Alimony in Arizona divorce leaves relatively wide discretion to the judge.
In most divorces, whether spousal maintenance, known as alimony, is awarded is a major issue. The transfer of money from one ex-spouse to the other for support after marriage can significantly affect the standard of living of either party.
Arizona maintenance statutes are mostly traditional, especially in level of discretion it gives judges to assess the situation and award alimony accordingly. In the past few decades, some states have modified their alimony laws to restrict the discretion of judges to fashion maintenance orders. This is a response to some advocates who feel that broad court discretion in alimony without strict standards and limits is unfair, especially to the paying spouse.
Maintenance by agreement
Many couples are able to negotiate marital settlement agreements that include agreed-upon alimony terms. It is important that an experienced lawyer advise a spouse in this position so that before signing, there is complete understanding of the provisions and their impact. For example, the parties could decide that the alimony agreement is not subject to later court review if circumstances change or provide different conditions for termination of payments than the law otherwise allows.
An agreement about alimony submitted to the court is normally incorporated into the final divorce decree.
If the decision is made by the judge instead of the parties, the party asking for support must meet at least one of four conditions:
- The spouse does not have enough property to meet his or her reasonable needs.
- The spouse cannot become self-sufficient by working or cares for a child whose age or health reasonably keeps the spouse from working.
- The spouse “contributed to the educational opportunities” of the other.
- The marriage was of “long duration” and the age of the recipient spouse prevents self-support through work.
Terms of award
One way in which Arizona is more untraditional in alimony law is its prohibition that “marital misconduct” be a consideration in crafting an award. In some more traditional states, the judges are actually required to consider misconduct.
Once eligibility is established, to determine a “just” amount and duration, the court should consider all relevant factors, including 13 in a specific list:
- Marital standard of living
- Marriage length
- Age, work history, health and earning ability of the spouse asking for support
- Ability of the paying spouse to meet his or her own needs if required to pay alimony
- “Comparative financial resources”
- Degree to which the recipient spouse contributed to the other’s earning capacity
- Extent that the payor spouse’s income and career were negatively affected because of some benefit to the other
- Ability of each to help their children with future educational expenses
- Financial resources of the recipient and his or her ability to support him or herself
- Time needed for the recipient to get enough training or education to allow him or her to find appropriate work and availability of such resources
- Excessive spending, hiding, destroying or fraudulently disposing of common assets
- Health insurance cost to recipient and reduction in health insurance cost to payor if he or she is able to reduce family coverage to single coverage through a work policy after divorce
- Money awarded in lawsuits for criminal conduct by one of them toward the other or toward a child
Absent agreement to the contrary, alimony terminates if either dies or the recipient remarries, or upon “substantial and continuing” change in circumstances.
Lawyer John Bednarz of the law firm of John Bednarz, P.C., in Gilbert represents divorce clients throughout Greater Phoenix and the East Valley.