Qualifications for Alimony in Arizona
If a married couple decides to dissolve their marriage in Arizona, there are multiple important details that they must address before they can finalize the divorce. In addition to child support, parenting time, and the division of property, alimony is a critical aspect that both partners will need to consider during the divorce process. While alimony will not be a factor in every divorce, payments may be required from one spouse to the other to ensure both parties can maintain their standard of living after the marriage is dissolved.
Arizona’s alimony guidelines and laws can become complicated quickly, particularly if you’re not familiar with them. From determining whether you qualify for payments to understanding how long payments will last, it’s important to educate yourself on how alimony works if you’re going through a divorce in Arizona.
Alimony in Arizona
Alimony, commonly known as spousal support or spousal maintenance in Arizona, is a payment that may be ordered by the court during or after a divorce. Spousal maintenance requires one spouse to make regular payments to the other when the requesting spouse demonstrates that they are in need of financial assistance due to specific circumstances outlined by Arizona law.
Spousal maintenance is meant to help the lower-earning spouse maintain their lifestyle and care for themselves during or after a divorce so that they are not left struggling when the divorce is official. These payments are often established when one spouse advanced their career and made the majority of the income during the marriage while the other spouse remained at home to take care of children. This puts the lower-earning spouse at a disadvantage since they were unable to pursue their own career and develop earning potential during the marriage. In this and other situations, the court may award spousal maintenance to help spouses with a reduced earning potential survive through this transitional period and beyond.
Arizona Family Court may grant spousal maintenance in one of four main forms.
Temporary (During Divorce)
In some cases, the court will award temporary spousal maintenance during the divorce process. This is to help the lower-earning spouse throughout the divorce process, especially when the divorce is in litigation. To request temporary spousal maintenance in Arizona, you must file a petition through your local family court and provide sufficient evidence regarding why you require financial assistance. Most temporary spousal support orders are valid until the divorce becomes finalized unless the court decides to extend the order.
Short-term spousal maintenance, often called “rehabilitative” support, is a form of spousal maintenance that is awarded once the divorce is finalized and is only effective for a certain period. Most rehabilitative support orders last from one to three years, depending on the unique circumstances of a couple’s case. Rehabilitative alimony is intended to help the low-earning spouse “bridge the gap” from shared marital finances to solo earning during this transitional part of their life. If awarded short-term alimony, the receiving spouse is expected to pursue education, apply for jobs, and get themselves back into the workforce. It is not meant to remain in place for a long period of time.
While some states liberally assign permanent spousal maintenance, it is one of the least common forms of alimony in Arizona. This is because the state tends to reserve permanent alimony for more extreme cases where it’s clear one spouse will need assistance indefinitely. Situations that may call for permanent alimony include situations where one spouse is disabled, of advanced age, or otherwise unable to return to the workforce to provide for themselves.
When Arizona orders permanent alimony, it is implemented without a final ending date. However, this does not mean permanent alimony always remains in place forever. Instead, the court keeps jurisdiction over the matter and ends alimony as the judge sees fit or when certain circumstances occur, such as remarriage or death.
Suggested Reading: Seeking a Gray Divorce
The final form of spousal support in Arizona is known as reimbursement support, sometimes called compensatory alimony. This is another less common kind of alimony and is mostly used in cases where one spouse sacrificed time, funds, and other valuable aspects of their life to help the other maintain a career. The court recognizes this as a sort of “investment” in the marital finances, as one spouse made sacrifices to invest in the other’s future for the benefit of them both.
This type of alimony is referred to as “compensatory” because it is designed to compensate the spouse who made those sacrifices during their marriage but will see no benefit to them after divorce. Reimbursement support is one of the only forms of alimony that is not based on an individual’s financial needs and instead focuses on properly reimbursing the receiving spouse.
On What Basis Is Alimony Awarded in Arizona?
Alimony, or spousal maintenance, is not granted in every Arizona divorce case. Instead, it is only offered to those who meet certain criteria.
The main factors that a court will examine when determining whether an individual is eligible for alimony after a divorce include the following:
- Whether the spouse requesting alimony lacks “sufficient property” to care for their needs, even after the marital property is distributed
- Whether the requesting spouse is unable to become self-sufficient through employment
- Whether the couple was married for an extended period of time
- Whether old age or disability affects the requesting spouse’s ability to work
- Whether the requesting spouse funded and supported the career of the other, for example, by furthering their education, and ultimately helped that spouse have a higher earning capacity at the detriment of their own
- Whether the requesting spouse has a substantially lower income or gave up work for the marriage
How Are Alimony Payments Determined in Arizona?
After the court decides that an individual qualifies for spousal maintenance in Arizona, the next step of the process will be determining how much that spouse will receive and how long payments will last. Some of the most key details the family court will evaluate to determine alimony payments include:
Standard of Living During the Marriage
When determining a reasonable alimony payment, the marital standard of living is one of the first things the court will examine. This is to help them better understand whether the amount the requesting spouse is asking for is reasonable to support them and any children. While the court may not grant payments that help the spouse keep the exact lifestyle they had before, alimony can help a lower-earning spouse continue to live comfortably until they are able to make up the difference themselves.
Length of the Marriage
The length of marriage plays a critical role in an alimony determination as well. This is because, in many cases of long-term marriages, one spouse gives up or loses employment opportunities while the other spouse continues their career. In cases of short-term marriages, however, the court can use the length to decide whether the requested amount is fair.
Employment and Employability of Each Spouse
When both spouses are employed, the court may award no spousal maintenance or set smaller short-term alimony payments until the lower-earning spouse becomes self-sufficient. In instances where only one spouse was employed throughout the marriage, alimony may be required for longer periods of time. The court may also require larger payments until the requesting spouse becomes employed again.
However, it’s not always possible for a spouse to re-enter the workforce, especially if they have little to no training or education. If the requesting spouse is considered unemployable and cannot re-enter the workforce, whether due to old age, disability, or lack of experience, alimony will be altered.
Income of Each Spouse
If one spouse was the higher earner or brought in all of the income, this can increase the amount of alimony they must pay after divorce. Because spousal support is designed to help the requesting spouse properly care for themselves and their family, if the requesting spouse had little to no income at the time of divorce, they may receive higher payments to make up for the difference.
Sacrifices Made by One Spouse
As mentioned previously, it’s common for one spouse to make sacrifices to further the other spouse’s career for mutual benefit. However, sometimes the requesting spouse who helped fund their partner’s career and earning capabilities doesn’t get to receive the benefits because a divorce occurs first. The sacrifices of their own career and the type of support the requesting spouse provided their partner can also impact how much an individual pays in alimony.
Reasonable Spousal Maintenance
The term “reasonable spousal maintenance” is used when determining an alimony figure that is fair for both parties involved. In Arizona, alimony is considered reasonable if it is less than 50% of the paying spouse’s income pre-divorce. Most reasonable spousal maintenance payments fall between 15% and 30% of the paying spouse’s pre-divorce income to enable the receiving spouse to meet their own needs.
Because alimony payments depend on a variety of factors, there is no specific formula in Arizona that determines alimony payment amounts. However, there are rough guidelines in place for individuals looking to estimate how much they will be paying or receiving and how long they may do so. Using these guidelines, you can follow some general steps to estimate how much you might pay in alimony. Keep in mind: these guidelines were intended to be used in situations where the receiving spouse has a gross income that is 75% or less than the paying spouse’s after a marriage that lasted at least five years.
To estimate how much you may pay or receive in alimony:
- Input the yearly gross income of both spouses
- Take the number of years the marriage lasted and multiply it by your duration factor, which ranges from 0.15 to 0.5
- Take the difference in the yearly gross incomes of both spouses and multiply them by your duration factor (0.15 to 0.5)
- The result is a rough estimate of how much you may pay or receive in alimony
- Input the number of years the marriage lasted
- Depending on the length of the marriage, your multiplier will range from 0.3 to 0.5 (the longer the marriage lasted, the higher the multiplier will be)
- The result is a rough estimate of the length of alimony payments you can expect
Is It Possible to Have Alimony Orders Modified?
While changes to alimony are not granted easily, it is possible to request modifications to your spousal maintenance order after the divorce is finalized. However, the spouse requesting the modification must provide substantial evidence regarding why they believe the order should be changed.
The most common circumstances that may warrant an alimony modification include the following:
- A significant change in the income of the paying spouse
- The paying spouse loses their job
- The receiving spouse becomes self-sufficient
- Either spouse suffers a serious medical injury or is diagnosed with a serious disease
- Either spouse retires
- Either spouse becomes disabled
- The receiving spouse begins to live with another partner or remarries
- Any other kind of significant financial change occurs for either spouse
How to Request Modification to Your Spousal Support Order in Arizona
Both spouses have the opportunity to request a change to the spousal support order. Generally, you can follow this straightforward process to request a modification on an alimony order after it has been finalized in Arizona:
Find an Experienced Divorce Attorney
While it’s not required, it’s always in your best interest to find an attorney who can guide you through the legal aspects of requesting a modification. A divorce attorney with extensive experience in Arizona family law and spousal maintenance will be your best resource throughout the modification process.
Gather All Required Evidence and Documents
You will need to take the time to gather all the important documents and evidence that prove your financial or living circumstances have changed. This could include pay stubs, a notice of employment termination, medical records, or anything else you believe is valid evidence of your financial situation.
Attempt to Make an Agreement with Your Ex-Spouse
Individuals looking to request a modification of their alimony order have the opportunity to discuss the matter with their ex-partner before the proceedings begin. If the two individuals are able to come to an agreement, they can submit a Petition to Modify their alimony together and avoid litigation. If they cannot come to an agreement, the spouse looking for modification must move forward to request it from the court.
File a “Petition to Modify”
After you’ve gathered all the evidence and documents you need, you can then file what is known as a “Petition to Modify” your spousal support. In this petition, you must provide information about your current order, the change you’re requesting, and why that change should occur. If you and your ex-spouse didn’t agree on the modification, you might have to go through litigation to state your case. After hearing evidence from both sides, the court will make a final decision on the matter. If you are granted your request, the modification will be implemented shortly thereafter.
How Long Does Alimony Last in Arizona?
The amount of time you must pay or receive spousal maintenance in Arizona will depend on what kind of alimony you were granted, the financial circumstances of each spouse, and whether those financial circumstances change.
If there are no outside factors involved that require modifications, there are some general guidelines regarding how long each type of alimony will last.
- Temporary Support – Until the divorce is finalized, unless the court decides to extend it
- Rehabilitative (Short-Term) Support – As long as it takes for an individual to collect the skills, education, or experience they need to enter the workforce and become self-sufficient (anywhere from 1-5+ years)
- Permanent (Long-Term) Support – Only ends when one spouse passes away, the receiving spouse gets remarried, or the court grants termination due to a change in circumstance
- Compensatory Support – Usually, compensatory support is short-term and involves a spouse paying for opportunities that can help the receiving spouse find work or become self-sufficient to make up for their career and financial sacrifices during the marriage
The Valley Law Group: Arizona Spousal Maintenance Attorneys
At The Valley Law Group, our team of attorneys shares decades of experience working in Arizona family law. We have extensive knowledge of Arizona spousal maintenance laws, including modifications, and are well-equipped to guide individuals through many types of divorce and spousal maintenance cases. To schedule a consultation to speak with one of our spousal maintenance lawyers, contact us today.
*Editor’s Note: This post was originally posted Sep 19, 2021 and has been rewritten May 10, 2023.
Ryan Reppucci, Co-Founder of The Valley Law Group, is recognized as one of Phoenix’s leading family law attorneys. After graduating from Arizona State with the highest honors and inclusion in America’s most prestigious student honor societies, Ryan attended the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. His career as a law student was decorated with numerous awards, including the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law Book Award, nomination for membership in Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities, as well as Moot Court.