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A primer on Arizona spousal maintenance

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Spousal maintenance - also known as "spousal support" and "alimony" - sometimes gets a bad rap. Even so, there are many valid reasons why spousal maintenance might be appropriate in an Arizona divorce.

If, for example, one spouse gave up or delayed his or her career opportunities to stay home and raise the couple's children, it might be hard to find work immediately following a separation. In that case, spousal maintenance might be appropriate to provide financial means while that spouse pursues education or vocational training necessary to reenter the work force.

In other cases, spousal maintenance could provide funds for much-needed medical care for one spouse with chronic medical conditions or other special needs. It is also possible for couples to contractually decide upon maintenance payments prior to the marriage through the use of a prenuptial agreement.

Regardless of the reasons behind a request for spousal maintenance following a divorce, it can be helpful beforehand to have at least a basic understanding of how the process works.

Arizona spousal maintenance statutes

The laws governing spousal maintenance awards are found in Title 25, Section 319 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. This section discusses the purpose of spousal maintenance as well as how the state's family courts determine whether an award is appropriate and, if it is, what amount is fair.

Section 319(A) gives several scenarios where spousal maintenance would likely be appropriate, including when the requesting spouse is any of the following:

  • Destitute
  • Unable to be "self-sufficient" through gainful employment because of mental or physical condition or a lack of earning capacity
  • A contributor to the other spouse's educational opportunities, at the cost of his or her own education or career
  • The primary caregiver of a minor child (and seeking employment outside the home is cost-prohibitive compared to daycare expenses)
  • Seeking spousal maintenance after a long marriage and is too old to reenter the workplace

Section 319(B) addresses another key component of spousal maintenance: the amount of payments. While there isn't a statutory financial guideline as in some other states (or like that used when making child support determinations in Arizona), there are factors by which family court judges can analyze spousal maintenance requests to come to an amount that is fair and appropriate. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • The standard of living (which was established during the marriage)
  • Length of the marriage
  • Age and health of both parties
  • Employment history and earning capacity of both parties
  • Sacrifices made by the spouse seeking support for the sake of the other (the one from whom support is sought)
  • Educational needs of the couple's children
  • Financial situation of the party seeking support (including any marital property awarded in the divorce)
  • Other factors the court may deem relevant

That being said, it is important to note that judges are given wide discretion when deciding whether to award maintenance, setting the amount of payments and determining how long payments will continue. Furthermore, Arizona law allows one or both parties to seek modification of any spousal maintenance awards; the statute actually declares that any maintenance awards are modifiable unless the parties specifically agree otherwise.

Learning more

Though the statutes do provide guidance, there is still much more to learn about Arizona's spousal maintenance provisions. Maintenance is not appropriate in every case, and it is important to understand not only what the court looks at to make the determination, but also how to make a request. An experienced family law attorney can help guide you through the process and make a clear, persuasive argument to the judge as to why a spousal maintenance request should be granted (or denied, depending on your perspective).