Guidelines for Maricopa County Alimony and Spousal Maintenance are important to consider and examine before moving forward. In another article, we discussed the 13 factors the courts consider when deciding spousal maintenance or alimony under Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S.) § 25-319(B).
The factors presented provide a framework, but their generalized nature allows for significant judicial discretion.
In the court’s analysis of the spousal support issue, it may be an abuse of judicial discretion to neglect any of the 13 factors. However the court is not required to apply every factor in making a decision to award or not award spousal maintenance.
This broad judicial discretion may lead to rather unpredictable maintenance awards for Arizona couples. And, unfortunately, this unpredictability frustrates the parties and the efforts of their attorneys to resolve disputes through settlement in the divorce negotiations.
In an attempt to improve consistency and provide predictability in the maintenance analysis, the Maricopa Spousal Maintenance Guidelines were developed. The guidelines were intended to provide the judges, the attorneys, and the parties with a formulaic approach for establishing the amount and duration of these awards. The maintenance guidelines provide a formula from which a monthly support amount can be calculated.
Maricopa’s guidelines are neither mandatory, nor authoritative. In fact, there is no requirement that a court apply any guidelines at all to its analysis. If the court chooses, it may look to the guidelines to bolster the reasonableness of an award determination. Without the uniform application of guidelines to every relevant case, it is unlikely that maintenance orders coming from the bench will ever be consistent and predictable.
In a recent case, the usefulness of Maricopa’s guidelines was again minimized. In that case, the husband contended on an appeal of a maintenance award that the trial court erred because, essentially, it’s award was significantly more than what would have been awarded under the guidelines’ formula. The appellate court disagreed with the husband:
“There are no legally authoritative guidelines governing spousal maintenance in Maricopa County or any other Arizona county. A.R.S. § 25-319(B) vests the trial court with broad discretion to determine the amount and duration of spousal maintenance awards after due consideration of the factors that the Legislature articulated. The statute does not direct the court to refer to any set of guidelines, and the court’s disregard of any such informal reference materials cannot give rise to a finding of abuse of discretion.”
One last note to keep in mind. Although application of the spousal maintenance guidelines is discretionary with the court, the child support guidelines must be applied to every child support determination.
“[T]here are two significant and related problems associated with the setting of spousal support (alimony). The first is a lack of consistency resulting in a perception of unfairness. From this flows the second problem, which is an inability to accurately predict an outcome in any given case. This lack of consistency and predictability undermines confidence in the judicial system and further acts as an impediment to the settlement of cases because without a reliable method of prediction clients are in a quandary.” – American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Considerations when Determining Alimony, Spousal Support or Maintenance (2007).