Arizona Family Law Legislation Update

Arizona Family Law Legislation Update

We have three changes in Arizona family law to report. Two bills were recently signed into law and the Arizona Child Support Guidelines have been revised. Take a look at what’s new half-way into 2018.

New Spousal Maintenance Eligibility Threshold

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New spousal maintenance eligibility threshold in Arizona law

Arizona’s spousal maintenance factors are set forth in ARS § 25-319. For about two decades, all spouses seeking support awards from the family court were required to establish need under at least one of only four circumstances – the threshold analysis before amount and duration were even considered. That will change. Not only are there now five possible circumstances, satisfying the threshold question may be easier for some parties.

The prime sponsor of HB 2031 was Jay Lawrence (R) of District 23. The bill was signed into law by Governor Ducey on April 5, 2018. Change will go into effect soon enough, so spouses should discuss with an experienced divorce attorney whether and how this legislative change could impact their specific situation.

Expected to take effect soon, the language in ARS § 25-319(A) as amended – the spousal maintenance eligibility determination – is as follows:

A. In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or legal separation, or a proceeding for maintenance following dissolution of the marriage by a court that lacked personal jurisdiction over the absent spouse, the court may grant a maintenance order for either spouse for any of the following reasons if it finds that the spouse seeking maintenance:

  1. Lacks sufficient property, including property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for that spouse’s reasonable needs.
  2. 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.
  3. Has made a significant financial or other contribution to the education, training, vocational skills, career or earning ability of the other spouse.
  4. Had a marriage of long duration and is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self‑sufficient.
  5. Has significantly reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse.

[Emphasis indicates revised (A)(3) and new (A)(5) statutory language.]

What was ARS § 25-319(A)(3) before? Prior to HB 2031’s passage, (A)(3)’s eligibility included a situation where the supported spouse “[c]ontributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse” and nothing more.

The nature and scope of such contributions have been interpreted by the courts over time. The amended language could expand what is considered to be the spouse’s contribution to whatever was intended to improve (or resulted in improving) the other spouse’s earning capacity.

Some in the legal community interpret the new language as expanding the scope of spousal maintenance awards while others view it as increasing the burden on the spouse seeking support by setting the bar a little higher to what was “significant.” How so? At the threshold, the party seeking support must prove need as an economically dependent spouse, or having made significant financial or other contribution to the other spouse’s career, or having suffered significant diminution of income or career-path in order to benefit the other spouse. That is, prove actual investment in the other’s career at the expense of one’s own. We will see how Arizona’s family courts interpret these law changes when spousal maintenance facts are before.

When the State Takes a Child into Temporary Custody

Temporary custody in this instance has to do with those dependent children who may be taken into the state’s custody for reasons of exigency, abuse, or neglect. The governor signed SB 1395 into law on April 11, 2018. Amended ARS § 8-821 went into effect on July 1 and represents a significant departure from prior language.

The new language may inject greater certainty into the child removal process. Absent emergency exception, the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) must now obtain a court order before removing the child.

Some are concerned the revised language will end up discouraging caseworkers from attempting removals (and leave more children in risky or dangerous environments). Others argue the statute as amended will help  prevent arbitrary removals and impingement on parental rights.

The juvenile court process of removing a child from his or her home pursuant to ARS § 8-821 could result in temporary guardianship for up to six months. However, when parents’ rights are permanently terminated then permanent guardianship is possible.

New Arizona Child Support Guidelines

Lastly, the Arizona Child Support Guidelines have been revised with new guidelines effective April 1, 2018. All child support orders entered after March 31, 2018 – including orders establishing and modifying child support obligations – are to be made pursuant to these revised Guidelines.

Among those changes, the Guidelines increased the self-support reserve amount to $1,456, effective through December 31, 2018. (Cf. 2015 Guidelines’ $1,115 self-support reserve amount.) After determining the child support order the judge performs a self-support reserve test. This is to verify that the obligor-parent is financially able to pay the child support order and maintain at least a minimum standard of living for himself or herself.

The self-support reserve amount is equal to 80% of the monthly full-time earnings at the current state minimum wage at the time of the order: $10.50 minimum wage x 40 hours x 52 weeks = $21,840 ÷ 12 months = $1,820 x 80% = $1,456.

Other changes include gender-neutral terms on orders (Petitioner and Respondent), updated child support forms, automatic rounding up or down of the final support obligation, and revised Income Withholding Order.

Need help?

Contact one of our Arizona child support lawyers today! 602-548-3400