Divorce 101: Initial Petition and Response

Please read my disclaimer.

Below is some general information about the initial petition for divorce (or legal separation) and the next steps in the process. Although it is lengthy, it covers a lot of important topics and will hopefully answer most of the questions you have at this point.

Petition for Dissolution (or Legal Separation)

The petition is the initiating document in every family court case. The petition is required to include “a simple statement” of the claims you intend to make in the case, as well as the basis for the court’s jurisdiction. Generally, I do not include a specific proposal in the petition for dividing property or paying spousal maintenance (or legal decision-making and parenting time, if applicable). This is because the discovery process may reveal additional information that could change your position on those issues. I also feel it is best to maintain the most flexibility possible at the outset of the proceeding. If there is a high likelihood that the other party may not respond to the petition at all, we may include a more detailed proposal because it makes it easier to proceed by default.

The petition is a binding legal document which you will sign under penalty of perjury. Therefore, it is important that the petition is as accurate as possible, with the understanding that we may not have all the information at this stage. Generally, the positions you take in the initial petition cannot be changed unless new information comes to light.

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Divorce 101: How to Use ECR

The Maricopa County Superior Court offers a free online portal called ECR (Electronic Court Record) where you can access PDF copies of most of the documents filed in your case. You can access documents in any family court case in Maricopa County, including orders of protection. Here’s how to sign up:

  1. Register for an account: Click the “Not registered yet?” button on the ECR homepage. Fill out your personal information exactly as it appears on your driver’s license. This is important—if your information isn’t correct, you may need to verify your identity with the clerk’s office in person or over the phone.
  2. If needed, verify your identity: Sometimes ECR will need more information to verify your identity. Follow the instructions on the website to verify your identity and access your account. This may require a phone call or visit to the clerk’s office.
  3. Click the activation link in your email: Once your identity is verified, you’ll need to click the email activation link to activate your account.
  4. Add your case(s): ECR won’t have any cases listed the first time you log in. Click the “Add Case” button in the upper right and add your case number. Make sure to use the correct format. You can add multiple cases to your ECR case list.

Certain types of documents containing sensitive information cannot be obtained through ECR:

  • Affidavits of financial information
  • Sensitive data cover sheets
  • Custody evaluations and psychological assessments
  • Income withholding orders
  • Other sealed or confidential documents

For cases in other counties, you can use the Public Access search on the Arizona Judicial Branch website. However, you’ll only be able to see docket entries, not the actual documents in your case.