In Arizona, in certain cases, spouses may seek or might be ordered to submit their family law controversies to a conciliation court. Conciliation court attempts to either preserve the marriage or to resolve controversies. See Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(b)(1). A conciliation court can offer different services to achieve these goals, including conciliation services, mediation, assessments, evaluations, family education, and other such services. See Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 68(a). This writing discusses the ins and outs of conciliation court in Arizona, including the types of cases that might go to conciliation court, the processes by which such cases end up in conciliation court, the stay that occurs in the superior court, and finally an overview of the conciliation court’s process for scheduling a first hearing.
I. Why Kinds of Cases Do Conciliation Courts Hear?
Arizona law provides that the conciliation court has jurisdiction over controversies “between spouses which may, unless a reconciliation is achieved, result in the legal separation, dissolution or annulment of the marriage or in the disruption of the household, and there is any minor child of the spouses or either of them whose welfare might be affected thereby . . . .” See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.08. However, sometimes, depending the details of the case and subject to the availability of court resources, cases without minor children may end up conciliation court as well. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.20. Arizona law authorizes conciliation courts to accept cases where “it appears to the court that reconciliation of the spouses or amicable adjustment of the controversy can probably be achieved, and that the work of the court in cases involving children will not be seriously impeded by acceptance of the case . . . .” Id. Additionally, at its discretion, an Arizona conciliation court may also attempt to resolve post-dissolution “problems concerning maintenance support, parenting time or contempt or for modification based on changed conditions . . . .” See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.18(C).
II. How Does a Case End Up in Conciliation Court?
A family law case might end up in conciliation court through one of a few of different ways.
First, one or both of the parties might file a petition requesting the conciliation court’s involvement in resolving their controversy, either before or after they begin their family law case. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.09. Per Arizona statute, a petition for conciliation must: (1) allege that a controversy exists between the spouses and request the aid of the conciliation court to effect a reconciliation or an amicable settlement of the controversy, (2) state the name and age of each minor child whose welfare may be affected by the controversy, (3) state the name and address of the petitioner or petitioners, (4) if the petition is presented by one spouse only, name the other spouse as a respondent and state the address of that spouse, (5) name as a respondent any other person who has any relation to the controversy and state the address of the person if known to the petitioner, and (6) state such other information as the conciliation court may by rule require. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.11.
It is worthwhile to note that if a family law (dissolution / divorce, legal separation, or annulment) case has already been filed and sixty (60) days has passed from the date of service, a petition to have the conciliation court take over can only be filed if either (1) the other spouse consents or (2) it appears to the court that the filing will not delay the orderly processes of the pending action. ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.18(D).
Second, after an action for dissolution / divorce, legal separation, or annulment has begun, a court might transfer a family law case to conciliation court because “there is any minor child of the spouses or either of them whose welfare may be adversely affected by the dissolution or annulment of the marriage, legal separation or the disruption of the household, and there appears to be some reasonable possibility of a reconciliation being effected . . . .” See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.19.
Third, in smaller Arizona counties, the superior court has the option of mandating conciliation court before allowing a case for dissolution / divorce, legal separation, or annulment to proceed. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.23. “In those counties in which the superior court has by rule or order established a conciliation court, the judge or judges of the conciliation court may, by local rule, with the approval of the presiding judge of the superior court in that county, require one or more hearings or conferences at which the parties must attend in order to further the purposes of this article.” Id. “The court may also grant exemptions from such a local and mandatory rule if to do otherwise would cause undue hardship.” Id.
III. What Happens to a Superior Court Case When Conciliation Court Take Over?
If the petition for conciliation is filed before a family law case is initiated, the petition for conciliation prevents either party from filing a petition for divorce/dissolution, legal separation, or annulment for a sixty (60) day period. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.18(A). If the petition for conciliation is filed after a family law case is initiated or if the court decides to send the case to conciliation court before hearing the matter, the case is transferred to conciliation court and the family law case is stayed (put on hold) for a sixty (60) day period. See id. However, during that stay, “[a]ll restraining, support, maintenance or custody orders issued by the superior court remain in full force and effect until vacated or modified by the conciliation court or until they expire by their own terms.” Id.
If either party wishes to extend the stay, “that party must file a petition with the court that states the basis for the extension and includes a plan for reconciliation or a counseling schedule.” See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.18(B). “The court may grant a reasonable extension of up to one hundred twenty days if the moving party establishes good cause for the extension.” Id. However, Arizona statute disallows a superior court from granting “an extension if the other party objects with good cause.” Id.
Once the stay ends, if “the controversy between the spouses has not been terminated, either spouse may institute proceedings for annulment of marriage, dissolution of marriage or legal separation by filing in the clerk’s office additional pleadings complying with the requirements relating to annulment of marriage, dissolution of marriage or legal separation, respectively, or either spouse may proceed with the action previously stayed . . . .” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.18(C). In such an instance, “the conciliation court has full jurisdiction to hear, try and determine the action for annulment of marriage, dissolution of marriage or legal separation and to retain jurisdiction of the case for further hearings on decrees or orders to be made.” Id. If another petition for conciliation is filed within one (1) year of the filing of the prior petition for conciliation, the filing of the new petition does “not stay any action for annulment, dissolution of marriage, or legal separation then pending nor prohibit the filing of such an action by either party.” See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-381.22.
If you are considering taking your case to conciliation court or are in the middle of conciliation court proceedings and need some guidance, Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC can help you with your case. Contact Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC to set up a consultation and to discuss your options.
Disclaimer: This publication is for educational and informational purposes only, and represents Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC’s understanding of the present state of Arizona law. This publication does not constitute legal advice or counsel, and should not be construed as a comment on the merits of any particular case. It should be noted that the laws and requirements of the State of Arizona may change at any time and that this information may not be complete or correct.