Spousal maintenance (aka alimony) is often one of the most contested aspects of a divorce. On one side, it’s understandable that the primary breadwinner doesn’t want to lose a significant portion of their income, as nobody likes to see a chunk of their paycheck disappear each week. On the other hand, a spouse who has sacrificed their career progression to care for their children or household will have a difficult time getting back into the workforce and may struggle to enjoy the same standard of living as before. The goal of spousal support is to strike a fair accord for both parties, though the courts are generally more concerned with helping the spouse who sacrificed their career progression.
Determining Spousal Maintenance in Arizona
In an effort to be as fair as possible to all parties, Arizona law leaves a vast amount of discretion with the presiding judge when it comes to determining spousal maintenance. It’s often said that no two judges looking at the same case will come to the same conclusions, so it’s difficult to accurately predict spousal maintenance. That said, the state of Arizona does offer guidelines based on contributing factors, so it’s possible to get a rough idea of spousal maintenance if you have enough information.
When determining the duration and amount of spousal maintenance, judges in Arizona are generally required to consider the following:
- Any history of excessive spending, concealment, destruction, or fraudulent disposition of joint property
- Both spouses’ combined ability to finance future educational costs for their children
- Damages and judgements from a spouse’s conduct that resulted in a criminal conviction (only if the other spouse or a child was the victim)
- Each spouse’s age, employment history, earning power, physical condition, and mental condition
- Each spouse’s personal financial resources and property (including an award of community property)
- Health insurance costs
- The couple’s standard of living
- The duration of the marriage
- The supporting spouse’s ability to meet both parties’ financial needs
- Training and/or educational opportunities that are available to help the spouse become financially independent, and the time required to complete these opportunities
- The extent to which one spouse benefitted the other by reducing their career opportunities or income
- Whether or not the spouse seeking alimony contributes to the other spouse’s earning power (e.g. are the spouses business partners?)
Of these contributing factors, it’s safe to say that the two largest factors are the length of the marriage and each spouse’s personal finances and circumstances. While the other factors are certainly important, these two hold the largest sway in determining the amount and duration of spousal maintenance.
Length of Marriage
While there are a number of states that won’t award alimony in cases where the length of marriage is too short (e.g. less than a year), Arizona does not impose a minimum time period for spousal maintenance. In theory, you could get married and divorced in less than a year and still receive spousal maintenance in Arizona.
However, the duration of the marriage does have a significant impact on the potential length of time that you may be required to pay spousal maintenance. Generally speaking, most spousal maintenance orders have a duration of 30% to 50% of the marriage duration. So, a ten-month marriage may result in 3 – 5 months of spousal maintenance, while a ten-year marriage may result in 3 – 5 years of spousal maintenance. As a rule of thumb, you can multiply your length of marriage by 0.3 – 0.5 to get a rough estimate of the potential length for your spousal maintenance order.
Judges are also instructed to consider the general duration of the marriage when determining the amount of spousal maintenance, with shorter durations earning smaller payments and longer durations resulting in larger payments. Generally speaking, a marriage that lasted less than 10 years is considered short-term, a marriage that lasted 10 – 15 years is medium-term, and a marriage that lasted over 15 years is considered long-term.
Personal Finances and Circumstances
Arizona is considered a rehabilitate state when it comes to alimony. This means that the purpose of spousal maintenance is to help your spouse get back on their feet and become self-sufficient. As such, the value of each spouse’s personal property and income will have a significant impact on the value and duration of spousal maintenance. The court will also consider personal factors such as whether the spouse has a college degree, advanced training, or certifications that would allow them to quickly return to the workforce.
It’s important to note that because Arizona is a rehabilitate state, spousal maintenance orders in Arizona are often much shorter than alimony orders in other states. The reason for the disparity is because spousal maintenance in Arizona is intended to help a spouse enter the workforce and become financially independent, which should be possible (in most cases) within a certain number of years.
The only factor that can automatically disqualify a spouse form receiving spousal maintenance in Arizona is the presence of a premarital (or prenuptial) agreement. If both spouses signed an optional premarital agreement that eliminates spousal maintenance, Arizona courts will uphold the agreement and dismiss any requests for spousal support.
There is one exception to this rule. When a spouse is eligible for government assistance or welfare benefits without spousal maintenance, the court may decline to enforce the premarital agreement’s prohibition against spousal maintenance in order to avoid the spouse becoming a public charge. Note, however, that this does not nullify the entire premarital agreement—only the provision related to spousal maintenance. To determine if any or all other provisions are subject to nullification, you’ll need to consult your case with a family law attorney.
Can Marital Misconduct Affect Spousal Maintenance?
When a regular marriage ends in divorce, the reason that may be considered is an irretrievably broken marriage. For covenant marriages, Arizona divorce law does allow for a discussion of a spouse’s conduct during the dissolution of the marriage, but state law does not consider marital misconduct or relative fault as a factor for spousal maintenance. As such, marital misconduct doesn’t automatically mean a spouse is ineligible for spousal maintenance.
How JacksonWhite Can Help
JacksonWhite is a full-service law firm with a talented, experienced and compassionate family law team. We have over 20 years experience of helping Arizona families with their legal matters such as spousal maintenance, divorce, child support and child custody. At JacksonWhite we understand that each case is unique and that our clients should be treated with respect and compassion during a difficult time.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.
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