A Trusted Guide For Family Law Matters

How much does it cost to hire an attorney?
  • In the context of a family law case, it is nearly impossible to tell how much a case will cost.
  • There are certain services that can be quoted as a flat fee. These include limited scope cases such as filing an Order of Protection, representation for an Order of Protection Hearing, or even drafting pleadings for a divorce filing.  These are normally straight forward and you can have the option of paying a flat fee so that you can plan for the expense.
  • Family law cases often get much more complicated, very quickly. These sorts of cases are managed on an hourly fee arrangement, meaning that there is no way to know how much it will cost.
  • However, there are certainly things that you can do to control the cost of litigation:
    • Be responsive: Your attorney will ask you for documents, facts, or positions on certain issues. They understand what the deadlines are and what pace will benefit your case.
    • Keep your records: You often have a choice between calling your attorney or e-mailing them. E-mailing is a great cost saver for several reasons.  First, it gives you control of the conversation.  You can make a bullet list of the questions and make sure that you’ve covered everything before you hit send.  Second, that e-mail communication will now serve as a reference if you feel like you already discussed something.
    • Listen to your attorney: One of the great benefits to hiring an attorney is that you have an experienced and objective perspective over an issue that is deeply personal.  In Arizona, the Court can order a party to pay attorney’s fees for the other party based on the reasonableness of their positions.  This “reasonableness” standard can be like navigating a minefield and an experienced attorney has marched back and forth across that field numerous times. (see more about “reasonable positions.”)
Can I pay with a credit card?
  • Absolutely. Whether you hire on a flat fee or hourly fee basis, the Law Office of Jon D. L. Leitenberger accepts cash, check, and credit card.  Credit card payments are processed through a secure portal link that is e-mailed to you.
I can’t afford a lawyer, but my parents/siblings/significant other wants to pay. Can I do that?
  • Absolutely. Whether you pay your attorney’s fees or you give me written permission to accept payment, my duty is to the client, not the payor.  The Payor is not entitled to access to the case file, to discuss your case with me, or have any say as to what happens in the case, just the client.
Can I take my children out of state?
  • Before litigation starts, there are generally little limitations on travel with your children, though it is always good to communicate travel plans with the other parent. Many times contentious custody issues are started by one parent traveling or moving with the children without the other parent’s agreement.
  • If there is a family law case pending, there are limitations on travel with Minor Children. These limitations can be loosened through agreements between the parents or by requesting a hearing to get permission from the Court.
Can the other parent stop me from seeing my kids?
  • There are certain circumstances where one parent will withhold children from the other parent. Sometimes there is no justification for this and you need to assert your right to be with your children.  There are other times where the other parent can legally and/or justifiably withhold your children.  This creates a complicated barrier for you to continue a meaningful relationship with your kids.  An experienced attorney is the best way to restore custody rights when this happens.
Do I have to pay child support if there are no custody orders?
  • The primary entry into establishing a Child Support Obligation is by establishing paternity. This often—and certainly should—be within the context of pursuing custody orders.  However, if paternity is established without custody orders, you may still be obligated to pay child support as well as past care and support payments.  If you have been notified that a Child Support action is taken against you, you need to speak to an attorney to ensure that you are paying the right amount of child support and to make sure that you also resolve the question of custody.
How much do I have to pay for child support?
  • Arizona follows a set of Child Support that takes a bit of guesswork out of the question of child support. The Current Child Support Calculator can be found here. https://www.azcourts.gov/familylaw/2018-Child-Support-Calculator
  • The large driving factors when determining Child Support are:
    • Income of the parties
    • How many children are common to the parties
    • Whether either party has children not common to the parties
    • Who pays for insurance
    • Who pays for extraordinary expenses
    • How much parenting time each parent gets.
  • Calculating Child Support can become complicated when it is difficult to pin down self-employment income or when the parent’s combined gross income is over $20,000.00 per month.  In cases like this, it is good to have an attorney that knows what to look for and how to present your case.
I was served, what do I do?
  • Whether you need an attorney to represent you or not, you need to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. Many attorney’s offer a free consult which will help you decide if you feel like you need an attorney or can handle it yourself.  The Pima County Bar Foundation also provides a free family law clinic where you can get more in-depth discussion on how to proceed.
When do I need to pay for legal services?
  • At the Law Office of Jon D. L. Leitenberger, representation commences when a fee agreement is signed and when payment is received as stated in the agreement. We understand that everybody’s finances are different and everybody’s legal needs are different, so we can provide you with payment options.
What do I do if the other spouse is contesting the divorce?
  • In Arizona, it is very difficult to contest the divorce itself. More often than not, the Respondent can only contest where the divorce takes place and how the results of the divorce look.  If they are contesting where the divorce should take place, you will need an attorney that understands jurisdiction and venue very well.
  • If they are contesting how the results of the divorce looks, you have a couple of options:
    • Consider their proposal and work towards mediating a result built out of compromise.
    • Prepare for litigation where you will collect and prepare evidence that will support your position and/or which will demonstrate why their proposal is not appropriate under the law.
How long does the process take?
  • Each case is different and it is nearly impossible to estimate the time it will take for a family law case to come to a conclusion. However, there are things that you can do to control the tempo of litigation:
    • Ensure that you are responsive to your attorney. Your attorney is tracking the several deadlines in your case and if information, documents, or signatures are needed, being responsive to these requests will help your attorney meet those deadlines and be able to press the other side to be similarly timely.
    • Discuss your scheduling needs with your attorney: Your family law case may not necessarily benefit by being rushed to a final resolution. Discuss your objectives with your attorney and decide together if you need to more aggressively pursue discovery from the other side or if you need more time to prepare your circumstances before a question is put before a judge.
    • Understand how narrow or broad your case needs to be. While many facts and circumstances are very important in the circumstances of your life which brings about the family law case, it is important that the Court may be looking at a more narrow set of facts in making an appropriate determination.  Your attorney will understand what the Court is looking for and will be able to narrow your case to just those facts.  A narrower case means less Court time and the possibility of getting in front of a judge quicker.
What information do I need for a consult?
  • If you were served with papers, it is important to bring everything that you were served. This will inform the attorney of what is specifically being alleged, what is specifically being asked for, and what sort of deadlines are being faced.
  • If you are wanting to begin an action, just be prepared to discuss what your legal needs are, as well as provide information about where all of the involved persons have lived so that the attorney can make a determination on where jurisdiction would be proper.
Can the consult be by phone?
  • Our office is fully vaccinated, so we welcome people to come speak to us in person. However, we are more than capable of having a consult over the phone if that is more comfortable or convenient. 
What if I can’t find the other party?
  • While Personal Service is the gold standard that the Courts look for in providing a person notice that they are involved in a law suit, there are several options available for alternative service, including service by publication. Many cases languish because a party doesn’t get served.  A knowledgeable attorney can break that log-jam and get your case moving towards a resolution.
Do both parties need to live in Arizona for a divorce?
  • No. However, the Court may be limited in what relief it can grant if the Respondent does not live in Arizona.  An experienced attorney will be able to let you know how much of the divorce (custody, child support, alimony, division of property) can be handled in Arizona or if it makes more sense to file in a jurisdiction that would be more proper.
Do both parties need to be American residents for a divorce or custody case?
  • No. Arizona has its own standards for residency that it follows for divorce and custody cases that are not tied to Federal Immigration status.
What if I’m not a legal resident, can I still file for divorce or custody?
  • Parental rights are not tied to immigration status. That being said, it is prudent to understand your immigration rights as you interact with the State Court system
Can my spouse be served on base?
  • In the United States, a spouse can be served on base, so long as the process server has access to that base through their own credentials or an escort. Serving a service member at a foreign base becomes more complicated and is governed by the Hague Convention, Status of Forces Agreements, and local laws.  It is important that your attorney can navigate these complex legal frameworks to ensure that your case does not get stalled because the spouse isn’t served properly.
Do I lose half of my military retirement when I get divorced?
  • There are few more misunderstood myths than the division of a military retirement and the infamous “10/10” rule. In Arizona, the non-serving spouse may be entitled to 50% of any retirement benefit which accrued during the marriage.  Attention to detail is needed to make sure that the language of any agreements or orders pertaining to the military retirement are able to be processed by DFAS and does not create an unfair entitlement because of language errors.
Do I need to be present at Court proceedings?
  • In family law cases, many Court Appearances either require testimony or negotiations for agreements. This requires personal appearance, at least telephonically.  Most Pima County judges require in-person appearances for trial or very important Hearings.  Your attorney will be able to explain what participation will be required at each hearing that gets scheduled.
How do I get an Order of Protection?
  • Pima County has largely adopted an on-line process for obtaining any of the broad categories of Orders that we call Restraining Orders. The process can be started at https://azpoint.azcourts.gov/ .
  • However, an attorney can provide guidance as to which Protective Order is appropriate for your circumstances, as well as assisting you in drafting the allegations such that you increase your ability to have it granted, as well as defend it if it becomes contested.
Can we still be in Court together if there is an Order of Protection?
  • Many Protective Orders allow for contact in the context of legal proceedings. It is important to notify the Court that there is a protective Order so that additional security and escorts can be arranged, if necessary.
Does the other party have to sign the birth certificate?
  • The person who is believed to be the father is not required to sign the birth certificate.  However, the decision to, or not to, sign a birth certificate could have time sensitive implications as to parental rights.  If a mother believes a man to be the biological father and that man does not step forward to claim paternity, it is important to get paternity established with the Court as soon as possible.  Conversely, if you believe that you are the father to a newborn child and the Mother is not allowing you to exercise your rights as a father, it is important that you establish those rights with the Court as soon as possible.
Do I have to let the other party know that I’m suing for divorce or paternity?
  • After filing for Dissolution or Paternity, the primary way of providing notice is to have a licensed process server deliver the Summons to the other party and for that process server to file an affidavit that the person was served. Some cases are better served by starting the litigation with an Acceptance of Service and an opportunity for negotiation, but an attorney will be able to give you guidance on which would be better for your case.
What if they refuse to pay child support?
  • When a Child Support Order is not being followed, the Obligee (person that should be receiving Child Support) has options, including: judgments; garnishments; child tax exemptions; and even incarcerating the violating parent.
What if they are not paying the full child support?
  • There are certain circumstances where the Obligor (parent that should be paying child support) finds a way to only pay partial child support. Regardless of any other Court Order, an Obligor must pay the full amount of Child Support.  This can be obtained by amending any existing Writ of Garnishment, obtaining a new Writ of Garnishment against a different income source, or obtaining a judgment for the unpaid portion of Child Support.
Do the grandparents get child support if neither parent has custody?
  • If a grandparent does obtain custody through establishing in loco parentis, that grandparent is entitled to Child Support from both parents.
Am I going to have to pay alimony/Spousal Maintenance?
  • The Court would first have to determine whether there is an entitlement to Spousal Maintenance by considering if one of five grounds exists. The Court would then consider thirteen factors in determining the appropriate amount and duration of any Spousal Maintenance award.  This can be a very fact-intensive case to present to the Court and legal representation can certainly help either establish or defend against a claim for Spousal Maintenance.
What if the other parent refuses to work? How does that impact Child Support or Spousal Maintenance?
  • There is a broad expectation that a parent or spouse should be gainfully employed, especially if they are requesting support from a former spouse or obligated to support a child. Absent a good reason for not working, Courts will often make support decisions assuming that a parent/spouse is able to make full-time, minimum wage, at the least.  If you can clearly demonstrate that the other parent/spouse can make more than minimum wage, the Court may use that amount when making a Spousal Maintenance/Child Support determination.
What do I do if I suspect the other parent is abusing/neglecting my child?
  • Depending on the severity of the suspected abuse/neglect—as well as the information/evidence that you have that could substantiate your concerns—there are many options that are available, and some things that you may be required to do. Reporting to DCS or the police may be an option or may be even required.  Obtaining an emergency Order in your family law case, or getting an Order of Protection could also be an available option.  In extreme cases, withholding the children from a Parenting Time exchange may be the only thing available to protect the children, but such a drastic step requires more action on your part.
  • Regardless of what steps you have to take, it is important to do so with the guidance of an experienced attorney to ensure that you keep your children safe and don’t compromise your ability to continue to protect them.
If I have primary custody and am going to deploy, do I have to give my children to the other parent?
  • Custody Orders can be set up such that you can delegate Parenting Time to another responsible adult, that you may set up a temporary custody arrangement, or that you modify custody altogether. Arizona Laws set up many protections for those parents who are called up to serve.  It is important that you understand these protections and coordinate with your base’s Family Advocacy Program to ensure that your children are cared for with the least amount of disruption.
Do I have to pay child support while paternity is in question?
  • The Court may enter temporary Child Support Orders while Paternity is being established and you will be required to comply with such Orders. If you are contesting Paternity, it is important to make sure that you establish that you are not the father quickly to remove any temporary Orders for support.
Can I challenge custody if the primary parent lives with a felon?
  • Each parent’s living arrangement is a consideration in deciding custody. However, living with a felon does not automatically disallow a parent from having custody or any parenting time.  Establishing a comprehensive case around the best interest of the child is required, including the other parent’s living arrangement is necessary.
If I live in another state, do I need an Arizona Attorney for an Arizona custody case?
  • If a custody case is proceeding in Arizona, any lawyer that you may hire should be licensed in Arizona.
If I already had a DNA test done before filing in Court, will I need another DNA test?
  • While an at home Genetic Paternity Test may be an affordable option for simply answering the question of paternity, such tests are easily called into doubt if there is a Court case. The Gold standard in usable paternity testing requires a certified statement regarding the chain of custody of the samples that are tested that include collection, processing, testing, and results.
Who can sue for custody of my child?
  • Generally, people who can demonstrate parentage of the children will be the persons who can sue for custody. However, Arizona does allow third parties to sue for custody in limited circumstances.  An experienced attorney will be able to help you determine if you would qualify, or if there are other rights that you can assert.
What is a dependency case and who can start one?
  • A dependency is, quite simply, when the Court determines that a Minor Child is dependent upon the State for their safety, security, and provision of their well-being. This occurs when the State can demonstrate that there is not a parent, or person acting in the place of a legal parent, who is willing or able to provide for the Minor Child.  This often happens in cases of neglect or abuse of children.
  • Primarily, the Department of Child Safety will initiate a Dependency. However, any interested party may file a Petition for a Dependency, though they will have to involve the Department before the Court will accept such a Petition.
What if my child does not want to visit the other parent?
  • If there is a Court Order that the other parent is awarded Parenting Time, then those Orders should generally be followed. It is important to understand the child’s reluctance and, if appropriate, seek to modify Parenting Time.  Depending on the child’s age and maturity, the child’s wishes may be considered, but will not necessarily determine custody.
How early can a new born do overnight visits?
  • Arizona has long sense abolished the “tender years” standard where it was presumed that mother should have primary custody while the children are still very young. If both parents are perfectly capable of caring for an infant, then overnight parenting time can begin immediately, if that serves the best interest of the child.
Can I file a Paternity case before the Child is born?
  • A child has to be born before you can petition the Court for custody or Child Support. It is wise to file such a Petition as soon as practicable after the birth of the Child to establish your rights as a father as well as to establish any Child Support that might be appropriate.
What if my child is not returned from visitation?
  • If the other parent is withholding Parenting Time without good cause, there are a myriad of options including filing an Enforcement Action, filing for a Modification of Parenting Time and Legal Decision-Making, or even contacting law enforcement. Often, there is a combination of these actions and an attorney can help you navigate the appropriate steps.
What is parental alienation?
  • Parental alienation can take many forms and can have varying impacts on the children and affected parent. At it’s base, parental alienation is any action taken by one parent to interfere and damage the relationship between the other parent and the children.  This can take place by withholding contact between the other parent and the children or even talking badly about the other parent in front of the children, or even to the children.  Similarly, the results of parental alienation-type conduct could range from no-impact to a visceral aversion to the other parent on the part of the children.
  • If you suspect parental alienation, it is important to seek counseling for your children as well as to hire an expert to evaluate the parent-child relationship and be able to effectively testify as to whether there is parental alienation and how it is manifesting.
What do I do if the other spouse drains the bank accounts prior to the divorce?
  • The Courts will consider misconduct with community property when entering Orders dividing property. In order to establish that such misconduct has occurred, it requires diligent and effective collection of evidence to support your claim and may require deposition, discovery requests, and subpoenas.
What if I don’t like the Judge’s decision?
  • There are a myriad of options from: appealing the decision; requesting that the judge reconsider their decision; requesting a new Trial; requesting relief from judgment; or even entering into a post judgment settlement. Each of these have very specific requirements of when they are appropriate.
  • At the end of the day, judges are given broad discretion in many of the decisions they make and there may be no way to get around their decision. You need to have an attorney who understands the limits of the judge’s discretion and the integrity to be able to be honest about what your options are.
Does my case have to go to Trial?
  • In many cases, your case does not have to go to Trial. Even when a Trial is inevitable, many issues can be resolved before Trial in order to focus the issues that remain disputed.  Often agreements can be more beneficial than a Ruling from a judge.  If you are negotiating with your spouse or co-parent and can’t quite come to agreements, having an attorney assess the strengths and weaknesses of your position can be all it takes to break this dead-lock.  A new perspective can also allow for creative solutions to be found.