One of the main concerns people have when they divorce is what their financial situation will look like after the divorce. This is not unusual, as going from a single household with one or two incomes to two separate households can take a toll on parties’ economic resources.
This shift can be especially troubling if you were (or are) financially dependent on your spouse during your marriage. In these situations, it can be important to discuss the possibility of seeking alimony, now called “spousal maintenance.” Understand that not every case results in this type of support, so it can be helpful to know the relevant factors that affect how long you can expect to receive maintenance, and how much each month, assuming it is granted at all.
In Arizona, spousal maintenance litigation involves a two-step process, which was just amended by the 2018 Arizona Legislature.
First, the applicant has to establish his or her eligibility to ask for maintenance in the first place. It is not automatic! You can accomplish this by proving one of these six circumstances:
1. You lack sufficient assets to provide for your reasonable needs, even counting the property you expect to receive when your divorce case wraps up.
2. You are caring for children so young or disabled that you should not be expected to work outside the home.
3. You lack adequate or current labor skills in today’s job market, and would thus struggle to find gainful employment without additional schooling or vocational retraining.
4. You significantly contributed to your spouse’s education, training, career skills, or earning ability with either financial assistance or other intangible help.
5. You had a long marriage, and have reached an age where most people would not expect you to go out and find a job. (Post-retirement age is the obvious example.)
6. You significantly reduced your own income or career opportunities for the benefit of your spouse.
If you can demonstrate one or more of these circumstances (and you only have to prove one), then the court considers 13 more factors related to your comparative finances, whether one of you concealed or burned up marital property during the marriage or divorce, the physical and emotional condition of both spouses, and many of the same factors already discussed above. This discussion will ultimately lead to a decision whether you should receive spousal maintenance and, if so, how much and for how long.
All of these rules can be found in Section 25-319(A) and (B) of the Arizona Revised Statutes.
There are some other important rules to remember, too.
Generally speaking, it is true shorter marriages will be less likely to result in a spousal maintenance order. It is also true the court will consider your past standard of living, but that factor has received less weight than before over recent years – mostly out of recognition that divorces can be expensive and two separate households cost more to sustain than one. It is important to remember, too, that child custody and bad behavior (such as infidelity, dishonesty, alleged narcissism, etc.) do not play any role in the calculation of spousal maintenance. Even the presence of domestic violence is limited to situations where there was a civil money judgment or restitution order out of criminal court (e.g. following a guilty plea or verdict) directing the offender to compensate you financially for past violence.
Just as importantly, the existence of a written, prenuptial (or even post-wedding) agreement can override any of the rules we have discussed above if the parties negotiated a different understanding about how spousal maintenance would be handled if they divorced.
Last, and contrary to a popular myth, Arizona does not have any spousal maintenance “calculator” or other, mathematical “guidelines.” In this respect, it is very different from child support, which does have federally-mandated guidelines that you can access on the Arizona Supreme Court’s website. This makes spousal maintenance extremely difficult to predict with precision, and much is left to the independent discretion of your trial judge.
For all of these reasons, if you think there will be significant disagreements over spousal maintenance during your divorce, you should strongly consider consulting with an attorney.