Legal SeparatioN IN ARIZONA

legal separation in arizona

What is the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce?


Just like in a divorce case, an order or decree will be issued dividing the parties’ assets and debts, and other relevant provisions, such as financial support or child custody, will be decided as well. 

What is Legal Separation?

Consider legal separation a term of art. You will have resolved all financial and custody related issues at the conclusion of your Legal Separation, just like in a divorce. But, you will not be “legally divorced” at the conclusion of the legal separation process. 

Opting for a legal separation instead of a divorce is a personal decision. There may be benefits to remaining married.For example, your legally separated spouse could remain on your insurance policies or remain a beneficiary on your retirement plan. There could also be religious reasons a couple chooses a legal separation. Your accountant or financial advisor could be a good resource to understanding the financial impacts between a divorce and a legal separation. 

Why Might You Consider Legal Separation over Divorce?

  • Health insurance benefits
  • Religion
  • Beneficiary designation
  • Taxes
  • Social Security

There are personal reasons or financial advantages as to why a couple chooses a legal separation over a divorce. Religious considerations are one of the prevalent personal reasons a couple chooses legal separation.

If you are insured under your spouse’s health insurance plan,  losing your health coverage after your divorce can have serious financial implications. Although COBRA is available for divorced spouses, the costs are significant. Many couples choose to stay married and file for legal separation to maintain health coverage benefits under their spouse’s plan. 

Often tax or retirement considerations prompts a couple to file for legal separation instead of a divorce. Your accountant or tax specialist can be a further resource to determine tax savings and cost advantages of filing your federal and state tax returns as married or single. 

For marriages nearing the ten year mark, it may be advantageous to stay married to apply for you spouse’s social security benefits at retirement age.  A person who has been married a minimum of 10 years is entitled to an amount equal to 50% of the other spouse’s retired benefit.


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How to File for Legal Separation in Arizona

In order to file for legal separation you must meet the following requirements:

  • 90 day residency requirement for one of the parties (or stationed in AZ for 90 days)
  • The marriage is irretrievably broken or the parties desire to live apart
  • The conciliation provisions have been met or do not apply (The court offers conciliation services; provided either party applies for conciliation services, it places the divorce or legal separation on hold for 60 days.)
  • The other party does not object to a legal separation

A Legal Separation Agreement can be drafted to memorialize the arrangement between the parties concerning the maintenance of their assets, payments of debts, control of bank accounts, support and other related financial or child related provisions.

Can I Convert My Legal Separation to a Divorce?

Yes, Arizona allows you convert Legal Separation case to a Divorce case anytime during the pending legal separation process. Keep in mind, once your legal separation form is finalized (a Decree of Legal Separation has been approved by the court), you must begin the divorce process from scratch.

Conciliation Services for Legal Separation

Arizona law dictates that at the time of filing for divorce, the parties must confirm the conciliation provisions of A.R.S. §25-381.09 do not apply or have been met.  The conciliation provision states that either party may ask the court to submit their divorce case to conciliation court.  The objective of conciliation court is to resolve disputes between the parties and preserve the marriage.  Submitting your divorce action to conciliation court places your divorce case on hold for 60 days.  If the parties are unable to resolve the matter within the 60 day conciliation period, the divorce action will resume after. 

Confirming that ‘the conciliation provisions either do not apply or have been met’ simply means you are not interested in conciliation services or you have tried conciliation services and want to proceed with the divorce action.