Does it Matter Who Files First in an Arizona Divorce?

As a Phoenix Divorce Mediator, I get this question A LOT! The short answer is: legally “no”, but personally, often “yes.”

Arizona is a no-fault divorce state, which means you do not need to prove that one spouse is at fault for something in order to file for divorce. One spouse simply needs to assert that there are irreconcilable differences and one spouse must have resided in Arizona (or been stationed as a member of the armed forces in Arizona) for at least 90 days before filing a Petition for Dissolution (Divorce).

Although a lot of people believe there is a legal advantage to being the Petitioner (one who files the Petition); in Arizona, there really is not any legal significance to who is named the Petitioner and who is named the Respondent (the one who responds to the Petition). There is no definitive legal benefit to being the first to file the divorce paperwork other than to start the court clock on the divorce proceedings and establish the division date for valuation of community property and debts.

However, because divorce documents are public record, commonly spouses have strong feelings about who actually is listed as the one who filed the divorce paperwork. Often, one spouse does not really want the divorce, so he or she does not want it to appear that he or she initiated the divorce process. Sometimes one spouse is farther along in the acceptance process and it feels better to have that person be listed as the Petitioner. Whatever the personal reasons, as a divorce mediator, I ask that the couple decide together who will be listed as the Petitioner and who will be listed as the Respondent in order to address any strong emotional feelings. It is just another way mediation can support each person’s personal perspective and help ease the divorce process.