As a divorce attorney in Mesa AZ, an issue that frequently arises in an Arizona divorce case is whether one spouse is entitled to spousal maintenance (sometimes called Alimony) in Arizona. For many people, (in most cases the wife), divorce is not only an emotionally draining time period but a time of great uncertainty. One of the by-products of any divorce is the loss of income generated by the soon-to-be ex-spouse. Many wives/mothers are left wondering how they will make ends meet with the loss of income of their ex-spouse. In many cases, the wife is a stay-at-home mother with little or no education beyond a high-school diploma. Many women sacrifice a significant amount of time, money and effort supporting their husbands while they get their education and build their careers. They often sacrifice their own career ambitions to stay home and raise the children and support their husband’s careers. As a Mesa family law attorney, I have seen too many occasions when a divorce happens, the contribution of the wife in helping her husband get his education and build his career goes unrecognized and uncompensated. I have met with numerous women over the years who tearfully worry about what will happen to them after the divorce while their ex-husbands continue to earn good incomes as a result of the education and careers their ex-wives helped them build. While there are no easy answers to address these concerns in their entirety, there is some good news: Arizona law recognizes the need for ex-spouses to provide support in certain circumstances
In most cases, the amount of spousal support a spouse may receive may not be sufficient to completely support her (or him), it will often provide a reasonable supplement. The ex-wife will almost always need to find work to help support herself or to make up the difference. The spousal support may even provide enough of a cushion that the ex-wife can further her own education and work toward a profession of her own to better provide for herself. However, like any post-divorce support, it is rarely indefinite. Spousal support almost always ends when the spouse receiving support re-marries. Even if that does not occur, in most instances, spousal support will be for a definite period of time (typically a certain number of years). A wise recipient of spousal support will look for ways to better improve her (or his) situation so that when the spousal support ends, the spouse has a way to support herself.
Not every case in Arizona will result in a spousal maintenance award. Whether a spouse is entitled to receive spousal support payments after a divorce depends on a number of different factors under Arizona law. When determining whether a party qualifies for spousal support, the family court judge must consider the following factors found in A.R.S.25-319:
1. Does one spouse lack sufficient property to care for that spouse’s reasonable needs (this includes property awarded to that spouse as part of the divorce proceeding);
2. Does the spouse seeking support unable to be self-sufficient through employment, or the parent or custodian of a child whose age or condition is such that the spouse should not be required to seek employment outside the home or does the spouse seeking support lack the earning ability in the market to be self-sufficient;
3. What contribution did the spouse seeking support make to the educational opportunities of the other spouse (this does not include just financial contribution, but can include caring for children while one spouse went to school, caring for the home, etc.);
4. Was the marriage of long duration and/or is the spouse seeking the support of an age that may make it difficult to find adequate employment to be self-sufficient.
If the family court judge finds that any of the above factors apply, a spousal support award can be given. Next, the judge must consider how long the award should last and what amount of support should be awarded. The statute requires the judge to consider an amount and length of time as seems just without considering any marital misconduct that may have taken place. In making this determination, the court considers the following factors:
1. What was the standard of living during the marriage;
2. How long was the marriage;
3. The age, employment history, earning ability and the physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking support;
4. The ability of the spouse who will pay support to meet that spouses needs while also meeting the needs of the spouse seeking support;
5. The comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market.
6. The contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse.
7. The extent to which the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse.
8. The ability of both parties after the dissolution to contribute to the future educational costs of their mutual children.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. Excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community, joint tenancy and other property held in common.
12. 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.
13. 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.
As is probably obvious, whether or not a spouse is entitled to spousal maintenance is a fact-intensive analysis. A party seeking spousal support needs to make sure the attorney they hire knows how to aggressively pursue spousal maintenance for him or her by gathering the necessary evidence that addresses the factors discussed above. Spousal maintenance, unlike child support, is not determined by a set of guidelines and a calculator. An Arizona judge can award a spouse as much, or as little spousal support as seems reasonable given the factors outlined above. Likewise, a judge could find an award of spousal maintenance is not warranted.
One last word about spousal maintenance: I often have prospective clients who don’t want to pursue spousal support because they don’t want to be mean or difficult. Spousal support is really nothing more than a recognition of yourcontribution to the marriage. Just because you may not be the breadwinner in the family, you took care of the home and children and supported your spouse while he or she got their education and/or built his or her career. Your sacrifice and contribution should not be swept aside at the time of divorce. You supported your spouse as he or she built his or her career because that was your contribution to building the life you both wanted. Your spouse will get to continue to earn a living based in part, on your contribution. You deserve to be compensated for what you did to get him or her to where they are.