What Is Spousal Maintenance And How Is It Determined?
Spousal maintenance is one of the most complicated areas of divorce law. The reason for that is the wide discretion Arizona judges have in determining the amount and duration of spousal maintenance and if a spouse qualifies for spousal maintenance in Arizona. You can avoid this financially devastating situation in the first place by obtaining a prenuptial agreement, or what in Arizona we now call a premarital agreement. Using a prenuptial agreement, you can eliminate entirely the need to pay your spouse anything in the event of a divorce.
There are some exceptions, but for the most part the most important way you can protect yourself from financial slavery for years after your divorce is to make sure you do not get married unless your fiancé is willing to sign a prenuptial agreement. But assuming you do not have a prenuptial agreement, you will be subject to the Arizona statutes that pertain to spousal maintenance. The terms alimony and spousal maintenance mean the same thing in Arizona. In order to qualify for spousal maintenance in Arizona, you must be married and seeking a divorce or legal separation.
An unmarried person has no right to spousal maintenance in Arizona. That could change as fewer and fewer people get married and instead choose to live together. But assuming you are in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or a proceeding for maintenance following dissolution of the marriage by a court that lacked personal jurisdiction over the absent spouse, the court may grant a maintenance order for either spouse for any of the following reasons below, if it finds that the spouse is seeking maintenance:
- 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.
- Contributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse.
- Had a marriage of long duration and is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self-sufficient.
The spousal maintenance order will 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, 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.
If both parties agree, the maintenance order and a decree of dissolution of marriage or of legal separation may state that its maintenance terms shall not be modified. This is an important consideration to keep in mind. If you agree on a spousal maintenance amount, you can also agree that it can never be modified. In some cases, this is a good idea, because you will know that your spouse can never go back to court and request more money or a longer duration of support because circumstances have changed. For example, if you end up making far more money after the divorce is final, if your spousal maintenance agreement does not state that it is non-modifiable, your ex could go back to court and say that she needs more money because you are now able to pay far more than you could pay her when you were earning far less money. On the other hand, making your spousal maintenance award non-modifiable can also backfire. One such scenario is if you lose your job or have other major financial commitments. If that happens, a judge will not care and cannot change things even if the judge wanted to.
You will be stuck with what you agreed to, and if you do not pay, you could even be incarcerated. This is a very complicated decision to make, and it is a decision you and your attorney will discuss at length in order to explore all the future possibilities and consequences. Another way you can make a mistake is if you make your spousal maintenance agreement non-modifiable and your ex ends up making far more money or inherits assets or otherwise has a financial situation that greatly improves, you will be unable to go back to court to get the spousal maintenance lowered or stopped altogether. Your ex will have a windfall while you are forced to slave away and deprive yourself of savings, purchases, or other things you could do with that money that your ex no longer really needs.
For more information on Spousal Maintenance In Arizona, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (602) 788-1395 today.