Navigating a divorce presents intricate challenges, particularly when delving into financial elements such as spousal maintenance. Sometimes referred to as alimony or spousal support, Arizona’s spousal maintenance aims to offer monetary assistance to a spouse who might struggle to sustain themselves after divorce. Grasping the details of Arizona’s stance on spousal maintenance is essential for well-informed decisions during a divorce agreement.
What Is Spousal Maintenance?
Spousal maintenance is a legal obligation set in place to provide financial support from one spouse to another following a divorce or legal separation. The core purpose of spousal maintenance is rehabilitative, meaning it is intended to get the receiving spouse to a place where they can provide for their own reasonable needs. In essence, it is designed to help a lower-earning or financially dependent spouse to more smoothly transition out of the marriage.
Spousal Maintenance Guidelines in Arizona
Until recently, spousal maintenance was one of the most-litigated issues in a divorce. There was a lack of consistency in awards and a sense of unpredictability in how courts would decide these issues. In response, Arizona recently revised its spousal maintenance statute and instituted new guidelines for determining spousal maintenance. These changes, which will apply to all divorces filed after September 24, 2022, have clarified the purpose of these payments. According to the new law, spousal maintenance will be awarded “only for a period of time and in an amount necessary to enable the receiving spouse to become self-sufficient.”
Self-sufficiency may look different depending on the individual circumstances of the applicant. In order to achieve some consistency in awards for persons of similar circumstances and to allow for greater clarity going forward, the Arizona Supreme Court has implemented a set of guidelines to determine the amount and duration of awards in the state. These guidelines also serve as a tool to encourage settlements between divorcing parties.
While the new guidelines apply to all orders filed on or after July 10, 2023, there are a few exceptions the guidelines consider. These include:
- If you began or ended a marriage or partnership after September 24, 2022: The guidelines are in effect, but both parties can decide not to use them.
- If you began or ended a marriage or partnership before September 24, 2022: The guidelines aren’t automatically used, but both parties can choose to adopt them.
- If you’re looking to modify an order from a marriage or partnership that started after September 24, 2022: The court will use the guidelines. However, just using these guidelines doesn’t automatically mean you can change an existing order. You’ll need to prove why the change is needed.
- If you’re looking to modify an order from a marriage or partnership that started before September 24, 2022: The guidelines won’t be the reason for the change. However, if you prove there’s a genuine need for change, the court might use the guidelines to decide on the new amount (but not how long it lasts) of an award.
The first step in a divorce or legal separation case is to determine whether a spouse is in fact eligible to receive spousal maintenance. In order to make this determination, the court will rely on a set of factors, including whether the spouse seeking spousal maintenance:
- Lacks the earning ability in the labor market to achieve self-sufficiency
- Is the parent of a child whose age or condition is such that the parent should not be required to work outside the home
- Lacks sufficient property to provide for their reasonable needs
- Has made significant contributions to the education, vocational skills, or earning ability of the other spouse or has significantly reduced their own earning abilities or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse
- Had a long marriage and is of an age where it would be difficult to gain employment adequate to be self-sufficient
If the court finds that a spouse meets one or more of these criteria, it will move on to the question of the amount and duration of spousal maintenance.
Spousal Maintenance Calculator
Once eligibility has been established, the court will use the new Arizona Spousal Maintenance Guidelines and a computer generated calculator to determine the amount and duration of the payments. The calculator can be found on the Arizona Supreme Court’s website and requires the input of various factors. These include the following:
- Family size (including the parties themselves and any child whom one of the parties has a legal obligation to support and is actually paying that support)
- Ages of the parties
- Incomes of each spouses
- Amount of monthly mortgage principal paid for all family residences
- Length of marriage
Once these factors have been input into the calculator, a range of spousal maintenance award amounts and a range of durations for these payments are generated for the court to consider. These ranges serve as guidelines for courts to rely on in determining the actual award. Courts can deviate from these guidelines in extraordinary circumstances, but generally they will stay within these ranges.
Modifications of Awards
Spousal maintenance awards can be modified but only if the party requesting the modification demonstrates that there have been substantial and continuing changed circumstances that have occurred since the original award was granted. It is important to note that an award is not meant to be a lifetime commitment, but rather temporary support until the receiving spouse has achieved self-sufficiency. Therefore, fixed-term awards will only be extended if the receiving spouse proves such changed circumstances.
The retirement of the paying spouse may constitute changed circumstances that can warrant a modification. This can be implemented even if the retirement was anticipated at the time of the initial award.
Understanding Your Rights with Respect to Spousal Maintenance
Understanding spousal maintenance laws in Arizona is vital for anyone going through a divorce. Even with the new guidelines, spousal maintenance is a complex issue and requires professional legal assistance. If you’re facing a divorce and have questions about spousal maintenance, don’t hesitate to contact our team at Cohen Family Law for a consultation. We’re committed to guiding you through this process and advocating for your best interests.