Understanding Arizona’s Alimony Laws

Understanding Arizona’s Alimony Laws

Alimony is one of the most hotly contested issues in Arizona divorce, often far more so than the equitable distribution of marital assets and even child custody. Alimony—also called spousal support or spousal maintenance—tends to generate powerful emotions in a situation that may already be volatile. No matter what side of the issue a spouse is on, they are almost certain to have strong feelings on the subject ranging from, “I shouldn’t have to support him or her,” to “He owes everything to me and I’m only asking for what I deserve!”

If you’re facing a divorce in Arizona, it’s important to understand the purpose of alimony and the state’s stance on spousal support.

Arizona children at school.

What is Alimony in Arizona?

Most divorce law in Arizona refers to alimony as “spousal maintenance” because it serves to bridge a significant income gap between divorcing spouses so the lower-earning spouse doesn’t suffer an undue disadvantage. Spousal maintenance is typically a monthly payment made from one spouse to the other per a pre-trial agreement or a judge’s order in the final divorce decree. It may also exist as a temporary order during the divorce process itself before either ending or becoming permanent in the final divorce agreement.

Alimony is the court’s way of resolving two key issues after a divorce in Arizona:

  • To avoid leaving the lower-earning spouse at a financial disadvantage when they provided uncompensated work and support in the household during the duration of the marriage
  • To avoid suddenly thrusting an unprepared spouse into the work environment when the spouse compromised their own career, education, and professional growth for the sake of the other spouse’s career advancement or to raise the children and keep the home

Spousal support paves the way for an easier transition to self-sufficiency after years of marriage. The state considers marriage a contract between two people. Just as with any legal contract, exiting the marriage contract comes with legal obligations.

When Does Alimony in Arizona Divorce End?

Depending on the spouse’s mediated divorce agreement or the order of the judge, alimony may be temporary or permanent depending on the unique circumstances of the marriage and divorce. There are two types of spousal support orders in Arizona:

  • Temporary Spousal Maintenance (Pendente Lite) is an amount ordered by a judge to be paid from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse during the divorce process to maintain their normal living expenses until after the finalization of the divorce during which period the lower-earning spouse must make arrangements for a stable living situation. A judge may extend this temporary alimony for a fixed period after the divorce if the spouse is particularly vulnerable to financial upheaval and requires more time to gain economic independence
  • Permanent Spousal Maintenance is far less common in Arizona today than temporary alimony, but a judge may award permanent spousal maintenance to a lower-earning spouse after a divorce if the marriage was of long duration or if the spouse is unable to gain financial independence due to disability, illness, or old age

Both temporary and permanent alimony orders end either at the end of the specified period in the order, at the death of the paying spouse, or upon the remarriage of the spouse receiving the alimony.

Can I Modify an Existing Alimony Order in Arizona?

Because spousal maintenance is such a contentious issue, attorneys and mediators in Arizona often assist divorcing spouses to agree on an amount and duration of the payments in a pre-trial agreement. In Arizona, this type of agreement isn’t modifiable but lasts until the specified end of the alimony duration. When a couple cannot reach an agreement, the judge decides for them during the divorce hearing. If a judge decides on an amount and duration of alimony, either spouse can later request a modification only if they’ve experienced a significant and lasting change in circumstances. A Phoenix alimony lawyer can help navigate your legal case.