While most people are aware that spousal support — sometimes called spousal maintenance, alimony, or palimony — is meant to be awarded to the lower-earning spouse after a divorce in Arizona, many people are unaware of exactly what the real purpose of spousal support is in most cases.
This article discusses the many details of spousal support, how is it calculated and what you need to know in terms of establishing spousal support, modifying spousal support or the chances of termination.
Common Topics of Spousal Support / Alimony in Arizona
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In the state of Arizona, the real purpose of spousal maintenance is not to be a forever ongoing monthly award. Rather, it's true purpose is to give the lower-earning spouse the time, education, and other tools s/he may need to be educationally and experientially prepared for work opportunities that would allow him or her to become a higher wage-earner, thus ending the need for the spousal support at a point to be determined by the judge in a family law court.
Spousal maintenance should also be used to help the lower-earning spouse maintain a lifestyle commensurate with what s/he had while married as s/he now educates him or herself. The support should also provide enough to pay for said education to make it possible to obtain higher paying work that gives him or her the ability to maintain the lifestyle s/he left when the marriage ended — without third-party financial support.
In some cases, spousal support may only be ordered for a duration of several months to perhaps a year or two, while in other instances, family court judges will order that the higher-earning spouse pay spousal support for a much longer period — typically, this has to do with the fact that the period of the marriage was greater in length.
In the state of Arizona, a marriage of 15 or more years is considered a longer term marriage, and as such, could be considered grounds for longer lasting spousal support than what might be considered for a marriage of say five or less years.
First, it's important to understand that pursuant to Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) 25-319, spousal support is absolutely not guaranteed in Arizona, no matter the duration of the marriage, the ages of the spouses, or any other factors.
In the state of Arizona, spousal support is calculated by the judge in your individual case, and not by a flow chart, computer program, algorithm, or any other automated system. A family court judge will take a variety of factors into consideration when deciding whether or not to grant spousal maintenance, and how much to award if so.
The factors the judge will consider are all aspects delineated in ARS 25-319, and include the answers to these questions below:
- What was the duration of the marriage, including any time legally separated before divorce?
- What was the standard of living for the requesting spouse and for the spouse who would pay the support throughout the duration of their marriage, including any time spent separated, legal or otherwise?
- Can the spouse requesting the support financially meet his or her monetary obligations without assistance?
- If the requesting spouse is employed, is what s/he earns enough to support him or herself?
- Is the requesting spouse having to work more than one job or work overtime (more than 40 hours a week in the state of Arizona) in order to keep up with bills, rent/mortgage, and other financial obligations?
- What are the current work-related or professional skills of the requesting spouse, and are they, on their own, sufficient to earn a living wage given the cost of living in the state of Arizona?
- During the marriage, what job or career did each spouse have, and for what period(s)?
- What is the monetary difference in the yearly incomes of the spouses?
- Moving forward, after the divorce is finalized, what will the likely earning power of each spouse be, and what is the difference between those two projected incomes?
- If the requesting spouse were to go back to school in an effort to enhance his or her ability to earn more, how long would it take him or her to obtain such an education?
- Is the spouse requesting the support of an age that would make it insurmountably difficult to go back to work and/or school?
- Is the requesting spouse unable to accept work because s/he is busy caring for children, especially young children, including adopted children and/or step-children?
- During the marriage, did the now lower-earning spouse — who is now requesting spousal support — financially and/or otherwise support the now higher-earning spouse through the course of his or her earning a degree(s), completing any other form of education, or certification that enhanced his or her earning power?
- Did the now lower-earning spouse support the now higher-earning spouse as s/he "climbed the ladder" at work to obtain any career position s/he now holds with the now higher earning power?
- For the spouse who would have to pay the support, would doing so put him or her in financial jeopardy, or cause undue hardship that would make paying such support too severe a financial burden?
- Does the requesting spouse have any physical condition, disease, illness, or other malady that would make working impossible, cause duress, or otherwise make working too difficult to engage in?
- Does either spouse now have — or has s/he ever had — any mental deficiency, mental illness, or any kind of mental deficit?
- Did either the requesting spouse or the spouse who is being requested to pay spousal support ever — in any way — conceal, hide, give to someone else outside the marriage for safekeeping, or otherwise make unknowable any valuables, earnings, property, stocks, bonds, retirement funds, cash, or anything else of monetary value in an effort to keep the other spouse from gaining financially from said item(s)?
The answers to these questions will largely determine how much spousal maintenance will be paid to the lower-earning spouse if the judge determines that alimony or palimony should be awarded.
It's important to understand from the outset that when determining alimony or palimony, family court judges do not weigh whether or not a spouse was objectively or subjectively good to his or her partner, their children or other family members. Actions such as extramarital affairs, verbal abuse, being an absent mother or father to the children, or not spending enough time with the family are not factors that determine the amount of spousal support, and this comes as a surprise to many people in the midst of divorce.
The reason for this is that spousal support is not a “punishment” for a "bad" spouse, and is not meant to be seen as reparations for bad behavior or even negligence. As stated above, spousal maintenance is just that — a monetary award to be used to maintain the fair and equitable lifestyle of the lower-earning spouse as s/he prepares for a new life that s/he will be financially responsible for once s/he has gained the education and experience needed to do so.
In the state of Arizona, spousal support and child support are two entirely different financial awards and obligations. As stated above, the purpose of spousal support is to maintain the lifestyle of the lower-earning spouse as s/he prepares for higher paying work by obtaining an education that will make him or her a higher wage earner, and thus able to provide for him or herself without third-party support.
On the other hand, in Arizona, child support is ordered by a family court judge for the purpose of providing the children of divorce with the things they need to maintain a lifestyle commensurate with what they experienced while their parents were still married. What's more, the amount of child support awarded is determined by what the courts call the "best interest of the child," which, according to Arizona law, is what is best for the child physically, mentally, and emotionally, such that s/he may best adjust to his or her new life, new home, new school, and so on.
And, unlike spousal maintenance, which may or may not be awarded to the lower-earning spouse, child support is automatically ordered by Arizona family courts in all cases where it is deemed necessary and appropriate for the wellbeing of the child(ren) of divorce.
Pursuant to Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) 25-327, if the lower-earning spouse who is receiving spousal support gets legally remarried, s/he is no longer eligible for spousal maintenance from the spouse s/he divorced.
However, Arizona family law courts will not automatically be aware that the spousal support payee has remarried — that means if you are the support-paying spouse, you will need to notify the court of your ex-spouse's new marriage to ensure that your obligation to pay is legally terminated. By simply stopping support payments because you are aware of your ex-spouse's new marriage, the court will continue to take the support amount out of your paycheck until they are aware of the new marriage.
If, on the other hand, you are the spouse paying alimony or palimony and you remarry, you are still entirely obligated to continue paying support — your new marriage does not in any way eliminate your responsibility to pay alimony or palimony or change the amount of the support.
Unfortunately for some, if you did not request or petition for spousal support before or during your divorce proceedings, the court will not allow you to go back after the fact and request spousal support once the divorce has been finalized.
The one exception to this rule occurs when the court that granted your divorce could not obtain something called “personal jurisdiction” over the spouse who would have been responsible for paying the alimony or palimony. If this is the situation you find yourself in, the Barreda Law Firm can assist you with the process of filing a petition for spousal support from your higher-earning ex-spouse, even in instances when the divorce has been finalized by the court.
According to the United States Constitution, Article IV, every state in the Union is obliged to give full faith and credit to any judicial proceedings in any other state — and that includes divorce proceedings in the state of Arizona.
Moving away from Arizona will not terminate or in any way alter your responsibility for paying alimony or palimony, and your ex-spouse who should be receiving support has the power to enforce Arizona state law to hold you accountable for any and all support payments.
Your new state of residence will then work with the state of Arizona to ensure the support is paid to your ex-spouse residing in Arizona, even through the garnishment of your wages if need be.
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Still Have More Questions About Spousal Support?
The Barreda Law Firm has dealt with countless cases just like yours in which spousal support was in question during or even after a divorce. We understand that for a whole host of reasons, this can be a really scary time for you: will you have enough money to make ends meet? Will your ex-spouse be fair and honest about what s/he should pay or receive?
Sometimes, there seem to be a lot more questions than answers when it comes to spousal support, and at the Barreda Law Firm, we understand just how confusing this can be for those who are not familiar with family law in Arizona.
If you are currently responsible for paying spousal support and you have lost your job or are experiencing bankruptcy, you have more options than you may be aware of. Family courts in Arizona can be particularly challenging — but when you come prepared with an experienced Arizona divorce lawyer from Barreda Law at your side, your chances of success grow exponentially.
We'll work with you on analyzing your finances and assessing other factors of your marriage and divorce, making the court aware of things that could have previously been left out that may dramatically change what you owe — or what’s owed to you.
Whether you need help with a petition to modify spousal support or a petition to support spousal support in Arizona, the Barreda Law Firm can help.
Get started today with your completely free legal consultation by calling (480) 438-8014 to speak with a knowledgeable and experienced Phoenix family law attorney who can answer all your toughest questions.