Under Arizona law, a marriage may be ended through a dissolution (divorce) or an annulment. Another alternative occasionally used is a legal separation.
Each of these methods have much in common. For example, in a divorce, annulment, or legal separation, the Judge must equitably divide any community property and community debts. The Judge must make a determination of any custody and child support issues. In a divorce or a legal separation (but not in an annulment), the court must make a determination on the issue of spousal maintenance.
To obtain an annulment, a party must demonstrate that factors exist that renders the marriage void. This may be demonstrated by showing that one of the parties was already married. This is also demonstrated by showing significant fraud or misrepresentation prior to the marriage. Such a showing of fault is not necessary in a divorce or legal separation. Arizona is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that neither side must prove any specific wrong-doing by the other party to proceed with a divorce. To obtain a divorce, all that must be shown is that one or more of the spouses believes that the marriage is irretrievably broken. For a legal separation, a party may demonstrate that the marriage is irretrievably broken, or simply that the parties desire to live separate and apart.
Annulments are often sought after a very short term marriage, or when it is later discovered that one of the parties was still married when the parties were married. One strategic benefit for seeking an annulment is when one party wishes to avoid paying spousal maintenance (alimony), as the Court cannot do so in an annulment case. With an annulment, the Court retroactively eliminates the marriage, as if it never occurred.
Legal separations are typically sought for religious or financial reasons. Some individuals have religious beliefs against a divorce, and therefore prefer to become financially separated rather than divorced. Because they are not divorced, neither party can remarry. There may be financial advantages for a legal separation also. For example, legally separated couples may still file taxes jointly, and may still include the spouse on medical insurance.
Ultimately, each case must be individually analyzed by an Arizona Attorney experienced in divorce and family law. While most cases proceed with a standard dissolution (divorce), there may be some advantages to exploring these other legal options.
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