Spousal maintenance, also known as alimony or spousal support, is court-ordered support paid by one spouse (the obligor) to the other spouse or former spouse (the obligee) in the divorce or legal separation. The purpose of alimony is to avoid unfair economic consequences of divorce.
The details of awarding spousal maintenance may be difficult for you, as establishing the need for and an amount of spousal maintenance can be one of the more complicated and challenging aspects of your divorce case. You need to have a solid understanding of how the courts make decisions about whether to award or not award spousal support.
Spousal maintenance is determined through the court by taking into account a number of financial and work-related issues pertaining to both parties. Depending on the length of the marriage, the parties’ income levels, and work history, the court may (or may not) decide to include maintenance as part of the divorce settlement. To understand the support analysis, you need to review A.R.S. § 25-319 which is the controlling Arizona statute over spousal maintenance, and speak with an experienced Arizona family law attorney. You can also use our Arizona alimony calculator to see what your spousal maintenance in Arizona might be.
Why Do Ex-Spouses Receive Spousal Support?
The purpose of spousal support is to assist the lower-income earner in becoming self-sufficient. For practical reasons, the supported spouse needs time to complete training, education, or career advancement in order to become self-sufficient. It is typically a monthly payment received by one spouse from the other, with different amounts and length. As you can imagine, the exact circumstances of a spousal support order are heavily dependent on the facts of each case.
Is spousal maintenance the same as spousal support?
Yes, it is. Spousal maintenance, also referred to as spousal support or alimony, is court-ordered support paid by the obligor-spouse to the other spouse or former spouse (the obligee) to the divorce or legal separation.
Awarding Spousal Maintenance and Spousal Support in Phoenix
Arizona is a “no fault divorce” state and the court cannot consider any acts of marital misconduct when deciding whether to award, or not to award, spousal maintenance. Whatever fault there may have been — infidelity, alcoholism, gambling, drug problems, and the like — is not a factor in awarding alimony money. Which spouse initiated the divorce has no bearing on the court’s decision to award spousal maintenance either. Spousal maintenance guidelines are controlled by Arizona spousal maintenance statute 25-319 which involves a two-part analysis to determine the appropriateness of a maintenance award in any given family law case.
An award of spousal maintenance is only available to a party when one (or more) of the following circumstances exists. The spouse seeking support:
- 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.
- Had a marriage of long duration and is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self-sufficient.
Once the court has determined that the spouse is eligible for maintenance under A.R.S. § 25–319 (A)(1), (2), or (4) above, the court examines all relevant factors in the case, along with the 13 factors listed below. None of these factors takes priority and none are given any particular weight in the court’s analysis.
“B. The maintenance order shall be in an amount and for a period of time as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, and after considering all relevant factors, including:
- The standard of living established during the marriage.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The age, employment history, earning ability and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance.
- The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet that spouse’s needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance.
- The comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market.
- The contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse.
- The extent to which the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse.
- The ability of both parties after the dissolution to contribute to the future educational costs of their mutual children.
- The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to that spouse, and that spouse’s ability to meet that spouse’s own needs independently.
- The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment and whether such education or training is readily available.
- Excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community, joint tenancy and other property held in common.
- The cost for the spouse who is seeking maintenance to obtain health insurance and the reduction in the cost of health insurance for the spouse from whom maintenance is sought if the spouse from whom maintenance is sought is able to convert family health insurance to employee health insurance after the marriage is dissolved.
- All actual damages and judgments from conduct that results in criminal conviction of either spouse in which the other spouse or child was the victim.”
Be prepared to present sufficient and accurate documentation to the court in support of your request for spousal maintenance. If you are requesting support as part of your divorce settlement, providing financial information about your earnings and work history will be necessary. If you haven’t worked or worked only part-time, then you may be eligible for maintenance. When you are in need of spousal support or believe you should not be required to pay it, familiarize yourself with Arizona’s spousal maintenance statute. Protect your rights. Understand how the court will analyze the factors relevant to your circumstances.
Read spousal maintenance details for a complete analysis of all factors and see a history of spousal maintenance in Arizona here.
Arizona Spousal Maintenance Agreements for Spousal Support
As you can see, there are many factors the court must take into consideration when making a spousal maintenance determination. Thus, the parties are encouraged to come to agreement on matters of spousal maintenance between themselves. Mediation and negotiation during the divorce process can help the parties resolve their support issues. The parties can agree on a spouse’s right to receive support, the duration of support, the amount of support, if the amount can be modified or not, when support will terminate or the event upon which it will terminate.
When all things are considered, it is often better for the spouses to negotiate their property and spousal maintenance awards between themselves, rather than leave those matters to the broad discretion of the court.
Spousal maintenance can be paid in a lump sum of money or be made in payments spread out over a specified period of time. The support may be in the form of property division such as a title transfer, or possession or interest in certain personal property, or possession or security interest in real property.
The court maintains continuing jurisdiction over spousal maintenance for the entire time it is awarded. The maintenance award may be modified when there is a substantial change in circumstances after the original order was issued. As when the paying spouse (obligor) experiences a reduction in income, perhaps because of an injury or job loss. When spousal maintenance is modifiable, either party has the right to ask that the court change the amount. The parties may have agreed, however, that the maintenance order will not be modifiable. In that case, non-modification of maintenance would be stated in the court’s order and final decree.
Once awarded, spousal maintenance is enforced across Arizona. In addition to civil remedies available for nonpayment of support, like wage garnishment, under A.R.S. § 25-511.01 when the noncompliant obligor has notice of the maintenance order, he or she can be convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor for having willfully and without lawful excuse failed to comply with the court’s support order.
Termination of Spousal Maintenance – How Do You Stop Alimony Payments?
Spousal maintenance ordinarily terminates when the recipient remarries or dies. Maintenance may terminate on a specific date, if it is scheduled to continue for a definite period. It may also terminate with the recipient’s continuous romantic cohabitation with another. The court may require that a life insurance policy be purchased to guarantee that maintenance payments continue for the entire ordered period, even if the obligor is deceased.
Tax Considerations for Alimony Payments and Spousal Support
With spousal maintenance, the income tax obligation shifts from the paying spouse to the receiving spouse. The supporting taxpayer may deduct the money paid for spousal support, or alimony. The spouse or former spouse receiving the alimony must include it as income on his or her tax return. For further tax information, we recommend you consult with your independent tax advisor.
Common Arizona Spousal Support Questions
How long do I have to pay spousal support in Arizona?
Determining the duration and amount of spousal maintenance is complicated. Some of the variables considered would be:
- Length of marriage
- History of excessive spending, concealment, or fraudulent disposition of joint property
- Both spouses’ combined ability to finance future educational costs for their children
- Age, employment history, earning power, physical condition, and mental condition
- Personal financial resources and property – this dividing family-owned business assets either party owns
- Health insurance costs
- Standard of living
Is spousal support mandatory in Arizona?
No. A spouse requesting alimony in Arizona must first establish that they are eligible for alimony.
What if spousal support is not paid?
Payments are enforced if a court order is obtained. Late payments are not treated as ordinary debt and are therefore not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Some options if a spouse is not paying include:
- Placing a lien on real estate
- Taking of tax returns
- Using an income withholding order to collect
- Taking a levy on a bank account
In Arizona, the noncompliant spouse may additionally face a class 1 misdemeanor for failing to comply with the court’s spousal maintenance order “willfully and without lawful cause.” All of these choices must be pursued through the courts, which may be sped up and/or made easier with the assistance of your divorce attorney.
Who gets the house in a divorce in Arizona?
Arizona is a community property state. All of the assets and property acquired over the course of the marriage are joint. A house bought during the marriage will belong to both spouses. An agreement must eventually be made between the parties how to divide the value of the house in a divorce.
How is spousal maintenance paid?
Spousal maintenance may be paid in a lump sum or in payments spread out over a specified period of time. Support may also be in the form of a title transfer, possession or interest in personal property, or possession or security interest in real property.
How long is alimony paid in Arizona?
A.R.S 25-327 addresses situations in which spousal maintenance will be terminated. Although it can be completely up to the judge or presiding official, one commonly used standard for alimony duration is that for every 3 years of marriage, 1 year of alimony is paid. That is a ballpark, and should not be ready as exactly what you’d be awarded upon petitioning for Alimony. Speak with an experienced Phoenix spousal maintenance lawyer to understand how long you would need to pay alimony.
How is the spousal maintenance order enforced?
In addition to civil remedies like wage garnishment, under A.R.S. § 25-511.01, when the noncompliant obligor has notice of the maintenance order, he or she can be convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor for having willfully and without lawful excuse failed to comply with the court’s spousal maintenance order.
What is a vocational evaluator for spousal maintenance?
The employability and earning potential of the spouse seeking maintenance is often a question for expert analysis. A vocational evaluator may be utilized to help establish a spouse’s earning ability. The evaluator is knowledgeable in the relevant area’s job market. The spouse seeking maintenance would be required to meet with the evaluator for a review of job skills, potential employment, and earning capacity. The evaluator examines the party’s resume, interviews others in the same employment field, and conducts studies of labor market trends. The expert then prepares a report with recommendations and conclusions, including the income that the expert believes the party is capable of earning. When a party seeking maintenance is underemployed, and could earn more, then the vocational evaluator’s report reflects that.
If the divorce was my fault, do I have to pay spousal maintenance?
No. Arizona is a “no fault” divorce state, which means the court doesn’t consider marital misconduct when deciding whether to award, or not to award, spousal maintenance. Whatever fault there may have been — infidelity, alcoholism, gambling, drug problems — it is not a factor in awarding support. Which spouse initiated the divorce has no bearing on the court’s decision to award maintenance either. A.R.S. § 25-319 requires a two-part test to determine the appropriateness of maintenance in every family law case.
Do I Have to Work with Arizona Law Exclusively?
No. In fact, spouses can mutually agree to the contrary in a formal written agreement. Requirements and terms not outlined in the law can be agreed to. For example, unless otherwise agreed, the estate of a deceased individual is normally not required to continue making payments. If the spouses have a relationship whereby it’s possible to come to such an agreement amicably, then this method is preferred (as opposed to ironing out the details in court).
What Our Clients Have to Say About Spousal Maintenance Lawyers Near You
“Certainly no one wants to go through a divorce, but I am so grateful to my attorney, Robert Howard and the rest of the team at Stewart Law Group for their care, support, and professional legal work in resolving my case. From the very beginning, I was provided with resources that educated me about the process, protecting my interests, and relieving a great deal of fear and anxiety. I received sound advice at every step, and communication was great! I would recommend Robert Howard and the Stewart Law Group to anyone who finds themselves faced with the end of their marriage.”
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