Establishing the need for and amount of spousal maintenance can be a complicated and challenging aspect of the family law case. You need to have a solid understanding of how the courts make decisions about whether to award or not award spousal support.
Spousal support in the form of spousal maintenance or Alimony 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.
A.R.S. § 25-319(A) — Establishing Eligibility for a Spousal Maintenance Award
There will always be some variability in support awards, of course, because judicial discretion is applied on a case-by-case basis. In general, though, when determining the appropriateness of a maintenance award under the circumstances of a particular family law case, the court must conduct a two-part analysis.
In the first step, an award of spousal maintenance is only available to a party when one (or more) of the following circumstances exists:
- [Spouse lacks] sufficient property, including property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for that spouse’s reasonable needs.
- [Spouse 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.
- . . .
- [The couple had] a marriage of long duration and [the spouse] is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self-sufficient.
This first step in the analysis focuses on the receiving spouse’s ability to take care of his or her own reasonable needs. In that effort, the court seeks answers to questions like the following:
- What property does the spouse have?
- Is the spouse already self-sufficient?
- Does the spouse need to stay home to care for a child?
- Could this spouse earn enough money to be reasonably self-sufficient?
- Did the marriage last many years, maybe a decade?
- Was the couple only married for a short time, maybe a year or two?
- Is the spouse at an age that would make self-sufficiency through employment impossible?
A.R.S. § 25-319(B) — Judicial Consideration of All Relevant Factors
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 analysis continues to step two. The court examines all relevant factors in the case, including the 13 factors listed below. Every individual’s circumstances are different, so no factor is more important or given greater weight than another. As we go through the 13 factors, we’ll present some questions that may be important to the court’s decision-making.B. The maintenance order shall be … 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.Did the parties live well? Were they affluent? Did they maintain a high standard of living? Did they live modestly? Did they get by with limited resources?
- The duration of the marriage.How many years were they married to each other? Did the couple invest years in their marriage?
- The age, employment history, earning ability and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance.”Did the spouse seeking support quit working outside the home to raise their children? What jobs did that spouse have in the past? How much could he or she reasonably earn? What education does that spouse have? Would training or an education improve that spouse’s employment options?
- The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet that spouse’s needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance.How much does the supporting spouse earn? Can the supporting spouse take care of his or her own reasonable needs, as well as provide support for the other spouse?
- The comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market.Will one spouse substantially out-earn the other under most circumstances? Do one spouse’s property interests greatly exceed the other’s? Is there a significant financial imbalance between the spouses?
- The contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse.Did one spouse maintain the household and care for the children, freeing the other spouse to concentrate his or her efforts on career employment?
- The extent to which the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse.Did one spouse set aside his or her career, education, or employment goals so the other spouse could get ahead?
- The ability of both parties after the dissolution to contribute to the future educational costs of their mutual children.Will each spouse have sufficient funds to help with the children’s educational costs? Will a spouse only be able to help with the children’s educational expenses if he or she receives help in the form of spousal support?
- 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.Does the spouse have sufficient property to take care of all his or her needs without financial help? What makes up that spouse’s community assets?
- 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.Is it possible for the spouse seeking maintenance to get vocational, college, or university training to improve overall employability? With an education, will that spouse be able to build a sustainable career? How much money would be required to get the necessary education or training? How long will it take to get through that training or educational program?
- Excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community, joint tenancy and other property held in common.Did the spouse hide property and assets or commit other destructive or wasteful acts?
- 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.What will be the cost of health care insurance coverage for the spouse seeking support after the divorce?
- 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.Was there a conviction of domestic violence committed against the other spouse or their child? Were there any other convictions in which the other spouse or child was a victim?
In conclusion, remember to come back to this page and review the spousal maintenance statute as you work through the divorce process. Being prepared to answer questions like these when spousal maintenance is examined by the court will go a long way toward a beneficial result in your family law case.