When marriages end and divorce ensues, there are a number of difficult decisions that need to be made. These include the division of property, child custody and the question of whether both parties can reasonably support themselves once the union is dissolved. In instances where there is a major discrepancy in income levels and one spouse is unable to provide for him or herself, spousal maintenance (commonly referred to as alimony) may be awarded at the discretion of the court.
Before the court considers the award of spousal maintenance, the couple in question must file a divorce petition or a petition for legal separation. If the parties and their attorneys cannot come to a reasonable agreement concerning whether or not one spouse requires ongoing support, or on the issue of the amount that should be paid, the judiciary will intervene. In making the decision, the court will first look at whether either of the parties are eligible for spousal maintenance under Arizona state law (Revised Statutes 25-319).
Eligibility for Spousal Support
A party is only entitled to receive ongoing support if he or she meets one or more of the following requirements:
- Lacks sufficient property, including property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for that spouse’s reasonable needs.
- Is unable to be self-sufficient through appropriate employment or is the custodian of a child whose age or condition is such that the custodian should not be required to seek employment outside the home or lacks earning ability in the labor market adequate to be self-sufficient.
- Has made a significant financial or other contribution to the education, training, vocational skills, career or earning ability of the other spouse.
- Had a marriage of long duration and is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self-sufficient.
- Has significantly reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse.
Duration and Amount of Maintenance Payments
If a party is deemed to be eligible for spousal maintenance, the court is charged with deciding how much the individual should receive and the duration of the payments. Per state law, the court looks at eleven different factors in making this determination. It’s important to note that spousal maintenance is not meant to be punitive in nature and consequently marital misconduct is not considered (unless a valid prenuptial agreement has alternate provisions). Some of the factors considered include:
- Length of the marriage
- Earnings of each spouse and their comparative earning abilities in the labor market
- Marital standard of living
- The receiving spouse’s education, health, work history and earning potential
- The reasonable needs of the spouse seeking maintenance
- The contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse.
In determining the duration of support payments, the presiding judge will attempt to identify a reasonable time frame that the spouse receiving maintenance will need to become self-supporting. Generally, spousal support that has a set end date is said to be “rehabilitative maintenance”, in place only as long as it takes for one spouse reestablish a career or start up a new one. Ongoing support with no end date is said to be “permanent maintenance” which is paid for the lifetime of the receiving spouse.
Modifying or Terminating a Spousal Maintenance Order
Once the final order is entered by the judge, either spouse may request that the payments be modified or terminated, unless the couple explicitly agreed not to seek any changes during the divorce proceedings. Generally, courts will only modify or terminate the order if there has been a “substantial and continuing change” in one of the party’s circumstances. This may include a serious illness or injury that changes the employment status of one of the parties. Generally speaking, the payments end automatically once either party remarries or passes away.
Spousal maintenance orders can have a long-lasting impact on both parties following a divorce. If you are contemplating divorce or have already initiated the process, it’s imperative that you have an experienced family law attorney on your side to ensure your interests are protected now and well into the future. Garnice Law PLLC has helped hundreds of individuals throughout Scottsdale resolve their marital disputes in a favorable, cost-effective and, whenever possible, amicable manner. Call us today at (480) 351-4804 or email us for a free, confidential consultation.