Sunday, March 10, 2013

ALIMONY REMAINS A GREY AREA OF FAMILY LAW

Spousal Maintenance, known in many other states as "Alimony," is the greyest of grey areas in Arizona Family Law. 

Determining whether to award spousal maintenance is a matter of judicial discretion.  This means that it is up to the judge to decide whether an award of alimony would be appropriate, based on an examination of the facts of your particular case.  An award of spousal maintenance may be granted in favor of either spouse, depending on whether it is the Husband or the Wife who is in need of support.

In making her/his decision, the judge will consider the factors listed in Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-319(A).  Factors in that section include the length of the marriage; the age of the spouse seeking spousal support; whether that spouse is able to be self-sufficient through employment; whether she/he has sufficient property to provide for her/his reasonable needs; and whether she/he is caring for a child whose age or condition makes it difficult or impossible to work.  If the judge determines that one or more of the above factors applies, then spousal maintenance may be awarded.

But there is another important part of the equation -- How much should be paid in spousal maintenance? . . . And for how long?

For the answer to these questions, the judge turns to section B of the statute.  The problem is that there is nothing in Section B that specifically tells the Court the amount, or the duration, of a spousal maintenance award.  Instead, there is a second list of factors for the judge to consider in making his or her decision.  Here are the factors:

1.      The standard of living established during the marriage;

2.      The duration of the marriage;

3.      The age, employment history, earning ability and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;

4.      The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet that spouses' needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance;

5.      The comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market;

6.      The contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse; 

7.      The extent to which the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced that spouse's income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse;

8.      The ability of both parties after the dissolution to contribute to the future educational costs of their mutual children;

9.      The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to that spouse, and that spouse's ability to meet that spouse's own needs independently;

10.    The time necessary to acquire sufficient education  or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment and whether such education or training is readily available;

11.    Excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community, joint tenancy and other property held in common;

12.    The cost for the spouse who is seeking maintenance to obtain health insurance and the reduction in the cost of health insurance for the spouse from whom maintenance is sought if the spouse from whom maintenance is sought is able to convert family health insurance to employee health insurance after the marriage is dissolved;

13.    All actual damages and judgments from conduct that results in criminal conviction of either spouse in which the other spouse or child was the victim.

As you can see, there is absolutely nothing in the statute that tells the judge how much the spousal maintenance payment should be -- or for how long it should be paid.  For child support decisions, the Court has a set of guidelines that can be used to determine the monthly support amount.  But while there is a move afoot in some states to design a set of guidelines, Arizona has none.   Therefore, the final result will depend on how each judge views the facts, and how he or she applies the statutory factors.  This leaves the door open for wide variations in spousal maintenance awards.      

The bottom line is this:  It is important for a person seeking spousal maintenance to present a solid case using a "needs-based" analysis.  Thorough preparation, good organization, and a persuasive presentation will give you the best chance for success.  This is one area of law where a strong, experienced attorney can make an enormous difference.



Gary Frank is an Arizona Family Law Attorney who has been a fixture in the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona for over thirty years.  Our office handles divorce and spousal maintenance cases, as well as custody, child support, relocation/move-away, Paternity, Grandparents' and Non-Parents' rights cases, modification actions, enforcement actions, and all other matters related to Family Law.  If you are in need of a consultation, we'd love to talk to you.  Please call us today.  You can reach us at 602-383-3610, or contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  To learn more about our firm, take a look at our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We'd be happy to help you.