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Everyday life, as we knew it, has changed both temporarily and perhaps permanently in Arizona by the Covid-19 pandemic and many couples previously on rocky ground are turning to divorce as their solution!  Our intermittent lockdown, business, school and home closures, and social distancing limitations have made the legal profession become creative in new ways to serve our family law clients.

One way is to do an online divorce in Arizona that allows for absolutely no physical contact.

Couples seeking a quick and equitable divorce in Arizona will find that providers touting cheap and affordable online divorce solutions may not be the best solution for every situation. So seek advice before making a decision either way.

In a work-from-home conversation/consultation in an online format using Zoom, GoToMeeting, or Facetime, Attorney Cristi McMurdie can assist you in determining if you will be proceed by online services alone.  We can use electronic filing, and now most hearings are being held virtually via GoToMeeting, Zoom or other no-contact avenues.  In true Collaborative Divorce, we can set up the Full Team Meeting via zoom to address and settle all of your issues including parenting and asset and debt divisions.

As couples move toward resolutions your legal questions and answers about virtual and online divorce in Arizona may help determine the best steps forward.

Q: Is an Online Divorce Possible in Arizona?

A: For many years now Maricopa county has provided to the public a website that allows people to download documents to fill out by hand or online and then file at the court house or have a process server or document preparation service file on their behalf.  See Court Forms found here that may be of assistance. https://superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/llrc/court-forms/.  Many folks, however find the forms difficult to use or they do not fit their particular unique situation and will still find great assistance through the use of an attorney or document preparation firm.

In the last few years, Arizona Turbo Court has been improved and attorneys and the public are doing a lot up uploading of documents to Electronic Court Record (ECR) or Turbo Court.  Sometime they are backlogged and there is a delay in the acceptance process by the ECR Department so depending upon your due date, be careful with using ECR.

In Family Court, the starting document called the Petition that will open your case still has to be filed physically first and is not allowed to be filed by electronic upload via ECR or Turbo Court.  Later filings are however allowed. So there’s a combination of “by hand” and online submission requirements.

Divorcing people who want to do it themselves and avoid attorney’s fees may find it useful to use the court website forms and any electronic filing at their disposal.  One noticeable problem that lawyers see is that the court forms force do-it-yourself petitioners to decide how to divide their assets and set up a parenting plan before the case has even really begun. And thus, many of these decisions are premature and change during the process, yet people may think they are stuck with what they filed initially. In most divorce cases, when there are two lawyers involved, or many major life changes that occur often in divorce, the process takes a year or so and this means that there are many decisions that also are subject to change. During divorce, many people change their careers, their jobs, their households and much more.

Q: Will an online divorce result in a fair settlement?

A: What drove me to become an attorney is my innate desire for fairness and justice so I do not feel comfortable unless all of your documents are reviewed by a professional, yes a family law attorney who has experience in family law. I would hesitate to say definitively that an online, self-filed divorce would be fair or not unless the Parties had both sought the advice of lawyers.  I’ve been practicing family law for nearly 30 years and I learn something new about my area of law every single day. It’s unlikely that even a savvy couple might not leave something important out of their final agreements simply because they did not know to consider such asset or its ramifications.

Q: In this time of the Coronavirus pandemic is there a way to use online resources to facilitate a no-contact divorce, without needing to meet with a partner, other attorneys or people in the court system?

During this Covid-19 pandemic, people can handle their entire divorce or family law case without having to have contact with other people. Lawyers can be hired online and meetings can be held over Zoom or GoToMeeting, or with phone calls.  If a hearing is required, the courts are setting a lot of GoToMeeting hearings where your evidence is uploaded to a specific website that the judge then reviews. At the Zoom or GoToMeeting hearing, they are conducted as though you were in person so the courts are finding that it works really well and may very likely become the norm. Digital hearings alleviate the stress of driving to court, parking, bring all our files into the courthouse, and dealing with oppositional people.  It also saves energy and time.

In Family Law, after the Parties have filed their first Petition and Response, the court sets a scheduling hearing called a Resolution Management Conference that are by and large, at this time being held via GoToMeeting virtual platform. These type hearings have shown to expedite aspects of the cases, and I believe that it probably saves taxpayer dollars over time.

With the second shutdown in July 2020, the court has ruled again that there will be no jury trails in the month of July. With the changes that came about with the first shutdown, we finally got to a place where the judges were being allowed to have one hearing in-person in the morning and one hearing in-person in the afternoon. All other hearings were being done by GoToMeeting.

Q: How does an online divorce in Arizona work?

A: You can start your case by hiring someone like me.  I prepare the documents and then email them to you for your review and additions. Then I prepare them to file with the court and my process server files them at court for me. Almost all other documents after we open your case can be filed through AZ Turbo Court’s ECR. All hearings and meetings can also be done via audio call or by Zoom or GoToMeeting, i.e. virtual meetings. So, your entire case can be done without any contact. Everybody is doing this now and it’s very common.

Q: What other steps in the divorce process can be handled online or via Zoom/GoToMeeting?

In both mediation and in collaborative cases, all of the processes can be done privately outside of the court system with mediators and collaboratively-trained lawyers and other professionals on the team we set up.  All the meetings and mediations that are pre-scheduled via email, and then all meetings are virtual. We prepare emails with documents and exhibits to review in advance, and then when we have our meeting, we’re all looking at the same documents. As a mediator, I can have both parties on Zoom and have break out rooms when we need a private discussion called a “caucus.”

In a collaborative case we involve a full team that includes a neutral financial advisor, and that advisor will have already met with the parties to gather their financial information and to create a set of spread sheets that assist the whole team in working with the couple in dividing their assets and debts. After the whole team is provide this through email, then a full team meeting is scheduled in order to reach agreements on how to divide the assets and debts of the marital community. So, in a collaborative case, there are preliminary steps that are taken before the full team meetings so that everyone is prepared and ready. Both parties’ collaboratively-trained lawyers, and the financial neutral and the communication coach will meet with the Parties via Zoom meeting for this full team meeting.  Collaborative Divorce Process is very helpful to larger asset cases or when folks desire to have complete anonymity. If the team decided that they would benefit bringing in a real estate specialist, or a child therapist, the team decides this together and that person is selected by agreement.  That specialist should also have collaborative training in addition to their other specialist training.

The entire process of a collaborative divorce can now be done with absolutely no contact and is a very beneficial way to get divorced.  With mediation, when I’m the mediator, we can also do the whole case from beginning to end with no contact.

Even in a contested case, as stated above, the courts are setting the preliminary hearings by virtual GoToMeeting hearings. With my style of negotiating, I can most usually learn what people want and assist them to reach agreement short of going to a hearing or court.  Maricopa County wants attorneys to work with their clients in this manner to attempt to reduce the large court caseloads and keep things moving better.  I do attempt to settle things even in highly contested matters because I believe that to be my job and what the courts admonish us to do.

Contact McMurdie Law & Mediation today to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific situation.