There are a lot of misconceptions about spousal maintenance, possibly more than almost any other area of divorce. You may have heard that you will get spousal maintenance because your spouse makes more money, but it is not that simple. Spousal maintenance is often a mystery as to how it is determined and can be highly discretionary, depending on the judge.
Spousal maintenance is a monthly payment from one spouse to another, which is designed to allow for the spouse who earns less income to establish a home and living environment on his/her own. Spousal maintenance is designed to help a person get on his/her feet after a divorce- it will not last forever. Spousal maintenance is most common in long-term marriages of 20 years or more, where one spouse has been a stay-at-home parent who never worked outside the home and has limited job skills and prospects, as compared to a working spouse.
Specifically, the court first determines any one of the following: the spouse lacks sufficient property to provide for reasonable needs; the spouse is unable to be self-sufficient through appropriate employment (that is, “who takes care of whom” if age or condition precludes the spouse from working); the spouse contributed to the education of the other; or the marriage was of long duration and the spouse may be too old to be employed and self-sufficient. The following two factors explained are from Arizona Revised Statute Section 25-319.
Factor One: Sufficient Property, Ability to Support Oneself, Educational Support and Marriage of Long Duration
If you answer yes to any of the following, go to Factor Two.
The first threshold question that the court must determine is whether:
If one of the above threshold questions is yes, then Factor Two is analyzed.
Factor Two: Amount and Duration
If Factor One is met, then the Court considers the following:
Paying Spousal Maintenance
Spousal maintenance can be paid directly from one spouse to the other. Both parties should keep very accurate records of the payments. The court may order the payments to be made through the clearinghouse, administered by the state of Arizona. They keep track of payments for you. Failure to pay is more easily handled in the court if the payments go through the clearinghouse. However, be aware that there is a lag time between the time payment is made and the time it is received if you go through the state. Self-employed or unemployed spouses make spousal maintenance payments directly to the Clerk of the Court as well.
When does spousal maintenance end? (ARS Section 25-327)
Spousal maintenance terminates upon the death or remarriage of the receiving spouse. This is called non-modifiable, but excludes these two situations. There will be a beginning date and an ending date for the payments if you negotiate it and if a court orders it. Something to keep in mind, a former spouse cannot avoid spousal maintenance by voluntarily reducing or terminating his or her employment.
For further information regarding spousal maintenance, the Law Library Resource Center at the Superior Court of Maricopa County’s website is a great resource, as well as our book The Divorce Coach.