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Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

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Divorce is a stressful and emotionally charged process that even the most agreeable spouses must go through to separate legally and begin the next phase of their lives apart. In divorce proceedings, many essential aspects of life after divorce must be addressed and resolved, one of which is spousal maintenance (commonly referred to as alimony). It is vital to understand what it is, how to acquire it, what terms must be met to qualify for it, what support options are available, and how it is calculated and awarded under the law.

The Purpose of Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

Seeking alimony is essentially a way to equalize living standards between spouses during and/or after a separation or divorce. It is awarded to provide financial support to a spouse who earns significantly less income or no income at all. The lesser-earning spouse can be a husband or wife.

Spousal maintenance awards are intended to help the lesser-earning spouse continue to maintain the standard of living they had grown accustomed to from the marriage until they can support themselves. Spousal maintenance cases are more common when there is a large disparity in earnings between spouses.

Reasons for Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

There are several reasons why one spouse may have to pay another. If a judge determines that one spouse needs financial support to maintain their regular living expenses during divorce proceedings, they may award the lesser-earning spouse a temporary spousal maintenance award referred to as “pendente lite.” [1] A pendente lite award lasts until the divorce is finalized to stabilize the more financially vulnerable spouse and prevent major life upheaval. Pendente lite awards are not guaranteed post-divorce, so a supported spouse must make sure they have made arrangements for a stable living situation moving forward.

As divorce proceedings are being finalized, a judge may decide to extend temporary spousal support for a fixed period. In this situation, the judge will award a financially vulnerable spouse so that they have an opportunity to prepare themselves for financial independence. The financially dependent spouse is encouraged to secure or further their employment, gain educational certifications, or otherwise position themselves to be self-sufficient.

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Temporary alimony payments may also be called “rehabilitative maintenance” because financially dependent spouses use this time to regain the tools necessary to live independently. [2] In cases of a spouse spending years out of the workforce, maintenance periods are extremely helpful in making sure they can stand on their own after years of financial dependence.

Permanent spousal maintenance is also awarded in the state of Arizona, but permanent awards are only granted in cases of extreme need where old age, disability, or illness prevents the lesser-earning spouse from supporting themselves. You can expect most awards in Arizona to be temporary or rehabilitative in nature. At some point, spousal maintenance ends, and financial stability for the lesser-earning spouse must be maintained through self-sufficiency.

Who Files for Spousal Maintenance in Arizona and When Do They Get It?

One of the most significant by-products of a divorce is the loss of income provided by a soon-to-be ex-spouse. When one spouse has spent years financially dependent on the other, a divorce can leave the dependent spouse wondering how they will survive and make ends meet without the other spouse’s income.

Dependent spouses often sacrifice their own careers and educational pursuits to raise children, or otherwise help the income-earning spouse advance in his or her career or education, so divorce hits them especially hard. A spouse who believes they are entitled to receive spousal maintenance to account for this disparity can file for such in the state of Arizona.

Any spouse who will experience a significant decline in their resources or quality of life post-divorce can petition the court to have a judge assess their need for alimony. Spousal maintenance can be received during divorce and after the process is complete if necessary. So, if there is a chance you will need the financial support of your spouse during your divorce, please begin the discussion of spousal maintenance as soon as possible.

What Are the Qualifications for Receiving Spousal Maintenance in Arizona?

What Are the Qualifications for Receiving Alimony in Arizona?Photo from Getty Images

Before spousal support can be considered and awarded, a spouse seeking spousal maintenance must make a request demonstrating that he or she needs financial support and that his or her spouse can provide financial support. [3]

The court will determine that the requesting spouse has a “need’ for alimony if:

  • The requesting spouse does not have sufficient property (home, car, income, etc.) This is possible even after the distribution of property in the divorce if the requesting spouse still lacks sufficient resources.
  • The requesting spouse cannot gain or maintain self-sufficiency through employment.
  • The requesting spouse contributed towards occupational training for the other spouse, educational attainment, or vocational development that increased the spouse’s earning ability.
  • The requesting spouse has a significantly lower income or has forgone their own career to benefit their spouse.
  • The requesting spouse cannot obtain employment or become self-sufficient because of an illness, disability, or a longer marriage and advanced age.

A judge evaluates each alimony request individually to determine whether a spouse can be self-sufficient via employment. When young children are involved or illness or disability is present, the court may see fit to award the requesting spouse for an extended period since full-time employment outside the home may be difficult to maintain.

Factors Courts Consider Before Awarding Spousal Maintenance

Once a judge has determined that a requesting spouse “needs” alimony, the amount and the duration must be set.

The following factors are considered before a judge will award spousal maintenance:

  • The marital standard of living for both spouses
  • The length of the marriage
  • The age of each spouse, as well as both spouse’s employment history, earning potential, and physical and emotional health status
  • The supporting spouse’s ability to financially cover the needs of both parties
  • The financial resources for both spouses, as well as both spouses’ ability to earn self-sufficient income in the existing job market
  • How significantly the requesting spouse has contributed to the supporting spouse’s earning ability throughout the marriage
  • The extent to which the requesting spouse reduced their own income or career opportunities to benefit the earning ability of the supporting spouse
  • The ability of each spouse to contribute to the future educational expenses of the parties’ children after divorce (if children are involved)
  • The requesting spouse’s current financial resources and ability to become financially self-sufficient in the near future
  • The amount of time needed for the requesting spouse to obtain job training or educational certification to enable that spouse to obtain suitable employment
  • Whether or not educational advancement and job training opportunities are readily available for the requesting spouse
  • Whether either spouse engages in excessive spending, concealment, destruction, or other fraudulent behaviors regarding property held by both parties
  • Health insurance costs for both spouses
  • Any existing damages and judgments from either spouse’s conduct resulting in a criminal conviction, if the victim was the other spouse or a child (A.R.S. §25-319.)

There is no standard formula for calculating the amount and duration of spousal maintenance in Arizona. Judges in Arizona take all the above-mentioned factors into consideration when making a determination. Judges have broad discretion while deciding award amounts, or whether to award anything at all in divorce proceedings. [4]

couples can agree to alimonyPhoto from Getty Images

It is important to note that couples can agree to a type, amount, and set a duration for alimony payments via an agreement, which would eliminate time spent waiting for a judge to evaluate conditions.

How Long Does Spousal Maintenance Last?

When a judge orders temporary alimony, payments generally continue until the divorce is finalized and a new award is created. Any spousal support that is ordered post-divorce will last for the duration the judge sets in the final divorce judgment. Spousal maintenance periods can last several months, several years, decades, or be permanent, if a receiving spouse cannot support him or herself.

Typically, spousal maintenance will automatically end if/when:

  • The duration set in the final divorce order ends
  • The receiving spouse remarries
  • Either spouse dies

Asking the Court to Reduce or Modify Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

As life happens, the financial situation of the supporting spouse can change unexpectedly. When a significant financial change occurs, it may be necessary to file for a modification of an existing alimony order.[5]

Under Arizona law, a spousal maintenance order can be modified by the court if the change to the supporting spouse’s finances is deemed “substantial and continuing.” In other words, if a supporting spouse experiences a drastic decline in their financial resources and cannot define if or when that decline can be remedied, he or she may be eligible to have their payments modified.

Situations that often warrant modifications to spousal maintenance in Arizona:

  • When a spouse who receives alimony remarries
  • A serious medical emergency or illness
  • Job loss
  • The spouse receiving support becomes able to support him or herself
  • Retirement
  • Disability or serious injury
  • A significant change in a financial situation
  • Cohabitation

Please keep in mind that under Arizona law, there are circumstances where a court will not modify an existing order of spousal maintenance. One of those situations is when former spouses make an agreement during the negotiation stage, stating the award cannot be modified or terminated. As long as the original agreement was negotiated and agreed upon, a judge is unlikely to make a modification to the order because of a change that occurs.

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What If Your Spouse Is Not Making Payments on Time?

If your spouse is unable to make alimony payments on time, he or she is failing to pay as they have been ordered. Several potential penalties can be imposed for non-payment of spousal support. A spouse who violates court-ordered terms could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor under A.R.S. 25-511.01, for a willful violation. If convicted, the ex-spouse could be sentenced to a maximum of six months in jail, and possibly face civil penalties as well.

In cases of non-payment, the owed spouse can petition to have payments enforced, and a hearing will take place. Once a hearing occurs, it is the responsibility of the supporting spouse to prove that he or she has not missed payments.

If it is determined that if payments have been missed, the court can enforce spousal maintenance in a number of ways, including:

  • Property lien
  • Writ
  • Attachment
  • Garnishment of wages or property
  • Appointing a receiver
  • Levy

Knowing the Facts About Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

It is important for you to know the facts about spousal maintenance (alimony) in Arizona. If you are filing for divorce and think that spousal maintenance may become an issue, then you will want to inform yourself regarding the proper way to negotiate. Get help from experienced attorneys who specialize in family law matters.

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