Spousal Maintenance FAQs

Spousal Maintenance – Frequently Asked Questions

What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance, also referred to as spousal support or alimony, 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.

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.

Who Can Get Spousal Maintenance?

Arizona is a “no fault” divorce state. This means the court cannot 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, and the like — it is not a factor in awarding such support. Which spouse initiated the divorce has no bearing on the court’s decision to award maintenance either. The controlling statute is A.R.S. § 25-319 which involves a two-part test to determine the appropriateness of maintenance in the family law case.

Can the spouses agree on spousal maintenance between themselves?

Yes, they can. The parties are encouraged to come to agreement on matters of spousal maintenance between themselves. The parties can agree on a spouse’s right to receive support, the duration of support, the amount of support, whether support may be modified or not, and when support will terminate or the event upon which it will terminate (such as remarriage). All things 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.

Are there tax considerations with spousal maintenance?

Yes.  With spousal maintenance, the income tax obligation shifts from the obligor-payer to the obligee-recipient of the money. The obligor may deduct the money paid for spousal maintenance, or alimony, from his or her gross income. The spouse or former spouse receiving the support must include it as income on his or her tax return.

Can the award of spousal maintenance be modified?

Yes, unless the support order says it is not to be modified. The court maintains continuing jurisdiction over spousal maintenance for the entire time it is awarded. When spousal maintenance is modifiable, either party has the right to ask that the court change the amount. In general, a maintenance award may be modified with a substantial change in circumstances following the original maintenance order. The parties may agree, however, that the maintenance order will not be modifiable. In that instance, non-modification of maintenance would be stated in the decree.

When does spousal maintenance terminate?

Spousal support ordinarily terminates when the recipient remarries or dies. But other termination dates are also possible. Support may terminate on a specified date, as when scheduled to continue for a definite period. Support may also terminate with the recipient’s cohabitation with a partner. The court may require that a life insurance policy guarantee that spousal maintenance payments continue for the entire ordered period, even if the obligor is deceased.

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 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.