How to Navigate Divorce and Real Estate Involving Deeds
How to Navigate a Family Law Settlement Conference in Arizona
The family law settlement conference is a chance for you and your spouse to reach agreement on your divorce. If successful, you can avoid a trial on all issues in dispute. For example, you can decide how you will divide parenting time as well as how much child support will be paid. You can also divide marital property and come to an agreement on spousal maintenance. The settlement conference is run by an attorney, called a “judge pro tempore.” You should prepare for the settlement conference by thinking about what you want and then going into the conference with an open mind.
Preparing for the Settlement Conference
Note the date.The judge will schedule your conference during a hearing, usually by having someone call the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) office. You should receive a notice from the office which will include the date and the location of where your family law settlement conference will be held.
- Settlement conferences typically last two to three hours, so plan accordingly.
Identify the issues in dispute.The purpose of the settlement conference is to resolve as many issues as possible so that a trial is unnecessary. You should spend some time identifying the issues you and your spouse disagree on. Consider the following:
- Child custody. There are two types of child custody: legal decision-making and parenting time. If you have legal decision-making authority, you can make decisions about your child’s educational and medical needs. Parenting time is the amount of time the child spends with each parent.
- Child support. One parent may be required to pay the other child support, which is meant to defray the costs of raising the child.You can come to an agreement on child support. However, the judge always retains the power to set the amount based on state law.
- Alimony (called “spousal maintenance”). Spousal maintenance is a sum of money one spouse pays to the other after divorce. In Arizona, most alimony is for rehabilitative purposes, such as paying for the spouse to get more education. You can also get alimony to reimburse you for time and effort you contributed to your spouse’s education or career.
- Division of property. You must divide the property and debts you incurred as a couple. Arizona does not require a 50/50 split. However, the division must be fair.
Write down any previous negotiation.You need to tell the judge pro tempore about any negotiations that you have had with your spouse and the results of those negotiations.Take some time to sit down and write out what you have discussed with your spouse. For example:
- Have you talked about who will get the home?
- Have you discussed dividing assets, such as bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc.?
- Have you and your spouse discussed spousal maintenance?
- Have you discussed who will have physical custody of the children? Have you discussed who will make legal decisions for the children?
Determine what you want.Go through all of the issues in dispute and decide what your ideal resolution would be. Also determine your priorities. For example, your top priority might be getting the children to live with you during the week. Getting the car or spousal maintenance might be lower priorities.
- You should also identify what you might be willing to give up. For example, you might be fine with your children spending the weekend with their other parent.
Analyze the strength of your case.The family law settlement conference is voluntary. Although the attorney running it is called a “judge pro tempore,” this person has no power to force you to accept any agreement.However, you need to analyze the strength of your case to see if your demands are unreasonable.
- For example, you might want spousal maintenance. However, you could make almost as much money as your spouse and not have any other legal reason for deserving it. You should know this before going into the settlement conference.
- The best way to analyze your case is to meet with a qualified attorney who is familiar with Arizona divorce and family law.
Hire an attorney to help you.You are allowed to have an attorney with you at the settlement conference, and you should probably have one.If you don’t have a divorce lawyer, then you can get a referral to one by contacting your local or state bar association.
- Once you get a referral, you should call up the attorney and ask to schedule a consultation. Also check how much the attorney charges.
- At the consultation, you should discuss the upcoming settlement conference and how to prepare. Ask the attorney what you need to do in order to get the most out of the settlement conference.
- You don’t have to hire the attorney. Instead, you could pay for an hour of advice. However, if you are nervous about the upcoming settlement conference, then you should think about hiring the attorney.
Come up with justifications for your demands.You will be more effective in the family law settlement conference if you can justify your demands. The judge pro tempore will be looking to see if your demands are reasonable or unreasonable.
- For example, you might want spousal maintenance. You should be able to explain why.
- One justification could be that you gave up pursuing your education or career to stay at home and raise the children. In this situation, you might need financial support after divorce to help you finish up a degree and re-enter the job market. This is a strong reason for spousal support.
- Try to come up with one or two reasons for each demand. Your lawyer can help you identify persuasive reasons.
Gather relevant financial information.The mediator needs to understand your financial situation in order to conduct the settlement conference properly. Accordingly, you should go through the Financial Affidavit that you have already completed and gather relevant supporting financial documents, such as the following:
- pay stubs
- W-2 forms or other proof of self-employed income
- bank account records
- life insurance policies
- retirement and IRA accounts
- information on debts, such as mortgages, car loans, and credit cards
Completing the Settlement Conference Memorandum
Get a copy of the memorandum.You may have to complete a document called a “settlement conference memorandum,” which contains your proposals for resolving all disputes. You can get this document from the court. It may also be available on the court’s website for download.
Provide background information on the marriage.The memorandum will probably ask for background information on the marriage. You should gather the following information, as well as any supporting documentation as needed:
- date of your marriage
- names and ages of your children
- date the divorce petition was filed and served
- whether there are any temporary orders (attach a copy)
- whether you have reached agreement with your spouse on anything
Identify the issues in dispute.The memorandum will probably also ask that you identify matters you need to resolve with your spouse. For example, you should provide information about the following if they are unresolved:
- how you and your spouse will make legal decisions about your children’s medical, educational, and religious needs
- how parenting time will be allotted
- how holidays will be divided
- how real estate and personal property will be split
- how any business interests will be divided
- how debts will be divided
Propose whether spousal maintenance will be awarded.The judge pro tempore is also interested in your proposal for spousal maintenance. You should provide the following information in the memorandum:
- the basis for awarding spousal maintenance
- the proposed amount and the length of time spousal maintenance should be awarded
- the reason why spousal maintenance should not be awarded
Provide information to help determine the amount of child support.The memorandum will request financial information to help the court determine child support. For example, you will probably have to provide the following:
- mother’s income
- father’s income
- who should pay for the children’s health insurance
- how taxes should be divided
Submit the memorandum.Make a copy for your records. If you have a lawyer, then they need one copy as well. Submit the completed memorandum to the settlement conference judge pro tempore.
Attending the Settlement Conference
Get in the right frame of mind.You might be very angry at your spouse. However, you should try as best as you can to get in a proper mindset. Realize that resolving the issues in a settlement conference will be less exhausting and time-consuming than going to trial.If you’re angry now, you’ll probably be angrier at a trial.
Arrive on time.Give yourself plenty of time to get to the meeting place. If you have never been there before, then plan enough time to find nearby parking and go through any building security.
- If you have a lawyer, then you might want to ride over together. This is a good way to avoid getting lost, since a qualified lawyer should have attended family law settlement conferences before.
Explain what you want.The judge pro tempore will have read your memorandum before the conference. However, you should be prepared to discuss in detail what you want. Be prepared to give your reasons why you feel you are entitled to whatever you request.
Listen to your spouse.Your spouse also gets to speak. Generally, any kind of settlement conference will be more successful if you commit to listening. Really try to hear what your spouse is saying and why they want what they have requested.
- If your spouse says something offensive, bite your lip and try to let it go. Remember, if you can’t reach a resolution you can still go to trial and present evidence that supports your side of the story.
Find common ground with your spouse.You should attend the conference in good faith and make a decent attempt to find common ground with your spouse.Be prepared to give something up to get something in return.
- For example, if you want physical custody during the school week, be prepared to give your spouse holidays to spend with the children.
- Alternately, if you want spousal maintenance for five years, you can compromise and reduce the amount of time to two or three years.
Alert the judge that you have reached agreement.You can reach agreement on some or all issues. If you reach a settlement on all issues, then the trial date is removed.However, you may reach agreement on only some issues. In this situation, you will still need to go to trial on anything that remains unresolved.
- The judge pro tempore should be able to draft an agreement on any resolved issues and have you and your spouse sign it.Be sure to keep a copy.
Video: Modern Law Navigating Divorce Workshop #1: Finding An Attorney
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