7 Steps to Determine if You Are Entitled to Spousal Maintenance Under Arizona’s New Guidelines

How to Determine if Someone is Entitled to Receive Spousal Maintenace 

In July 2023, Arizona adopted the Arizona Spousal Maintenance Guidelines (ASMG) and a calculation used for spousal maintenance awards as outlined in ARS 25-319 Maintenance.  There are 7 steps a judge must take to determine if someone is entitled to receive an award of spousal maintenance (aka alimony).  

Eligibility for Spousal Maintenance 

Before getting to the 7 steps that decide if someone is entitled to spousal maintenance, the court must first determine if they are eligible to receive spousal maintenance. Under Arizona law, the Court assesses five eligibility factors to see if someone qualifies for spousal maintenance. A potential recipient of spousal maintenance only needs to qualify under one of these factors. See our previous post 5 Factors to Qualify for Spousal Maintenance for more details.    

Entitlement to Spousal Maintenance 

If they qualify, they are eligible for spousal maintenance, but that does not necessarily mean they are entitled to spousal maintenance. The Guidelines explain how a spouse is entitled to spousal maintenance. “After calculating the spousal maintenance amount under the Guidelines, and if the court determines the application of the Guidelines is just and appropriate, the Court must award the party spousal maintenance.” ASMG § 1(D).  

The 7 Steps to Determine Entitlement to Spousal Maintenance 

Step 1: Determine Family Size 
  • The parties + any child that one of the parties has a legal obligation to support. ASMG § II. However, if that spouse is not paying child support or does not live with the child, that child is not included.
Step 2: Determine the Parties’ Combined Spousal Maintenance Income 
  • This is very inclusive, so pretty much any form of income is going to be considered. See ASMG § III. The only exceptions are money received for child support or military disability pay.  
Step 3: Determine the Families’ Average Monthly Mortgage Principal 
  • Only mortgage principal payments count, so if the house is paid off or if the parties rent rather than own, the amount is $0. 
Step 4: Determine Expenditures 
  • This is done automatically through the calculation. However, a spouse’s income may be reduced due to marital waste.  
Step 5: Calculate the Amount Range 
  • The calculator will do this for you. The judge will pick a number within that range.  
Step 6: Determine the Duration Range 
  • The duration of the marriage is the number of months from date of marriage to date of service. ASMG § V(B)(1). This, in turn, determines the duration range. The Guidelines include several duration ranges.  ASMG § V(B)(2)(a).  
Step 7: Determine the Spousal Maintenance Award
  • From the two ranges, the Court will determine what amount and what duration is appropriate for the circumstances.  

 Except for cases where the Court deviates (see below), the process is complete once the Court issues a Minute Entry detailing its award and the amount and duration.  

The unofficial eighth step 

Here, though, is where an additional step may come into play: The Court can consider whether to deviate from the Guidelines regarding the amount.  

We pause to note two points here:

  1. The Court cannot deviate the duration of the spousal maintenance, but it can deviate the amount ordered when applying the Guidelines would be unjust.
  2. It’s important to note that it is not a deviation to accept an agreement between the parties for spousal maintenance, even when their agreement is for an amount (or even duration) outside the calculator’s range.   

If the Court does deviate, it must make written findings detailing why an amount within the Calculator’s range is inappropriate, what the amount range would have been without deviation, and what the order is within the deviation. ASMG § VI(B). In deciding whether to deviate, the Court must consider the 16 factors under ASMG § VI(C), which is inclusive of all but one of the factors under A.R.S. § 25-319(B). 

What changes were made to spousal maintenance law in 2023? 

Prior to the new law, to get spousal maintenance, the spouse seeking maintenance needed to qualify under one of the factors listed in A.R.S. § 25-319(A). If they qualified, the Court then considered the factors listed in A.R.S. § 25-319(B) to make the determination. Under the old law, none of the factors provided definitive rules as to the amount and duration of the spousal maintenance payments; therefore, the amount of the spousal maintenance payments and how long the payments lasted varied drastically from judge to judge. 

The first part of the law has not changed substantively. A party must still qualify under one of the factors under A.R.S. § 25-319(A) for spousal maintenance to be considered. In that subsection, the Arizona Legislature shuffled around a few of the requirements, but it was mostly left the same. 

What has significantly changed is A.R.S. § 25-319(B). Here is a quick overview of the changes to A.R.S. § 25-319(B): 

  • Implementation of Guidelines. As mentioned above, the new law required the Arizona Supreme Court to develop and implement the Guidelines.  
  • Self-Sufficiency Limitation. The new law also created a new focus for spousal maintenance by introducing a self-sufficiency limitation on spousal maintenance awards. To be fair, Courts were already trending this way, as we were seeing trends toward decreasing spousal maintenance awards both in terms of amount and duration. The Legislature required Court award spousal maintenance “only for a period of time and in an amount necessary to enable the receiving spouse to become self-sufficient.” 
  • Guideline Mandate. Courts are now required to adopt the amounts produced by the Guidelines.  
  • Deviation Exception. However, the Court may pick another amount if the Court finds, in writing, that applying the guidelines would be inappropriate or unjust.” 
  • No Deviation for Duration. The law did not create a deviation exception for duration.  
  • Deviation factors. The factors previously considered for awarding spousal maintenance are now the factors a Court must consider in ordering a deviation. These are the factors listed under A.R.S. § 25-319(B)  

Finally, the Court moved the requirement that spousal maintenance must be awarded without regard to marital misconduct from A.R.S. § 25-319(B) to be its own subsection, A.R.S. § 25-319(C). This means that the Court cannot factor in whether one spouse’s actions caused the marriage to fall apart. More specifically, when it comes to spousal maintenance, the Court is not going to consider things like affairs, drug use, alcoholism, or domestic violence. The focus is strictly financial.  

Related pages and posts:

Spousal Maintenance in AZ (state48law.com)

5 Factors to Qualify for Spousal Maintenance (state48law.com)

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

Definition: Spousal Maintenance (state48law.com)

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