An Arizona family law judge is authorized by the state laws (Arizona Revised Statute Section 25-319) to order one spouse to pay the other spouse alimony, officially referred to as spousal maintenance.
There are two parts to Arizona spousal maintenance laws. Section 25-319(A) contains the factors the court must consider first to determine if a spouse is entitled to alimony in Arizona.
The second part of the statute provided in 25-319(B) contains the spousal maintenance laws the court must consider in determining the amount and duration of spousal support only if it has first found a basis to award alimony in Arizona under section 25-319.
From the outset, it should be noted that spousal maintenance laws provide that alimony is not necessarily appropriate in every case. An Arizona judge has broad discretion in deciding whether alimony is appropriate and the amount and duration of that alimony award.
- Types of Spousal Maintenance in Arizona
- Who Qualifies for Maintenance?
- How Does the Court Determine Spousal Maintenance
- How Much Spousal Maintenance is Awarded?
- How Long Does Spousal Maintenance Last in Arizona?
- Modifying Spousal Maintenance
- Termination of Maintenance
- Alimony and Taxes
- How is Spousal Maintenance Different From Child Support?
- How Are Alimony Orders Enforced in Arizona?
- Arizona Alimony FAQs
Types of Spousal Maintenance in Arizona
The state takes a Needs-Based Approach in determining spousal maintenance. The overall guiding principle is that Arizona spousal maintenance is designed to limit any negative financial impact of divorce by providing financial support, for a designated period, to a spouse who cannot meet their reasonable expenses on their own.
Payments are ordered only for as long as the spouse needs them to create a bridge to financial independence for both spouses as quickly as possible and encourage financial independence by the receiving spouse.
Arizona judges have broad discretion when making decisions regarding spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance laws do not include guidelines for maintenance, unlike laws for child support. The courts tailor alimony to each unique situation.
In some cases, there may not be a spousal maintenance order after a divorce, or it may be ordered to end within a period because of the parties’ circumstances.
There are four types of spousal maintenance awards in Arizona:
Temporary Spousal Maintenance, also known as pendente lite, translates to “pending the final divorce.” It is established during divorce proceedings to keep both parties financially stable during the process.
Permanent Spousal Maintenance is a permanent or ongoing award with no specified termination date. Permanent maintenance is often ordered when one spouse is too old, has a disability preventing them from working, or is not otherwise reasonably expected to enter the workforce.
Rehabilitative Spousal Maintenance is the most common kind of award. As the name suggests, this award gives one spouse time to get training or education to reenter the workforce after an extended absence, such as when one parent stays at home to take care of children and domestic duties while the other spouse advances their career.
With this award, the court may order one party to pay the other long enough for that person to finish a degree or go through training. There may be a date set, or the judge may order the award of spousal maintenance to stop when certain conditions are met.
Compensatory Spousal Maintenance is less common and is treated as compensation for what was considered an investment in the other. For example, one spouse may pay for the education of the other or provides an environment where that person can finish a degree to be eligible for better opportunities.
Read More: How Does Divorce Work?
Who Qualifies for Maintenance?
A spouse seeking maintenance in Arizona must prove one of four things to be eligible to receive an alimony award. Specifically, the spouse must prove any of the following:
- The spouse lacks sufficient property to provide for their needs
- The spouse is unable to be self-sufficient through appropriate employment
- The spouse is the custodian of a child of such a young age that they should not be expected to work
- The spouse contributed to the other spouse’s education
- The marriage is long, and the requesting spouse is too old to be expected to work to be financially self-sufficient.
How Does the Court Determine Spousal Maintenance?
In some cases, spouses can resolve alimony issues through divorce mediation. In mediation, with the help of a third party, spouses may mutually agree to pay spousal support and the amount and duration, which is quicker and cheaper than going to court.
In cases where litigation is involved, the determination of eligibility is a two-step process.
Entitlement determines whether a spouse is entitled to or eligible to receive spousal maintenance. If a spouse satisfies at least one of the entitlement conditions, the inquiry moves to the second step. In a litigated case, the court only considers the spouse’s circumstances who is requesting spousal support.
An award of spousal maintenance is based on relevant circumstances to determine the amount and duration. There is no formula to determine the duration and the amount. It is determined on a case-by-case basis using factors that a judge must consider as part of the process.
Those factors are:
- standard of living during the marriage
- length of the marriage
- age, employment history, and each spouse’s income (or earning capacity)
- ability to meet the needs of each person
- the comparative financial resources of the spouses
- contribution to the earning ability of the spouse by each person
- the extent to which they reduced their income or career opportunities to benefit the other spouse
- ability to contribute to the future educational costs of their mutual children after divorce
- financial resources of the spouse seeking maintenance
- the time necessary for the spouse seeking maintenance to acquire the education or training needed to find suitable employment, and whether such education or training is readily available
- excessive or abnormal expenditures during the marriage
- cost of health insurance for the spouse seeking maintenance
- actual damages resulting from the criminal acts (criminal conviction) of either spouse on the other spouse or child.
How Much Spousal Maintenance is Awarded?
That is entirely subjective based on the judge’s discretion.
Some courts in Arizona have experimented with methods to compute a starting point for spousal maintenance. However, Arizona judges who consult a formula must still consider all of the factors outlined above.
How Long Does Spousal Maintenance Last in Arizona?
Pendente lite support continues until a judge finalizes the divorce and creates a new spousal maintenance award. A judge will also decide the type and duration of support at that time. However, maintenance ends automatically if the term in the divorce judgment ends, the recipient spouse remarries, or either spouse dies.
Modifying Spousal Maintenance
Arizona only lets you change or terminate the spousal maintenance order at certain times or under specific conditions. The court that approved the original order retains jurisdiction over the award and is the one that will hear any change requests.
In Arizona, the court’s standard to decide if a modification hearing should take place is subjective but based loosely on a “substantial and continuing change in circumstance.” In court, the burden of proving changed circumstances is on the party seeking modification.
Because the order is based on individual circumstances, it should contain a list of the justifications for the award, including the amount and duration.
In some cases, the court will not allow an Arizona alimony award to a former spouse to be modified, such as when you and your former spouse agree that the award cannot be modified or terminated. As long as the agreement was negotiated fairly, the court is unlikely to modify it because of a later change.
To justify a modification request, a change in circumstances usually is the result of a change in income of either ex-spouse or the spouse receiving maintenance and chooses to share a home with a new love interest or fiancé. The payor spouse may also seek a modification due to a chronic health problem or continuing employment issues.
Terminating Spousal Maintenance
In most cases under Arizona law, spousal maintenance terminates when one of the following occurs:
- the remarriage of the spouse receiving support
- the death of either spouse
- the termination of the spousal maintenance term
This is the default under Arizona law, but spouses may mutually agree to more or fewer termination factors if they decide to mediate alimony or a divorce.
Alimony and Taxes
If the judge finalized your divorce before December 31, 2018, maintenance payments are tax-deductible to the payer and taxable income to the recipient.
For any divorce concluded after December 31, 2018, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, spousal maintenance payments are no longer a tax-deductible expense for the payer and the recipient will no longer pay taxes on the payments.
If you’re going through a divorce and maintenance payments are part of the settlement, it’s probably a good idea to speak with a family law attorney before negotiating spousal maintenance.
How is Spousal Maintenance Different from Child Support?
Spousal maintenance in Arizona is meant to provide financial help to a spouse to enable them time to become self-supporting. Child support is ordered in the child’s best interests to try to provide him or her with a similar standard of living the child might have had if his or her parents had stayed together.
All parents in Arizona are expected to contribute to the upbringing of their children. As such, child support is automatically ordered by the court in a divorce with children and will include provisions for health insurance as part of the order.
How are Alimony Orders Enforced in Arizona?
If a spouse does make alimony payments as ordered, this is known as alimony in arrears, and there are several potential penalties.
The spouse may be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor for willfully violating the court’s orders under A.R.S. 25-511.01.
A prosecutor will be required to show the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- There was a maintenance order issued by the court
- The order directed the defendant to pay spousal maintenance
- The defendant received notice of the order
- The defendant was willful or intentional
- The defendant disobeyed the order
If the ex-spouse is convicted, they can be sentenced to serve up to six months in jail
In addition to potential criminal penalties, there are also potential civil remedies. A spouse who is owed maintenance can file a petition to enforce spousal maintenance. After the petition is filed, the court will schedule a hearing where both sides will present evidence to support their case.
If the court finds that arrearages are owed, a money judgment is issued against the paying spouse to enforce the arrearage amount of the judgment. The money judgment will include interest and the arrearage amount that is owed.
Spousal maintenance orders are also enforced in other ways, including:
- Lien against property
- Garnishment (income withholding order)
- Appointment of a receiver
The deadline to request a judgment for unpaid support is three years after an order has been terminated.
Another thing to note is that some people believe they can discharge spousal maintenance payments and debts by filing bankruptcy petitions. Spousal maintenance debt and payments may not be discharged in bankruptcy.
Arizona Alimony FAQs
What if my ex-spouse lives out of state?
Federal law mandates that each state must give full faith and credit to the judicial proceedings of other states. If you’re awarded spousal maintenance in Arizona and your ex-spouse moves to another state, you can still enforce Arizona’s court order.
When a spouse moves to a different state, the spousal maintenance order is sent to the new state so that it can be enforced.
What is a change in circumstances?
Modification may be possible in cases where there are changes in circumstances. For example, if the receiving party gets married again, that terminates spousal maintenance in most cases.
Death is also a final and substantial change in circumstance to terminate an alimony order.
Arizona courts have not ruled that one ex-spouse moving in with a new partner (cohabitation) is enough of a change in circumstance to modify or terminate spousal maintenance.
The other change of circumstance most commonly cited to modify spousal maintenance is a change in income. Spousal maintenance is ordered to balance income inequality, and once the inequality doesn’t exist there is no need to fix the imbalance through alimony. However, if you can’t have the order terminated, you may be able to lower the amount paid each month.
How long do you have to be married to get alimony in Arizona?
There is no minimum timeframe for alimony to kick in. What’s important to take into account is that the length of the marriage is one of the factors a judge takes into account when making spousal maintenance decisions.
For example, it’s fairly unlikely that a spouse married for less than a year will get maintenance, but if it happens, the award will likely be ordered for only a couple of months.
Spouses ending long marriages with a substantial disparity between the incomes may result in maintenance being ordered for a longer time to the requesting spouse.
In some cases, financial support may be ordered until the receiving spouse remarries or dies or until the paying spouse dies. This only happens when the requesting spouse is unlikely to get a job to support themselves because of their age or disability after a long-term marriage.
Are prenuptial agreements enforceable when they include alimony in Arizona?
A couple may choose to limit or eliminate alimony as part of a prenuptial agreement signed prior to getting married. If the couple later divorces, the court may uphold the couple’s agreement and disqualify a spouse from receiving spousal maintenance if it is determined the premarital agreement is valid.
The exception to this is that Arizona law allows judges to decline to uphold a valid prenuptial agreement when a spouse would become eligible for public assistance or welfare benefits without support.
Spouses often follow the prenuptial agreement. However, spouses may also, after understanding the implications of the prenuptial agreement, agree to do something different.
Prenuptial agreements can be more complicated if they are signed many years prior. For example, when the premarital agreement was signed, the spouses may have had no children and the wife may have been earning more income than the husband.
If the spouses had children and a mutual decision was made that the wife worked at home and became the primary caregiver for the parties’ children, the prenuptial agreement circumstances may have changed enough to render the agreement invalid.
Is mediation or litigation a better way to decide alimony?
Mediation encourages creativity and collaboration when establishing how and when spousal support will be paid. Often, a mediator can help couples work through issues to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both.
There is no set formula to determine the amount or duration of support with litigation. Couples do not decide these issues. They are decided by a judge and create a binding agreement that neither spouse may be happy with.
Although courts conduct a full review of all spousal support factors outlined by law, there is no way to accurately predict what a judge will order. Different judges have different interpretations and you will be at the mercy of whichever judge is assigned to your case.
Is marital misconduct considered when calculating spousal maintenance?
Courts do not take marital misconduct into account when determining whether a spouse must pay spousal maintenance. An award of spousal maintenance is not meant to be punitive, so a judge won’t order a spouse to pay maintenance simply to punish him or her. According to the law, judges weigh the factors and after taking them into account, grant maintenance in an amount and duration that seems fair under the circumstances.
What about veterans’ disability benefits?
Under A.R.S. 25-530, courts may not consider veterans’ disability benefits awarded for service-connected disabilities as part of spouses’ income when determining whether to award spousal maintenance.