What Is A Default Decree Or Default Divorce In Arizona?

A divorce is initiated in Arizona when a party filed a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  The party who files the Petition is called the “Petitioner.”  The other party is called the “Respondent.”  The Petitioner has to serve the Respondent with the Petition.  Service is completed with the aid of a process server.  In the alternative, service is completed when the Respondent voluntarily signs a document called an Acceptance of Service.  The Respondent, if living in state, has 20 days to file a Response with the Court (if the Respondent lives out of state, he/she has 30 days).  Filing a Response requires a filing fee or a Court waiver of the filing fee.

If the Respondent does not file a Response in time, the Petitioner can file an Application and Affidavit for Default.  If the Respondent does not respond within ten days thereafter, a default is entered.  The Petitioner can then go to a default hearing without the Respondent’s participation and obtain the orders the Petitioner wants, so long as the requests are consistent with the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and the law.  The resulting Decree is sometimes called a Default Decree

It is rarely a good idea to allow an action to go to default.  Even if you think you are on the same page as your spouse, you will have a difficult (or impossible) time doing anything about it if the Decree ends up differently than you wanted.  If someone has obtained a Default Decree or judgment against you, and you want to try to contest it, time is of the essence.  Talk to an attorney immediately.

Even if you do not want to contest the divorce, instead of allowing the default, your best option is to enter into a Consent Decree with your spouse.  That means you both agree to and sign a proposed Decree, which is submitted to the Judge.  Neither party goes to Court.

A very effective way to reach agreements and enter into Consent Decree is in mediation.  The parties sit down with a mediator, who is a neutral party skilled in conflict resolution.  In mediation, you work through any disagreements and come up with a Decree that is mutually agreeable.  The mediator can make sure the documents are properly submitted to the Court.  Mediation is a smart way to avoid the risk of a default action, as well as the stress, cost and risk of a litigated action.

Alona M. Gottfried is a family law mediator and attorney in Arizona.  If you have questions about mediation, she can be reached at: 480-998-1500 or alona@sglawaz.com.  This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be legal advice.  See a legal professional before making legal decisions.

Simmons & Gottfried, PLLC
8160 E. Butherus Dr., Suite #7
Scottsdale, AZ 85260


  1. Karen Erwin says

    A default divorce decree was entered in 2004 but the wife never notified the husband at his address but mailed it to herself and refused service of that paperwork for decree of divorce She collects child support and spousal support and now wants retirement In court the judge declares default decree void Does she have right after eight years to any retirement mentioned in that voided default decree ?

  2. M. George says

    This is an excellent resource. I have pointed several of my own potential clients here, when mediation is a better option for them. I would like to mention that there is another way to serve someone, and that is “by publication.”

    I was just about to send a client here to read this article, however, in this case – the client needs a default divorce by publication. I just thought I’d mention it. 🙂

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Simmons & Gottfried, PLLC
8160 E Butherus Dr, Suite #7 Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Phone: (480) 998-1500