5 Factors to Qualify for Spousal Maintenance

5 Factors to Qualify for Spousal Maintenance 

Eligibility for Spousal Maintenance in Arizona 

“Will I get spousal maintenance?” That is not a question attorneys can answer in a couple seconds because spousal maintenance is one of the most complex and litigated issues in Arizona divorces. Arizona’s spousal maintenance guidelines have broken the question into two parts: Eligibility and entitlement.  

Eligibility refers to whether one qualifies to bring a request for spousal maintenance. But just because a spouse qualifies for spousal maintenance, it does not mean they will receive it.  

The judge must still determine whether they are “entitled” to spousal maintenance. If they are, the judge then determines the amount and duration of spousal maintenance. 

This post focuses on the first step—eligibility for spousal maintenance.  

Under Arizona law, the Court assesses five factors to see if someone qualifies for spousal maintenance. A potential recipient of spousal maintenance only needs to qualify under one of these. These factors are found in A.R.S. § 25-319(A), the spousal maintenance statute. 

  1. Lacks sufficient property, including property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for that spouse’s reasonable needs.

    Under case law, this includes all property awarded to the spouse seeking maintenance, regardless of whether it produces income or not. Deatherage v. Deatherage, 140 Ariz. 317, 320 (App. 1984). Arizona case law further defines “sufficient property” as “property that, standing alone, can provide for a spouse’s reasonable needs during his or her lifetime.” In re Marriage of Cotter & Podhorez, 245 Ariz. 82, 86, ¶ 10 (App. 2018). But even where a spouse may have sufficient property to support themselves, a court may still award spousal maintenance if the spouse would need to exhaust all the property they receive in the divorce to support themselves. Gutierrez v. Gutierrez, 193 Ariz. 343, 348, ¶ 18 (App. 1998). 

  2. Is unable to be self-sufficient through appropriate employment or is the custodian of a child whose age or condition is such that the custodian should not be required to seek employment outside the home or lacks earning ability in the labor market adequate to be self-sufficient.

    The purpose of spousal maintenance is primarily to be transitory—to help the recipient spouse transition to independence. Courts are often trying to balance an award that helps them to have the money they need to transition to being self-supporting without making an award that is so generous that a spouse has no reason to enter the labor market. Nevertheless, the purpose of spousal maintenance is not to force the recipient into any employment, but to put them into appropriate employment. Thomas v. Thomas, 142 Ariz. 386 (App. 1984). Further, the Court can consider the recipient spouse’s present ability to work full-time and may even find that working part-time—or not at all—may be what is “appropriate” given the spouse’s health. See Andrews v. Andrews, 252 Ariz. 415, ¶ 9 (App. 2021) (finding that Wife’s health limited her to part-time work); Helland v. Helland, 236 Ariz. 197, 202, ¶ 26 (App. 2014) (finding that Wife’s age and health precluded her from working altogether).

  3. Has made a significant financial or other contribution to the education, training, vocational skills, career or earning ability of the other spouse.

    Prior to 2018, this factor was more simply the requirement that the recipient spouse “contributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse.” In 2018, the Legislature expanded the category to include many more instances of where the potential recipient spouse helped build up the earning opportunities of the other spouse. To meet this factor, the recipient spouse must expend effort. For example, in Kelsey v. Kelsey, 186 Ariz. 49 (App. 1996), the wife introduced the husband to a friend of hers who had hair transplant surgery; as a result of this introduction, husband opened a successful hair transplant business. The Court, though, held that wife’s introduction to her friend was “serendipitous,” and this factor instead “recognizes effort, not fortuity.” Id. at 1072.  

  4. Had a marriage of long duration and is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self-sufficient.

    The longer the marriage and the closer the recipient spouse is to retirement age, the easier the case for spousal maintenance may become. For example, in Boyle v. Boyle, the parties were married for 33 years, and wife was 65 years old with serious health problems that precluded her from working; therefore, she was eligible under this factor to receive spousal maintenance. Boyle v. Boyle, 231 Ariz. 63, 66, ¶ 11 (App. 2012). But that can be a double-edged sword because in a marriage of long duration where the parties are approaching retirement age, they may be splitting retirement assets, leaving them in similar financial positions. So while a spouse may qualify under this factor for spousal maintenance, that does not mean the award will be automatic. 

  5. Has significantly reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse.

    This factor was added in 2018. It recognizes efforts undertaken by one spouse to support the other spouse. This can include giving up one’s job to move to a new city where their spouse has been offered a career-advancing position. It also includes spouses who have stayed at home to take care of the children while the other spouse worked.  

 Related pages and posts:

Spousal Maintenance in AZ (state48law.com)

7 Steps to Determine if You Are Entitled to Spousal Maintenance Under Arizona’s New Guidelines (state48law.com)

Rule of 65 – Spousal Maintenance Guidelines in AZ – (state48law.com)

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