If you are going through a divorce or planning to go through with a divorce you have probably faced the issue of spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance, also called spousal support or alimony in other jurisdictions, may require the higher earning spouse to pay a certain amount of money to the spouse who became dependent because of the marriage. In other words, if the dependent spouse cannot pay living expenses the judge may require the spouse earning a higher income to pay money to the dependent spouse for a certain period of time.1 Payments may also be ordered to be in a lump sum or periodically.2 An award of spousal maintenance may also be modified by filing a petition with the court.3
What factors do judges take into consideration when calculating spousal maintenance?
There are always numerous factors that a court considers in the decision to award spousal maintenance. In order to determine whether the maintenance is needed at all, a court could consider how much has been contributed to the other spouse’s educational opportunities, whether the dependent spouse has enough assets or property to provide for his or her needs, and whether or not the spouse in question is self-sufficient.4 To determine these factors, a judge will also look at the current economic environment and individual factors such as age, years married, and the lifestyle now as compared to life during marriage.5
Once a court determines that spousal maintenance should be awarded, a judge could consider a number of factors such as length of marriage, whether there are marital children and who cares for them, the difference between each spouse’s income level, the standard of living established by the marriage, and the level of independence of each spouse.6 For example, courts have held that projected employability and income,7 the ability to convert property into something that produces income,8 and long periods of unemployment9 are influential factors in determining how much spousal maintenance to award. However, it is important to keep in mind that the actual amount awarded is very fact-sensitive and will depend on your individual case. It is best to consult a Phoenix attorney about your situation.
Types of Maintenance
Temporary Spousal Maintenance
An Arizona judge may order a temporary form of spousal maintenance during the divorce proceeding.10 It is important to remember that the amount and duration of the award must be considered fair and just.11 A judge will usually consider spousal maintenance to be a rehabilitative remedy so a dependent spouse can get an education, a job, or other qualifications to get back on his or her feet.12
Permanent Spousal Maintenance
It is unlikely that you will encounter a situation where you or your spouse will pay permanent spousal maintenance. As implied by the name, this type of support has a long or permanent duration. Typically, this type of award takes age, health issues, and whether there is a complete lack of earning potential into consideration.13
Compensatory Spousal Maintenance
This type of spousal maintenance pays a spouse for his or her support or contributions to the other spouse’s career or education.14 For example, courts will take non-economic contributions into consideration where sacrifices by one spouse leave him or her in a worse situation and standard of living than he or she enjoyed prior to marriage.15
If your situation involves enough liquid assets, a property settlement may be more desirable than either temporary or permanent spousal maintenance.16 A property settlement is a judicial equitable division of both spouses property. In other words, the settlement will assign a value to a spouse’s depleted income and give a monetary award based on those values.17 Property settlements often depend on whether or not there is a contested or uncontested divorce.18 To determine whether or not a property settlement would be best for your situation, please contact an experienced Phoenix attorney to evaluate your situation. Susan Bishop, Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Arizona, divorcenet.com, http://www.divorcenet.com/resources/divorce/spousal-support/understanding-and-calculating-alimony-ar (last visited Sep. 16, 2014).
3 Catherine A. Creighton, 4A Ariz. Legal Forms, Domestic Rel. § 8:22 (3d ed.).
4 Susan Bishop, supra note 1.
6 Catherine A. Creighton, 4A Ariz. Legal Forms, Domestic Rel. § 8:2 (3d ed.).
7 Wisner v. Wisner, 129 Ariz. 333, 631 P.2d 115 (Ct. App. Div. 1, 1981).
8 Deatherage v. Deatherage, 140 Ariz. 317, 681 P.2d 469 (Ct. App. Div. 1 1984).
9 In re Marriage of Foster, 125 Ariz. 208, 608 P.2d 785 (Ct. App. Div. 1, 1980).
10 Susan Bishop, supra note 1.
11 Victoria McGrath, ARS 25-319 Regarding Arizona Divorce Laws & Spousal Support, Info. Legalzoom.Com, http://info.legalzoom.com/ars-25319-regarding-arizona-divorce-laws-spousal-support-25357.html (last visited Sep. 16, 2014).
12 See Susan Bishop, supra note 1.
13 Victoria McGrath, supra note 11.
15 Laura W. Morgan, Current Trends in Alimony Law: Where Are We Now?, americanbar.org (2012),
16 Marian F. Dobbs, Determining Child & Spousal Support § 1:12 (Aug. 2014).
18 Victoria McGrath, supra note 11.