Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

Spousal Maintenance Issues

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Spousal Maintenance Issues

Someone may choose to quit a good job because their spouse got a promotion in a new city. A couple may decide one of them should stay home to raise the children. Someone else may forego pursuing a degree to support their spouse as they earn theirs. These are all choices that make sense as long as the couple stays together.

Then comes the divorce. And suddenly, one spouse is faced with a reality they had not prepared for—providing for themselves on their own. It can be challenging to transition back to the workforce and in some cases, it may not even be possible. That’s where spousal maintenance may come in. On the other side, being forced to pay spousal maintenance can feel unfair. Not only are they getting divorced, but now they must pay their spouse, even though their spouse is already getting a lot of the benefits and financial assets based on the overall division of property.

Arizona has tried to balance these two positions through creating a spousal maintenance system that allows dependent spouses to transition to their independence.

How Spousal Maintenance is Decided 

The law permits spousal maintenance (or alimony as it’s called in other states) for several reasons—to help maintain the lifestyle the parties enjoyed during the marriage, to account for the role a spouse’s took during the marriage (i.e., helping their spouse fulfill career ambitions by staying home to save on childcare costs), but the reason that is most likely to be reflected in a spousal maintenance order is to transition the receiving spouse to becoming self-sufficient.

Arizona law attempts to balance these interests. The state legislature has built numerous considerations into the spousal maintenance laws, and as of July 2023, there are finally Spousal Maintenance Guidelines and a calculation used for spousal maintenance awards outlined in  ARS 25-319 Maintenance.

Before the court adopted the Self-Sufficiency Calculator, spousal maintenance was one of the most-litigated issue in a divorce. Even with the new guidelines, Spousal maintenance is not automatic, and it is an extremely complex issue. The calculation has taken a once gray area and attempted to solidify the standards. If you think your divorce is one in which spousal maintenance may be an issue, we urge you to consult with an attorney to understand the new rules.

Some Questions to Consider:

  • How will the potential recipient spouse support themselves after the divorce?
  • How long will it take the potential recipient spouse to become self-sufficient?
  • For both payor and recipient, what amount do you need each month to meet your reasonable needs?
  • Are the expenditures the spouse is claiming reasonable?
  • What kind of training or work experience might the potential recipient spouse need to become financially independent? And how long will that take?
  • What is the monthly principal payment on the community mortgage(s)?
  • What opportunities did the potential recipient spouse forego for the benefit of the family or the potential paying spouse’s career?

Eligibility and Entitlement

Just because there is a new calculator available does not mean the lower or non-earning spouse is automatically eligible or entitled to spousal maintenance. In fact, the eligibility for spousal maintenance has not changed.  A party requesting spousal maintenance must still meet at least one of the factors under A.R.S. § 25-319(A). See Ariz. Sp. M. Guidelines § 1(D) (affirming that A.R.S. § 25-319(A) controls eligibility). See id. (If a court determines that the requesting spouse is not eligible for spousal maintenance, there is no requirement to use the Spousal Maintenance Calculator). The calculator is not meant to be used to prove an award is warranted. Entitlement to a spousal maintenance award means that if a spouse is eligible and the calculator provides a figure and duration, the requesting spouse is entitled to the payments.

Steps and Determining Factors

Once eligibility is determined, the new Guidelines require Courts to use the Spousal Maintenance Calculator and go through the below factors and steps to determine how much should be owed.

  • Family size. The family includes both spouses and any child who meets the following criteria: One of the parents has a legal responsibility to pay for the child, and that parent is actually paying child support. This may include an adult child who has special needs that render the child incapable of supporting themselves.
  • Combined spousal maintenance income. What will count as income is rather expansive—essentially any income a spouse receives with only a few exceptions that cover items such as money exchanged between the parties pursuant to a Court order and certain military disability benefits. The Court can also attribute income to someone who is unemployed or underemployed.
  • Family’s average monthly mortgage principal. The Court will look at what’s been paid on the principal of the mortgage in the last twelve months and divide that by twelve.
  • Calculate Expenditures. Using the numbers yielded in the prior three steps, the Calculator will do this automatically.
  • Calculate the amount of spousal maintenance. The calculator will then provide a range for how much spousal maintenance should be.
  • Determine the duration range. The Guidelines provide a range for how long spousal maintenance should last based on the length of the marriage.
  • Determine the final award. In reviewing the expenditures and the ranges for the amount and duration of spousal maintenance, the Court will determine a number.

The Process Of

Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

1. Requesting Spousal Maintenance

For spousal maintenance to be an issue, one of the spouses needs to request it in either the Petition or the Response to the Petition. If neither party requests it in one of those documents, it cannot be ordered.

2. Affidavit of Financial Information

The Affidavit of Financial Information (AFI) is a document that both parties need to fill out when spousal maintenance is at issue. It becomes a critical document in a spousal maintenance case where the focus is often on what the receiving spouse needs to meet their reasonable needs and whether the paying spouse can afford to pay spousal maintenance and meet their reasonable needs.

3. Discovery and Disclosure

The other components of spousal maintenance include what the potential receiving spouse will be receiving in property from the divorce, what their earning capacity is in the market, whether they’ve reduced their opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse. On the other side, the Court will be interested in whether the potential paying spouse can afford to pay spousal maintenance. Discovery and disclosure help the parties get the information they need to make a risk assessment and determine whether they want to settle or go to trial.

4. Vocational Evaluation

In situations where a spouse has not worked for a while or has just started working, there is often a debate over what that spouse’s earning potential might be. A vocational evaluation is a meeting with an expert who is trained in determining what someone’s earning capacity is in the market. It is commonly ordered in these situations.

5. Mediation

It is often advisable to try mediation once all the relevant information has been exchanged. The purpose of mediation is to see if the parties can reach an agreement that works for both people. Additionally, the parties can agree to make spousal maintenance non-modifiable; the Court on its own cannot order that.

6. Trial

If the parties cannot reach an agreement on spousal maintenance, the court must decide. The court can only decide after a trial. 

Have Questions? We have answers

Spousal Maintenance in Arizona FAQs

How does the law of spousal maintenance actually work?

The law regarding spousal maintenance is A.R.S. § 25-319. It has two parts for determining maintenance. Under A.R.S. § 25-319(A), a spouse must meet one of the five listed criteria to qualify for spousal maintenance. Once they do, we move to the calculation. It used to be that we moved onto A.R.S. § 25-319(B) to determine the amount, but under the new Guidelines and updated law, the 25-319(B) factors while still considered are applied during the calculation and determination phases of spousal maintenance.

I make much more than my spouse does, but my spouse will be getting a million dollars’ worth of property in the divorce. Will I still have to pay spousal maintenance?

You might. Certainly, you will have an argument that your spouse has enough property to be self-sufficient such that spousal maintenance should not be ordered or should be reduced. But the Court will also look at whether spousal maintenance is necessary to help the receiving spouse maintain the lifestyle established during the marriage.

My spouse and I make the same amount of money. Will I get spousal maintenance?

No. Spousal maintenance is not necessary when the parties earn the same amount. A spousal maintenance award should not make it so the paying spouse has less income than the recipient spouse. 

My spouse and I are both retired. My spouse was the breadwinner. We will be dividing the retirement assets evenly. Will I get spousal maintenance?

No. Since you are both getting an equal share of all the retirement assets, each of you will have the same income, so there is no need for spousal maintenance.  

My spouse earns $84,000 per year. I earn $60,000. So, if I get $1,000 per month in spousal maintenance, then our incomes will be even. Is that how spousal maintenance works?

No. Spousal maintenance is not intended to equalize incomes. The purpose of spousal maintenance is to help the receiving spouse meet their reasonable needs and to help them transition to independence.

Do I need to be married 10 years before I can get spousal maintenance?

No. There is no minimum length of marriage requirement in the law. Obviously, though, the shorter the marriage, the less likely spousal maintenance is to be ordered. You should be aware that certain other benefits that you may be entitled may require a minimum length of marriage. This is particularly true if you want to draw on your spouse’s Social Security (a 10-year marriage). If your spouse is in the military and will qualify for military retirement pay not related to a disability, there may be benefits available to you depending on the length of the marriage.

My spouse cheated on me. Am I entitled to spousal maintenance?

Infidelity is not something the Court considers when awarding spousal maintenance. 

My spouse cheated on me. Is that a reason for me to get out of paying spousal maintenance?

No. Adultery does not enter into the spousal maintenance calculation on either side of the ledger.  

We’ve been married 30 years, and I make more money than my spouse. Everyone tells me that means I’ll have to pay spousal maintenance. Is that true?

Spousal maintenance is not that simple. Much more information must bconsidered to determine whether spousal maintenance is going to be ordered. This is where a consult with an attorney is helpful. 

I have not worked in many years and didn’t finish my college degree. I want to finish my college degree so I can get a more lucrative job. Can I seek spousal maintenance while I am being educated?

Yes, that is the kind of transition for which spousal maintenance was intended. But be aware that does not necessarily mean you qualify for spousal maintenance or be awarded it.

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