legal team several options, including:

Demanding documents: Your attorney requests documents such as loan applications, tax returns, account records, and financial statements.
Inspection: With your attorney, you inspect property, such as a collection or safety deposit box.
Written questions: Sometimes called “requests for admission” or “interrogatories,” these force your spouse, in writing, to admit to certain statements that you know are true.
Testimony under oath: This is an oral deposition involving you, your attorney, your spouse, and a court reporter, during which your attorney asks your spouse questions while he or she is under oath.
Subpoenas: These are requests made to a third party, such as a bank, to turn over documents and information. Subpoenas carry a financial cost, as the third party from whom you seek information may charge you a reasonable amount for responding to the subpoena.

The discovery process allows you to extract important information from an uncooperative spouse, because the court has the power to compel an individual to comply with certain orders. For example, if you request documents and your spouse refuses to comply, the court may impose a sanction, such as a fine or judgment against your spouse.

If you suspect your spouse is being dishonest, a deposition is the ideal way to obtain information. Lying under oath may result in a perjury charge, which Arizona classifies as a Class 4 felony with a minimum sentence of 12 months.

To assist your attorney in uncovering hidden assets, you should:

• Gather as much financial information possible, including mortgage amounts, tax returns, credit card bills, stock transaction reports, and bank statements.
• Check with local government agencies such as the county assessor’s office and Department of Motor Vehicles to determine whether any real property or registered vehicles were given as “gifts.”
• Make note of your spouse’s current and previous job titles, wage increases and decreases, and known bonuses.
• Look for bill overpayments, especially credit card statements, as this is a classic method of reducing the amount of fungible cash available in a divorce settlement.

The team at Edwards & Petersen is compassionate, tough, and thorough. We use the discovery process find any hidden assets and ensure our clients the best possible outcome.

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