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Spousal Maintenance

 

Spousal maintenance was formerly called alimony. There seem to be more misconceptions about spousal maintenance 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 can be highly discretionary, depending on the judge. In fact, it is often a mystery as to how spousal maintenance has been determined, seemingly very dependent on the court.

There is a statute to follow, but it is very factual and case-specifically dependent. That may be why it is hard to pinpoint rules and outcomes with any certainty. 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, compared to the 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.

Once the court determines that any of these factors are met, there are 13 other factors that the court may use in order to determine how much and how long maintenance should be paid. Even though there are 13 factors, often the court and the attorneys use a ?spousal maintenance guideline? calculation. We share this calculation with you in Chapter 7. While not a set rule, these guidelines are a starting point for negotiations. If you go to court on this issue, the outcome is anyone?s guess.

What will the courts do here in Arizona if my spouse quits working in order to stop having to pay spousal maintenance?

A former spouse cannot avoid spousal maintenance or child support by voluntarily reducing or terminating his or her employment. The court has the discretion to attribute income to a spouse who voluntarily reduces his or her income and to require the paying spouse to pay spousal maintenance or child support in the former amount. The test is earning potential, not the actual earnings, if there was some kind of mischief.

How is spousal maintenance calculated here in Arizona?

In Arizona, there is no statutory formula for calculating spousal maintenance; however, there is an unofficial “guidelines” formula that is used by many attorneys and some judges. Arizona judges have broad discretion in determining whether or not to award spousal maintenance and in determining the amount and duration of spousal maintenance awarded. It is best to speak directly with an attorney regarding your specific situation to get an idea of whether spousal maintenance might be awarded in your case.

What is alimony?

Here in Arizona, spousal maintenance (formerly known as alimony) 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 used for an easier transition to becoming a single person in certain circumstances. Spousal maintenance will not last forever; it is designed to help a person get on his/her feet.

What is a Wage Assignment?

A “wage assignment” is now required for the payment of child support, and in some cases, for the payment of spousal maintenance (alimony). An assignment requires an employer or other payor (either a person or company) of a parent who is obligated by court order to pay a certain amount of child support each month to withhold that amount from the wages or money owed to the parent (employee) and to send that amount directly to the clearinghouse. This type of assignment applies to salary, wages, commissions and any type of payments received by the parent ordered to pay support. Either the person required to pay support or the person entitled to receive it can request an assignment order (A.R.S. 25-323 and 12-2454).

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