Arizona Women Divorce Professionals (AWDP)

Arizona Women Divorce Professionals (AWDP) is a team of highly qualified professionals who help their clients successfully navigate through the divorce process. The team is comprised of eight women who have experience in family law, including attorney Leslie Satterlee, who focuses on representing individuals going in family law litigation.

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Other professionals in the group focus on financial planning, estate law, real estate, mortgages, insurance law, counseling, and bankruptcy. The divorce process can be complicated, but AWDP is here to provide knowledge and support.

On November 14th from 10:30 a.m. – noon, AWDP is hosting a presentation called “4 Secrets to Re-energize a Lifetime of Happiness & Passion.” Dr. Sheran Mattson will be the guest speaker at the presentation. Dr. Mattson is an experienced life coach, trainer, facilitator, and author. Along with Dr. Mattson’s presentation, many professionals will share their knowledge and experience regarding divorce.  The presentation will take place at the Granite Reef Senior Center, located at 1700 N. Granite Reef Rd., Scottsdale, Arizona.

This workshop is open to all and is FREE.  If you are going through a divorce, know someone going through a divorce, or merely want to learn more about the process or enjoy the presentation, we hope you will come.

Click here to RSVP.


The Top 5 Things to Consider Before Consulting with a Divorce Attorney

None of us get married thinking that one day we will want a divorce. Most people begin marriages thinking that they will be with their spouse forever. Then, life happens. Some couples overcome difficult obstacles together, while others realize they are not compatible with their partner. After they reach a realization that the marriage is broken, they may begin to ponder about divorce. People divorce for many reasons, and a marriage that ends with a divorce is not necessarily a failed marriage. Navigating through a divorce without legal representation can be difficult—that is why there are divorce attorneys. Before consulting with a divorce attorney, there are five major questions to ask yourself:


  1. Am I emotionally ready for a divorce?

In Arizona, a divorce is called a “dissolution”—which legally ends a marriage. Putting legality aside, a divorce is the breaking apart of a partnership. Before a person decides to seek an attorney’s legal guidance, the person must be emotionally ready to end their marriage. A common question is: “How do you know when you’re ready to end things?” Truthfully, the answer is different for every person. You may be the party being served with divorce papers and not prepared to end the marriage. Arizona does not require both parties to consent to a divorce. Once one party feels a divorce is necessary, the process to dissolve the marriage can commence. Even if you are not ready to proceed with a divorce, emotions must be set aside to reach the best outcome for all parties involved. A divorce should be treated as a business transaction with your attorney and a social transaction with a counselor—who will be better equipped to help you through the lifestyle adjustments.

  1. Am I financially ready for a divorce?

If you are seriously thinking about divorce, do not let the financial aspect keep you from proceeding with the case. You should learn what assets and/or debts you and your spouse have acquired, and what support may need to be paid or requested by putting together a budget. Some people are afraid of being “frozen out” during divorce proceedings. In Arizona, the system is set up in a way for the lower-earning spouse to have the same protection as the high-earning spouse. Before a final judgment is made, the judge can issue temporary orders that require the higher-earning spouse to pay spousal maintenance during the case. Spousal maintenance payments can even continue after the proceedings end if one of the party requires financial assistance. A judge can also order one party to pay the other spouse’s attorney fees, either because one party is in a stronger financial position or because one of the parties acts unreasonably during the dissolution process.  Note, however, that a good attorney will never promise a fees award or spousal maintenance because these are some of the most unsettled and unpredictable areas of family law.

  1. Have I researched attorneys?

It is important to research attorneys before deciding to have a consultation. Some helpful
websites are and Take an attorney’s experience, client testimonials, paper and fees into account. Sometimes it is necessary to go to multiple consultations to find the right attorney. Remember that attorneys have different styles, and it is crucial to choose an attorney with whom you are comfortable.

  1. What should I take to my consultation?

Depending on your situation, it is important to take relevant documents to your consultation. If you have already began filling out paperwork using the “Self-service
center” from the Maricopa Superior Court website, make sure to take any and all forms. Also take a pen and paper to take notes during the meeting to reference later. You should
remember to take your driver’s license and the consultation fee (if the attorney requires one). Have questions for your attorney written down so you do not waste time trying to remember them. Most of all, bring a good attitude.  A good attorney will be honest and point out both the strengths and weaknesses of your position and may offer some ‘tough love’ advice, if necessary.

  1. Do I have specific questions ready to ask the attorney?

Initial client consultations are usually less than an hour. That means you have a very short amount of time to explain your situation to an attorney, determine whether the attorney’s personality and advice aligns with your goals, and determine whether the attorney can help you with your legal issues. In that compressed time frame, you must be concise, goal-oriented, and open to hearing both good and bad news. Having specific questions already prepared before an attorney consultation will allow you to get the most out of your brief time, but be prepared to deviate from your script if the attorney points out issues you may not have considered.

Should I Get a Divorce?

Everyone experiences difficulties at various points in life. These concerns can be numerous and minor, few and severe, or any combination between. Families endure financial hardship, healthcare problems, emotional and psychological differences, domestic disputes, births, deaths, and sometimes legal trouble.  For married couples, these and other issues may lead spouses to consider divorce.

The question of whether to seek a divorce in Maricopa County can trouble a person for years because the process and consequences of legally dissolving a marriage are complex and frequently change.  Some people may not know anyone who has divorced, or they may know people whose hardships only increased after beginning the process.  Others may have outdated ideas about dissolution based on rules that no longer apply. Still more may understand the process but are not able to weigh the consequences on their own.  Here are some tips and observations to enlighten your decision.

What is a dissolution?

Which Way To Go?In Arizona, ‘dissolution’ describes the process of legally ending a marriage (the same process that most people call ‘divorce’). Dissolution differs from annulment primarily in the court’s treatment of marital property because dissolution dissolves a marriage while an annulment treats the marriage as if it never existed because of some technical flaw in its formation.  Parties whom the court acknowledges were married are typically entitled to a more comprehensive analysis and distribution of community assets than parties whose marriage should never have been granted (because, for example, one of the parties was under 18 and lacked legal capacity to marry without parental permission).

How do I get started?

Dissolution begins when one of the spouses files a Petition for Dissolution with the appropriate court (in Arizona, this is usually the Superior Court for the county in which one of the parties resides).  For example, a married couple living in Scottsdale would likely file their dissolution action at the Superior Court of Maricopa County unless they have not lived in the state long enough to establish jurisdiction.  The petition tells the court the information that it needs to confirm that the parties filed in the correct jurisdiction and lays out the issues that the petitioner needs to have resolved, such as division of marital property, orders for spousal maintenance, child support, parenting time, and legal decision-making authority (formerly called custody).  Once the judge receives the petition and supporting paperwork, he will issue a preliminary injunction that orders the parties to maintain the ‘status quo’ by not unnecessarily depleting bank accounts or disposing other assets until the dissolution is complete.

Do I need to have a reason for divorce? 

Arizona, like most states, does not require fault by one of the spouses before dissolving a marriage.  Under the old system (abandoned decades ago), courts would only grant divorces if some form of marital impropriety occurred, such as adultery, abandonment, or domestic violence.  Only uncommon covenant marriages maintain limited permissible bases for divorce that are established by contract before the parties marry.  For non-covenant marriages (the vast majority), the petitioner need only declare in the petition that the marriage is irretrievably broken to begin the dissolution proceedings.  Courts may still consider marital misconduct when dividing property or scheduling parenting time, but the days in which couples attempted to fabricate a basis for divorce are over.

My spouse has all the money.  How can I afford a divorce?

With virtually infinite permutations of marital roles, it is extremely common that one spouse earns significantly more money than the other.  Sometimes, one spouse controls most of the family’s financial affairs and the other is unsure of the existence or whereabouts of community assets.  Unequal access to marital resources may work fine during the marriage, but it can also provide a basis for exploitation and stop an aggrieved spouse from seeking a divorce.

The fear of being ‘frozen out’ during dissolution proceedings should not prevent you from divorcing if you believe the marriage should end.  Even before a final judgment dividing the community property, the judge can issue temporary orders requiring the higher-earning spouse to pay spousal maintenance and other expenses during the case.  Spousal maintenance payments may continue after the divorce if one of the parties lacks substantial earning capacity or needs long-term support.  Sometimes, the judge will also order one spouse to pay the other spouse’s legal fees, especially if the higher earner acts unreasonably during negotiations.  Arizona law is structured to give parties with less bargaining power access to the same protections available to the high-income spouse.

Kid in Sprinkler

What if I lose my kids in the divorce?

There is no denying the fact that dissolving a marriage takes a toll on everyone in the family.  One of the biggest fears that traps people in toxic marriages is that the other parent will take the kids and the family will be destroyed.

First, Arizona law strongly favors granting as much parenting time to each parent as possible.  Unless there is some reason to believe otherwise, such as domestic violence or criminal history, the court presumes that each parent is fit to raise the children and that the children’s interests are best served by having a meaningful and continuing relationship with each parent.

Although many parties threaten that they will ‘battle for custody’ to prevent their spouse from proceeding with a divorce, the determination of where the children will live and spend their time depends on the children’s best interests, not the persistence or finances of one of the parents.  Unless your background or actions during the proceedings cast doubt on your ability to raise your children, your spouse cannot exclude you from their lives.  If your marriage is toxic beyond repair, it may be best for your children for you to divorce instead of keeping them in a marital home filled with conflict.  If you or your children need counseling to get through the process, that expense can also be included in the temporary orders.

Is being divorced worth getting divorced?

Whether you want to remain married is an immensely difficult question to answer.  If you are truly unhappy in your marriage, however, you should not allow fear of the legal process to trap you in a toxic or dangerous situation.  An experienced attorney with strong networking skills can get you the help you need to make an informed decision and, if you decide to seek dissolution, to make the proceedings move as smoothly as possible.  When the quality and fulfillment of your life is at stake, a positive outcome is worth investigating.

Special Divorce Considerations for Physicians

After representing numerous doctors (and the spouses of doctors) in Arizona, we realize that physician divorces are different.  It is not that the law treats doctors uniquely — there are a host of considerations that are not present in many other divorce scenarios.  Sure, there are the usual issues, but there are complicating factors unique to physicians, such as valuation of medical practices, high asset divisions, as well as spousal maintenance claims.Doctor

There are no clear studies on physician divorce rates, but one recent article did not glamorize success rate of doctor’s marriages.  Although the accuracy 0f these statistics is not perfect, it is indisputable that these dissolutions necessitate a different level of attention because of the issues involved.  Physicians generally have complex financial issues that begin with oppressive student loans, but are also typified by numerous investments including homes, vacation homes, timeshares, retirement accounts, financial accounts, non-traditional investments, and the medical practice itself.

While not meant to be comprehensive, we put together a list of special considerations that are generally critical to physician divorces.  We use this list when initially consulting with physicians (or their spouses) to gather information necessary to form a deliberate legal strategy:

1.  Spousal maintenance:  In Arizona our statute details factors for the Court to consider in awarding maintenance (elsewhere known as alimony).  These factors include, but are not limited to, length of marriage, standard of living during the marriage, and the disparity of income.  While we have seen a number of physician/physician divorces, we also frequently see cases in which the physician’s income is significantly higher than that earned by the spouse.  Sometimes, the non-physician spouse can also argue that they supported the physician through medical school and residency and gave up their own opportunities in the process.

Doctor with xray2.  Practice valuation: Some medical practices have an actual value, much like if the family owned a restaurant.  In Arizona, the spouse would have a claim to their community share of the practice value.  However, this does not apply to all physicians.  For example, an Emergency Room doctor who is employed by an ER practice may simply be paid a rate for his work, much like the hospitalist trend that has taken root here in Arizona.  In those situations there would not be a value to the practice.  However, if that ER doctor were a partner and had an ownership interest in his practice, the analysis would be significantly different.  Similarly, some medical offices have assets to value, such as a radiology practice that owns MRI machines.  Some of these machines have used market values in excess of $1,000,000.  If the physician spouse purchased the machine and paid it off during the marriage, the non-physician spouse could be entitled one-half the value of the equipment.

3. Debts:  It is not uncommon for physicians to have large student debts that still need to be paid off.  Furthermore, while some physicians may be very conscientious of the state of their marital financial affairs, others may be simply too busy and stressed with work to know the intimate details.  For example, they may have no clue that their spouse has racked up significant credit card debt, which is presumably community debt to divide in a divorce.  Knowing what debts you have and your options for ensuring that they get paid, including offsets from other property or even reduced maintenance, is key to a comprehensive settlement.

4. Parenting Time:  Some physicians have routine and well-established schedules.  Others do not and may work a rotating schedule with abnormal hours.  Still other divorcees may be in medical school and looking at internships, residencies, and other jobs that may require relocation.  These all play an important role in determining parenting time for the children.  For physicians, or soon-to-be physicians facing divorce, it is important to maximize the quality parenting time with your children.  Your parenting plan may need built-in flexibility or other creative ways to deal with potential scheduling issues that may arise. Dad and son

5. Child Support:  In Arizona, child support is calculated pursuant to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.  The guidelines provide the amount of support based upon the respective incomes of the parties.  The guidelines, however, do not compute additional support for combined parental incomes of over $20,000 per month (i.e. your child support is essentially capped once it is calculated at any combined monthly income of the parents at $20,000).  But for physicians it is not uncommon for incomes to be in excess of this per month, and by extension it is not uncommon for children to be accustomed to life styles that require higher than normally calculated child support.  Child support orders may deviate from guideline amounts upon showing of good cause, but the necessity of a deviation can be difficult to discern.

6.  Time and Disclosures:  Often, physicians are not used to having to fully disclose all information regarding their finances to attorneys.  They are also very busy with their practices and may even have schedules that are incompatible with normal working hours.  This makes obtaining information that is required to be disclosed more complicated than usual.  On top of this, perhaps the only exposure physicians have to attorneys before entering into a divorce proceeding is in malpractice suits.  Consequently, it is not uncommon for physicians to be too busy/skeptical/jaded when asked to provide years’ worth of financial records.  Despite this, the best policy is to be forthcoming with all required disclosures.

Physician dissolution cases require finesse and, above all else, trust between the parties and their attorneys. Ideally, a skilled attorney can navigate the treacherous waters of divorce without capsizing the family, the medical practice, or the parties involved, but the best results can only occur when each participant acts in good faith.

Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

One of the most complex and contested issues in a dissolution action is spousal maintenance.  Spousal maintenance, previously known as ‘alimony,’ is a court-ordered award of payments from the spouse with higher income to the other spouse, often for a period of months or years.

Couple (Woodnick)In Arizona, spousal maintenance awards are governed by statute, codified at A.R.S. § 25-319.  Spousal maintenance is a “two hurdle” question.  First, you have to qualify under subsection A.R.S. §25-319(A), and only if you qualify, do you look at the amount and duration of the maintenance award outlined in subsection A.R.S. § 25-391(B).

The court’s decision to award maintenance is related to the following four factors: (1) whether one spouse lacks sufficient property to provide for their needs, (2) whether one spouse is unable to be self-sufficient either through employment or because they are the custodian of a dependent child and should not be required to work, (3) one spouse has contributed (often through sacrificing their own prospects) to the education of the other, and (4) whether the marriage was of long duration or one spouse is of an age which precludes their ability to become self-sufficient.

A finding of one or all of these factors could suffice to award spousal maintenance, and the judge’s discretion is broad.  Many of the statute’s provisions, such as whether a spouse can be “self-sufficient” or is of an age which precludes their ability to gain “adequate” employment, rely heavily on the judge’s interpretation of the facts presented by the parties.  The judge must also consider what he or she knows about the world in order to determine the likelihood of self-sufficiency, such as whether a particular skill set is marketable, whether a particular field of employment is stable, etc.  Needless to say, the threshold matter of whether maintenance should be awarded largely depends on the type and strength of evidence presented by the parties to convince the judge to rule in their favor.

Once the judge determines that some maintenance is appropriate, they will turn to section B of the statute, which outlines some (but not all) of the factors used to set the duration and amount of the award.  The statute’s list of factors includes some of the same provisions as in section A, like age and duration of marriage, but also considers future earning capacity and expenses (including educational expenses for mutual children), the roles that the parties assumed during the marriage and how those roles affected their ability to enter the labor market, and even foul play and damages caused to one spouse by the other.

Again, these determinations are highly fact-sensitive and give the judge a great deal of flexibility in deciding the proper duration and amount of the spousal maintenance award.  Even the factors that the judge considers are not limited to the list in the statute: judges can consider any relevant (a legal term of art) information so long as they do not neglect applicable factors listed in the statute.

Dollar (Woodnick)Even after the spousal maintenance award is ordered, a change in the circumstances could result in modification under A.R.S. § 25-327.  This statute requires the party moving for modification to show that their circumstances have changed in a substantial and continuing way which makes the previous maintenance order no longer proper.  The statute specifically mentions the addition or termination of health insurance coverage as a potentially “modifiable” change in circumstances, but virtually any substantial and ongoing circumstance with an impact on the parties’ finances could be cause for modification.

If it sounds as though all of these provisions lack clear legal standards, then you probably read them correctly: the body of law surrounding spousal maintenance is constantly changing and very discretionary.  An effective attorney in this area is one who is creative and who understands the nuances of persuasion, as most spousal maintenance actions depend entirely on convincing the judge to adopt one party’s interpretation of a given set of facts.  The judge is not required to consider evidence which is not properly presented, and it can be difficult to modify a spousal maintenance order once it is made final.  Because an adverse spousal maintenance holding could result in thousands of dollars being improperly awarded, there is tremendous incentive to consult with an attorney – attempting to argue for or against a spousal maintenance award without the help of a qualified lawyer could have a lifetime impact on your income.

Sperm Donor Expected to Pay Child Support

Reuters reports that the State of Kansas has filed a petition to declare a sperm donor the legal father of his genetic child in an attempt to make him pay child support.

The donor, William Marotta, met privately with a lesbian couple seeking to have a child, rather than arranging the donation through a licensed physician as required by Kansas law.  The couple found Marotta on Craigslist and presumably arranged the donation privately to avoid unnecessary expenses.  The couple sought to receive state benefits for the child’s medical care, prompting a mandatory identification of the child’s genetic parents – namely Marotta.


Marotta’s response to the state’s petition centers around a contract signed by the parties, absolving him of legal parental status and any future financial obligations arising as a result of the sperm donation.  Marotta’s lawyers cite a 2007 Kansas Supreme Court case in which a sperm donor was denied parental rights.  In that case, the parties had no formal agreement stating whether the donor maintained legal parent status or any potential obligations.

In essence, Marotta claims that the state should not be permitted to assign parental rights in the present case, where hard financial times have left the couple unable to fully provide for the child’s medical expenses, unless the state is willing to grant parental rights to all sperm donors who seek them out.

The case has drawn national attention due to its bearing on parental rights both of sperm and egg donors, as well as those of same-sex and infertile couples who hope to conceive a child.  An unfavorable ruling for Marotta would set a precedent which could be harmful to anyone seeking to conceive by artificial insemination.

In Arizona, A.R.S. § 25-501 provides that a child born as a result of artificial insemination is entitled to support from the child’s mother and the mother’s spouse, but only if the spouse is also the child’s biological father or signed a written agreement to take responsibility for the child before or after the insemination occurred.


It is unclear whether the state could seek support from a sperm donor in the same way as Kansas, although several Arizona Supreme Court decisions declare a universal duty owed by parents to support their biological or adopted children.  With many leading fertility specialists practicing in Phoenix, Chandler, Scottsdale, and around the state, a case like the one in Kansas may be inevitable as more individuals turn to artificial insemination as a means to have a child.

In any surrogacy situation, sperm or egg donation, adoption, or custody matter, it is important to speak to an attorney and to lay the necessary legal groundwork in advance of taking any action.  Smart legal advocacy and planning are critical, especially when the impact involves children.

Injunction Against Procreation in Child Support Case

A Wisconsin court issued an injunction on Dec. 3 which prohibits a father of nine from having any more children until he demonstrates that he can support the ones he already has.  The man owes close to $100,000 in unpaid child support and interest.


Associated Press reports that a similar probation condition was issued in Wisconsin in 2001, prompting a series of unsuccessful appeals.  Because the injunction is temporary and dissolves when child support payments resume, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that it does not violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment – which implicitly includes the substantive right to procreate – or the Eighth Amendment safeguard against cruel and unusual punishments.

The judge who issued the most recent ruling, however, openly lamented the fact that he did not have the authority to order sterilization.  The judge cited “common sense” in declaring that an individual who cannot support children should not have them.  An injunction prohibiting procreation was not part of the pre-sentencing investigation guidelines submitted by the state.

The punishment for violating a probation condition which restricts procreation is unclear beyond typical sanctions for violating a court order.  Although sterilization is unlikely, as evidenced by Judge Boyle’s comments, any punishment imposed for procreation treads on thin constitutional ice in spite of the undisputed importance of making timely child support payments.


If nothing else, this case illustrates the high stakes whenever family and criminal law intersect – that which appears to be a simple probationary hearing for failure to pay child support can evolve into a complex analysis of state and federal law.  If judges continue to issue sentences like the one in Wisconsin, it may not be long before an appeal is carried all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you are involved in any family or related criminal law case – including divorce, child support or custody matters, or any form of hearing involving Child Protective Services – do not attempt to move forward without consulting an attorney.  Your rights are best protected when you have the aid of qualified counsel as early in the process as possible.

Petraeus Scandal: “Royally Screwed Up”

For several weeks, the adultery scandal perpetrated by former CIA Director David Petraeus has dominated the news.  There are countless talking points surrounding the scandal (and virtually everyone has an opinion about them), but one key feature stands out: General Petraeus’ military career.


Adultery is rarely prosecuted in the few states in which it is still considered a crime.  Generally, the consequences of adultery play out most prominently in the divorce setting.  In some states, a finding that adultery has occurred could result in significant modifications during asset division, as well as in spousal maintenance and child custody determinations.  Arizona, however, is a “no-fault” state which means that the basis for the divorce has no bearing on whether one can obtain a divorce and also does not (in most cases) affect the equitable division of property or an award of spousal maintenance. Generally the only impact adultery may have on asset division in Arizona would be if the injured spouse could prove to the court that the adultery resulted in financial waste to the community (think romantic trips, jewelry, gifts, etc.).

In the military, however, adultery can have much more serious legal consequences.  Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 134 (UCMJ 134) prohibits “all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces,” and adultery has historically been included within such conduct.  Proving that the conduct brought “discredit upon the armed forces” is a difficult standard to overcome, but the Petraeus scandal would certainly qualify – the scandal has, after all, drawn worldwide attention to the military, the CIA, and the United States government as a whole.


Court-martials for adultery have grown less common in recent years, but they do occur.  The most common avenue through which adultery comes to light in the military setting is through divorce proceedings – if a serviceperson admits to adultery during a divorce, they may be subject to a court-martial and subsequent discipline (in addition to the civil disadvantages that may occur in the state court’s dissolution action).

Life as a member of the Armed Forces differs in many ways from the lives of civilians.  An attorney with knowledge of military divorces and the unique challenges they present will ensure that your rights and assets are protected throughout the process.  Attempting to navigate the interactions of federal, state, and military law which take place during a military divorce without an attorney could expose you to both civil and – as illustrated by the Petraeus scandal – criminal penalties.

Evaluating “Goodwill” during Asset Division

In a contested divorce proceeding, valuation of community assets is often the most complicated and controversial issue.  Couples who seek a divorce often spend a lot of time (and money) posturing for the most favorable division of assets.

Particularly when businesses are involved, navigating the contours of asset division can become a hard and tricky task.  Although valuing tangible assets – like equipment – is usually a straightforward procedure, there can also be numerous “intangibles” which play a significant role (like professional goodwill).

Goodwill is essentially the value placed on someone’s reputation that will probably generate future income.  To complicate matters, there is no set formula for how to value this.  Instead, courts look at a number of factors such as the practitioner’s age, health, past earning power, reputation, skill and knowledge, and comparative future success.

In a recent Arizona Court of Appeals Decision (Walsh v. Walsh,, the court addressed a dispute about the value of professional “goodwill” generated over the course of the marriage.

In Walsh, the husband was a partner in a large law firm.  He proposed that the value of his “goodwill” should be limited to tangible, “realizable benefits” he had, such as his stock options pursuant to a stockholder agreement.

The wife – also an attorney – disputed that evaluation, claiming that her husband could withdraw from the firm and retain his reputation and the business which comes from client loyalty, and that this goodwill had a significant value to be divided.

The Court of Appeals agreed that goodwill should not have been limited to the “realizable benefits” of the stock options and that the lower court must examine whether there is a value to the intangible asset.

The court limited its holding by declaring that goodwill is not the same as future earning capacity – “We underscore, however, that our holding does not equate goodwill with future earning capacity.  While future earning capacity may be evidence of goodwill, the earning capacity is not itself a divisible community asset.” – but distinguishing between the two is “not itself” a precise science.

Decisions like the one in Walsh highlight the complexities involved in dissolution actions involving community businesses and business interests.  An attorney who is aware of these issues can make favorably settling a contested divorce much easier (and far less costly).  Furthermore, because evaluation of assets like goodwill is largely at the discretion of the court, an attorney with a great deal of knowledge and courtroom experience is better equipped to protect your interests if a pre-trial resolution cannot be reached.

Special Considerations for Military Divorces

Military life can include a number of unique challenges not faced by most civilians.  Frequent relocation, uncertain deployment schedules, and often dangerous work can make family life difficult.  Should that difficulty lead to a decision for a military couple to seek out a divorce, those same factors play a significant role in asset division and child custody determinations.

Even basic considerations, such as which court should hear the divorce proceedings for military spouses, can be extremely complex due to the nature of military lifestyles and heavy regulation by federal and military law.  Resolving these issues can require legal expertise which can only be offered by an attorney who is knowledgeable about military divorces.  In particular, the Leave and Earnings Statement (“LES”), a detailed invoice of military earnings and benefits, can be difficult to read and incorporate into a divorce settlement.

Here are some common issues to consider when handling a military divorce:

Jurisdiction:  In most divorces, deciding where to bring an action is simple – the state where the parties live.

However, imagine a common scenario for military families: a young man from California joins the U.S. Air Force and enters the Air Force Academy in Colorado.  While there, the soldier meets his future wife, graduates, then moves to Glendale to live near Luke Air Force Base.  The couple decides to end their marriage, but just after the divorce proceedings begin, the soldier is deployed to Afghanistan.  Suddenly, deciding where the family is “domiciled” becomes much more complicated.

Further complicating matters is the fact that there may be multiple answers to the question of which is the appropriate court in which to file an action.  That is because there are different rules governing a court’s ability to divorce the couple, make custody determinations, or divide property (including a military pension).  It is imperative that you understand these complexities before you file or respond to an action

The Service Members Civil Relief Act:  This act, commonly referenced as SSCRA, allows members of the Armed Forces to apply for a “stay” of some judicial proceedings while they are on active duty.  The provision provides some protection for service members (including activated National Guard or reserve troops) whose official duties would otherwise prevent them from participating in litigation.  Whether you are seeking a divorce from a member of the military, or you are a uniformed serviceperson, understanding the SSCRA can be an important part of your case.

Visitation and family care plans:  Because military life often includes frequent relocations and other travel, creating plans for custody and parenting time can be tricky.  Arizona law (A.R.S. § 25-411) provides some guidance for military families in addition to protecting the rights of servicepersons whose work may require them to modify their custody plans in various ways.  The Arizona statute is long and detailed, however, so applying it to an individual case is not always easy.

Family support:  Understanding exactly how much income a service member has is key in determining family support (child support and spousal maintenance).  This requires reading and understanding the LES given monthly to members of the military.  Base pay, skill pay, hazardous duty pay, disability pay, and other bonuses may play a significant role in determining the amounts of spousal maintenance, child support, and other financial arrangements.

Pension, disability, and other benefits:  Military pension is difficult to decode even without trying to fit it into a divorce settlement.  Because military divorces are regulated by both federal and state laws, each component of the pension (retirement, disability, etc.) may be governed by a different law.

For example, recent changes to Arizona laws protect a veteran’s service-related disability benefits from judicial property division.  The definition of service-related disability benefits comes from Title 38 of the United States Code – referring back and forth between state and federal laws is an arduous task and finding an attorney to help navigate through this issue is critical.

Appreciating the unique aspects of a military divorce can require years of legal practice.  Even for a seasoned divorce attorney, frequent changes to divorce, custody, and military laws at both the state and federal levels offer unique challenges in each new case.