Arizona Spousal Support Laws, also known as Alimony
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Alimony Laws in Arizona
When people file for divorce in Arizona, either spouse can ask the court for spousal support or maintenance. However, the court will not automatically order you or your spouse to pay alimony simply because it is requested. Instead, there are a multiple of factors that judges consider when determining whether or not to award spousal maintenance. For example, a judge may order spousal maintenance when the lower-earning spouse needs help to get on his or her feet by completing training or education.
Judges might also order spousal maintenance in cases where the parties had a long marriage (i.e. greater than 20 year), or where the lower-earning spouse is unlikely to become independent through work. For instance, if an older spouse has always been a homemaker and is going through a gray divorce (i.e. divorce later in life), the court might order the breadwinner spouse to pay spousal maintenance.
Factors Considered for Spousal Maintenance Orders
Arizona judges are given broad discretion to decide whether a spouse is entitled to maintenance, and if so, the appropriate amount and duration that it should be ordered. Although spousal maintenance may be very common in some circumstances, it is never a guarantee, which is why it is important to ensure your case is handled properly.
ARS 25-319, the statute that governs the award of spousal maintenance in Arizona, divides the issue into two primary sub-issues. First, the court must determine whether or not a spouse is entitled to support. Second, if the court determines that a spouse is entitled to support, the Court must determine the amount and duration of the support award.
The following are the statutory factors that the court must consider when deciding whether a person is entitled to receive support:
- Whether the spouse lacks sufficient property, including property awarded to that spouse during the divorce, to support their reasonable needs;
- Whether the spouse is capable of generating income in the labor market to self sufficient without assistance from the other spouse;
- This factor includes whether the spouse is the primary care provider for a child who is of an age or condition the prevents that spouse from working full-time (or at all);
- Whether a spouse has contributed to the career, training, and earning ability of the other spouse;
- Whether a spouse has made significant sacrifices as to their own career and earning ability to the benefit of the other spouse.
- Whether parties had a marriage of long duration and one spouse is of an age that precludes them from seeking reasonable employment.
If a spouse is not entitled to support, the analysis stops there and the court will deny the request. However, when a spouse is entitled to support, the Court then considers the following factors to determine the amount and duration:
- The parties’ standard of living during the marriage;
- The duration of the marriage;
- The spouses ages;
- The spouses’ employment histories and earning abilities;
- The spouses’ physical and mental health;
- The relative incomes and financial resources of the spouses;
- The contributions of each spouse to the education or earning ability of the other spouse;
- The career and earning sacrifices of each spouse to the benefit of the other spouse;
- Each parties ability to contribute to their children’s future education cost (including college);
- Whether one spouse wasted assets during the marriage (i.e. excessive spending, hiding, transferring, or concealing joint property);
- How long it will take for the spouse seeking maintenance to acquire sufficient education to find appropriate employment;
- The impact of health insurance costs on the spouses after divorce;
- Actual damages and judgements between the spouses resulting from a criminal conviction where a spouse or child was the victim.
Under ARS 25-530, Arizona courts do not include military disability benefits that a spouse receives from the Department of Veterans Affairs for service-related disabilities when calculating a party’s income for the purpose of spousal maintenance
Courts also generally do not take any marital misconduct (i.e. cheating, domestic violence) allegations into account in determining whether spousal maintenance should be ordered. Unlike some states, Arizona courts do not have spousal maintenance guidelines (i.e. a formula or calculator) to determine appropriate amount and duration of support.
Marriage Length and Spousal Maintenance
There is no minimum marriage length in Arizona for an award of spousal maintenance. However, the length of a marriage is a factor that courts consider when determining whether to grant spousal maintenance requests.
It is unlikely that a spouse will be granted spousal maintenance when the marriage lasted for a short time.
The length of a marriage can also affect the duration of support and the amounts that might be ordered. Most spousal maintenance awards only last for a few years, but they can be ordered for longer when there is a significant income disparity, and the lower-earning spouse is unlikely to be able to support himself or herself independently through training or education.
Rarely, a judge might order a spouse to pay spousal maintenance until the recipient spouse dies, the payor dies, or the recipient spouse remarries. This is called an “indefinite” or “lifetime” award and, while possible, is increasingly rare.
Child Support vs. Spousal Support
In divorces with children, courts might order a spouse to pay child support and spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance is calculated separately from child support and is meant for a different purpose.
Spousal support is designed to help the lower-earning or resourced spouse gain financial independence. Child support is designed to help pay for the child’s needs and is in the child’s best interests. Child support is far less discretionary as the state expects both parents to financially contribute to their children’s upbringing.
If the court orders you to pay child support and alimony, you must follow both orders.
Failing to pay either type of court-ordered support could place you at risk of criminal and civil penalties. Neither type of support is dischargeable in bankruptcy, meaning back amounts will not disappear and must be fully repaid.
Income Disparity and Spousal Maintenance
Just because one spouse makes more money than the other does not mean that the court will order spousal maintenance. Instead, the judge will exercise his or her discretion to determine whether an order is warranted.
If you have divorced in the past and did not ask for spousal maintenance, you will generally not be able to reopen the case to ask for spousal maintenance in the future. The lone exception occurs if the court that granted your divorce could not secure personal jurisdiction over your ex-spouse.
Spousal Maintenance Modifications
In some situations, the spouses’ financial circumstances might change after a court issues an order for spousal maintenance, thereby warranting a modification. In order fot this to occur, the party seeking the modification must prove that a “substantial and continuing” change in circumstances has occurred. If your financial circumstances have changed to such an extent that you are no longer able to afford to make your spousal maintenance payments, you can petition the court to modify the amount under ARS 25-327.
A court order to modify your spousal maintenance payments will not cover any arrearages (past due support) that you owe.
However, once a decision is made by the Court, most modifications are retroactively effective to the first month following service of the Petition. If you are struggling to pay spousal support, you should talk to an attorney at Colburn Hintze Maletta as soon as possible to file a modification request before you fall behind on your payments.
Terminating Spousal Maintenance
Situations in which spousal maintenance will end are covered in ARS 25-327. If you are ordered to pay spousal support, you will typically no longer have to pay if your former spouse dies or remarries. The only exception to this is if you expressly agree otherwise in a formal written agreement.
If your former spouse remarries, you should let the court know so that your payments can end. You will not be allowed to end your payments when you, as the payor spouse, remarry, however. If the payor dies, the obligation to pay spousal maintenance will also end. Unless otherwise agreed, the deceased person’s estate will generally not have to continue making payments.
Relocations and Spousal Maintenance
All states are supposed to give full faith and credit to the courts’ decisions in other states. This means that if you move to a new state, your spousal maintenance order will follow you. An Arizona spousal maintenance order is enforceable no matter where you might live.
If your spouse moves to a new state, you can ask the court to send your order to the new state to ensure that the payments will be taken from his or her paychecks and sent to you.
This process is commonly referred to as registering a foreign (out-of-state) order.
Spousal Support Enforcement
If your spouse does not make his or her court-ordered spousal maintenance payments, he or she can face criminal and civil liability. Under ARS 25-511.01, failing to pay court-ordered spousal support is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Civil penalties may also be ordered when a spouse fails to pay spousal maintenance. If you are the recipient spouse and have not received the payments that were ordered, you can file a petition asking the court to enforce the order under ARS 25-508.
Once you file your petition, the court will schedule a hearing. You can ask the Support Payment Clearinghouse for copies of the payment records to show that the payor failed to make the payments as ordered. If spousal maintenance was called for in your separation agreement, you would need to provide the court with other records showing that your ex-spouse failed to pay.
If the court grants your petition, it will issue a money judgment. The payor spouse will be responsible for paying the judgment together with interest. You can enforce a money judgment in any of the following ways:
- Bank levies
- Wage garnishments
- Writs of execution
Talk to an Experienced Spousal Support Lawyer at Colburn Hintze Maletta
Similarly, if you are struggling to make spousal support payments or have not received the payments you are owed, an attorney can help.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation at (602) 825-2500.
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