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SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE (ALIMONY)
Spousal maintenance (commonly referred to as alimony) is an ongoing payment from one spouse to another. Spousal maintenance intends to make the divorce as equitable and fair as possible. Awarding spousal maintenance is a method used by the court to keep finances equitable after divorce. Spousal maintenance factors in all financial aspects of the couple’s life before, during, and after divorce, as well as things such as child care and guardianship, prenuptial agreements, and other external factors that could impact the financial standing of either party into a final determination.
Often, throughout a marriage, one spouse will sacrifice professional or educational opportunities for the benefit of the household. For instance, a couple may elect to have one spouse stay home with the children while the other concentrates on professional pursuits. If the couple divorces, the stay-at-home spouse will have fallen behind his or her peers professionally, and his or her employment and salary opportunities will be at a disadvantage. In this and other similar cases, a court could issue an award of alimony to the former stay-at-home spouse until that spouse can adequately support him or herself.
Arizona Revised Statutes §25-319 provides certain factors that a judge will consider in determining whether spousal maintenance is appropriate. Ultimately, this determination will be on a case-by-case basis and contingent upon numerous underlying factors during the marriage. While there are no formal statutes that require spousal maintenance in AZ, developing a complete, thorough, and verifiable record of all financial responsibility shared with an ex-spouse is necessary for proving the need for spousal maintenance.
What Is The Changing Landscape of Spousal Maintenance or “Alimony” in Arizona?
First, it’s important to examine recent, pertinent changes in Arizona’s spousal maintenance law. Beginning on January 1, 2019, alimony is no longer taxable in Arizona. Spousal maintenance payments are still tax-deductible for the paying spouse and are regarded as taxable income for those whose divorces or separations were finalized in 2018 or earlier. The new rule only takes effect for adjustments to spousal support payments made in 2019 or later if both parties agree to the change in a modification agreement.
The Arizona law that governs when a spouse is eligible for spousal maintenance, as well as the amount and duration of the support granted is A.R.S. 25-319.
To be eligible for spousal maintenance today and for the previous twenty (20) years, a spouse must demonstrate at least one of the four “threshold” conditions listed below:
- The spouse doesn’t have enough assets, including those that were allocated to them, to adequately meet the demands of the other spouse.
- Neither spouse can make enough money in the current labor market to be self-sufficient, or either is the custodian of a child whose age or condition is such that the custodian should not be obliged to look for a job outside the home.
- The spouse contributed to the other spouse’s education, typically through paying tuition.
- The spouse is leaving a long-term marriage and is now too old to be able to find work that will allow them to support themselves.
Today, Arizona statutes include specific provisions for spousal contributions that have significantly contributed financially or in another way to the other spouse’s education, training, career, or ability to earn money. Additionally, any changes that have materially diminished that spouse’s earnings or employment options to benefit the other spouse are now considered grounds for spousal alimony in Arizona.
Additionally, the recent trend in Arizona courts has been to reduce the eligibility for spousal maintenance judgments and to make these awards (when given) smaller in amount and shorter in duration. This means the state legislature’s increase of the qualifying threshold elements is particularly intriguing. The state legislature appears to be sending a clear message to the courts: they appear to want this recent trend against spousal maintenance judgments reversed, and are extending the threshold elements so that more spouses may be eligible to qualify for spousal maintenance.
How The Spousal Maintenance Process Works
Arizona does not require couples to stay together or remain legally separated for a specific amount of time before getting divorced. The same applies to spousal maintenance. Similarly, determining whether either spouse is awarded spousal maintenance is dependent on the factors that applied to the original divorce case—each situation is different. For example, if one spouse is completely dependent on the income of the other spouse, the court will consider this while creating the spousal maintenance plan.
Some of the other factors used to calculate spousal maintenance include:
- Whether the requesting spouse is capable of providing for his or her needs independently
- The requesting spouse’s inability to find a job due to caring for small children
- The inability of the requesting spouse to find employment to support themselves
- Whether the spouse sacrificed career possibilities in favor of supporting the other spouse through their own school and career
- The length of time needed for the seeking spouse to complete the education required to secure a better job
- How long the marriage has lasted
- Both spouses’ ages
- Whether the spouse’s age and the length of the marriage would make it impossible for them to get an education and find employment
- Future income potential of both partners
- The living conditions during the marriage
- The payor spouse’s capacity to sustain themselves while making maintenance payments
- Whether either spouse misappropriated, wasted, or donated assets to deny the other spouse access to them during the divorce
- The disparity between the spouses’ salaries
- Any physical or mental health conditions the spouses may have
Calculating spousal maintenance allows the judge full discretion based on their understanding of the case. These conditions and calculations apply to the length of time over which alimony is to be paid, as well as how much money should be paid monthly. Arizona is a no-fault divorce state, so any reasons presented to justify a divorce are not considered when determining spousal maintenance. However, these factors could come into play when dividing property, which in turn affects what the courts deem an equitable estate distribution.
What Arizona Courts Cannot Consider Regarding Spousal Maintenance
When deciding whether to award spousal maintenance, courts do not consider wrongdoing by either spouse. Therefore, even if one spouse was unfaithful, this does not influence the court to award or deny spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance is not intended to be a punishment but rather a way to ensure equity after the divorce.
When judges do grant a maintenance request, the statutes do not specify the amount of spousal maintenance they should impose. After examining all relevant criteria, judges have the discretion to award maintenance in an amount and for a period deemed reasonable under the circumstances. It’s worth noting that according to A.R.S. 25-530 when deciding whether to grant spousal maintenance, judges are not permitted to take veterans’ disability payments received for service-connected disabilities into account.
How Do Ex-Spouses Affect Spousal Maintenance In AZ?
The actions of a spouse may seem like they carry a great deal of weight when seeking spousal support. However, the effect they have on court-ordered alimony in Arizona can vary. The basis of a spousal support decision concerns the amount of money each spouse makes, as well as their earning power. In other words, the spouse making more money may be ordered to pay spousal maintenance.
If a spouse moves out of state, the Arizona court’s decision for spousal support will still be respected and enforced despite the relocation. If the payor spouse remarries, the spousal maintenance order is not likely to change. If the receiving spouse is remarried, however, a judge can change a spousal support order and terminate any benefits.
TYPES OF SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE/ ALIMONY IN ARIZONA
Every spousal maintenance order is different, and understanding the critical factors that differentiate the types of alimony payments is important to understand before you take legal action. The types of spousal maintenance payments made in AZ include temporary and permanent spousal maintenance.
Temporary or Pedente Lite
Temporary alimony is granted at the court’s discretion during the divorce proceedings. It is intended to provide for the immediate needs of the party during the divorce. Typically, it will terminate once the divorce becomes final. However, the judge could award temporary maintenance after the divorce becomes final for a period of time.
For example, if one spouse is completely reliant on another for all forms of income and financial stability, a pendente lite order may be put into place. It can grant the receiving spouse that stability until the divorce is finalized. Then, depending on the needs of that spouse, a permanent order may be put into place at a later date.
Permanent Spousal Maintenance
Permanent spousal maintenance may be granted for a period of time that the court deems necessary. The award of this type of spousal maintenance/alimony has become increasingly rare. It is usually reserved for spouses with long term needs and generally only awarded when the marriage was lengthy. Although the amount of time spent in a relationship does not impact the amount of money received in spousal maintenance plans, these factors are taken into account in court when deciding permanent spousal support plans.
Each case is different, and finding the best situation that works for you is crucial for restoring stability on both sides of the divorce. If you are considering a divorce and concerned about paying or receiving spousal maintenance/alimony, the Phoenix Divorce Lawyers at The Valley Law Group can help. Our years of experience handling divorce cases have earned us an “A” rating with the Better Business Bureau and a reputation for excellence throughout the Phoenix community.
What Can Change Spousal Maintenance?
The circumstances surrounding any court-ordered agreement may support a change in the terms of the court order. For alimony in Arizona, financial and life situations may drastically change any court-ordered spousal maintenance payments, especially if they impact the financial stability or financial situation of either party.
Some common factors that may change a spousal maintenance determination include the following.
Childcare and Parental Responsibilities
Childcare is a critical responsibility determined in most divorce proceedings. Child support orders are developed to give the child a life comparable to what he or she may have had if his or her parents had remained together. Both decisions are made in the best interest of the child.
In Arizona, the courts prefer both parents to remain involved in their children’s lives, whether through direct care or child support payments. Although separate from spousal maintenance, if a spouse is paying both child support and spousal maintenance, the court must consider the end date of the payment agreement. If and the child turns eighteen or finishes high school, their child support obligations end, and spousal maintenance may be renegotiated.
Financial security is often secured for one spouse via spousal maintenance. However, spousal maintenance can also cost those making these support payments their own financial stability. Unfortunately, some individuals mistakenly think that declaring bankruptcy will allow them to avoid spousal maintenance obligations. According to 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(5), spousal maintenance obligations and payments cannot be canceled in bankruptcy. Spouses experiencing bankruptcy may be able to request an adjustment but will likely be required to make these payments despite their financial standing.
Spouses must continue paying spousal maintenance if they have been ordered to do so, even if they have become unemployed. Under A.R.S. 25-327, the spouse must instead ask the court to modify the spousal maintenance decree. To successfully complete the application to alter spousal maintenance orders, the spouse must be able to demonstrate that their situation has significantly changed or is still changing. However, any outstanding payments will not be adjusted or terminated, and the payor will still be responsible for paying in arrears.
As mentioned, A.R.S. 25-327 states that spousal maintenance will stop if one spouse marries again while the other is required to pay them alimony. As a result, neither spouse will be required to make the remaining spousal maintenance payments. If the paying spouse marries again, this marriage does not relieve them of their duty to continue providing spousal maintenance.
Despite changes in either party’s living situation or financial standing, spousal maintenance payments must be made. However, it is possible to request a re-evaluation of a spousal maintenance order. Contacting an attorney well-versed in spousal maintenance regulations in Arizona is crucial for making any changes needed.
What Happens If Spousal Maintenance Is Left Unpaid?
There are several potential consequences if a spouse ordered to pay maintenance does not do so. According to A.R.S. 25-511.01, a non-paying spouse can be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor for willfully disobeying a court order.
A prosecutor must prove each of the following factors to establish a criminal case:
- There was a court-issued maintenance order
- The order required the defendant to pay spousal support
- The defendant was informed of the order
- The defendant did not pay spousal maintenance
- The defendant’s disobedience was deliberate or malicious
According to A.R.S. 13-707, if the spouse is found guilty of the class 1 misdemeanor violation, they are eligible for a term of up to six months in jail. In addition, there are potential civil penalties a non-paying spouse may experience. According to A.R.S. 25-508, a spouse who is entitled to maintenance that is then ignored by the payor can petition to enforce spousal support.
A hearing will be scheduled by the court upon the petition’s filing. Spouses are encouraged to collect data proving that spousal maintenance payments were not made. The spouse who is responsible for paying will also need to demonstrate that no payments were missed. The court will issue a monetary judgment if it determines the non-paying spouse owes spousal maintenance payments. The Support Payment Clearinghouse handles the majority of these payments.
Who Is Entitled To Spousal Support?
Depending on the facts of the case, either party may be eligible for spousal support. However, some key factors will make the court more likely to order payments to one spouse over another. One spouse may be eligible for spousal assistance if they are too old or disabled to work, have guardianship of the children, have stopped their profession to care for the home, have a reduced earning potential, or if doing so would degrade their quality of life. If the court finds that this spouse cannot support themselves financially, they may agree to create a system of support payments made by the better-earning spouse.
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Learn More About AZ Divorce LawUnderstanding Arizona spousal maintenance begins with understanding the divorce process, which can be hard to navigate at times. The divorce settlement will outline any spousal maintenance required by the court. However, the factors that determine the settlement are reliant on the details of the divorce process. Some of the most important aspects of divorce include the following:
- Retirement Division (QDRO)
- High Net Worth / Asset Divorce
- Property & Debt Division
- Order Enforcement
- Legal Separation
- Collaborative Divorce