Tuesday, March 10, 2015

SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE IN ARIZONA - A MAZE OF FACTORS, BUT NO SPECIFIC FORMULA

A number of people have asked me if Arizona has a set of Spousal Maintenance Guidelines that the courts use in calculating spousal support.  The answer is, "No."  

Spousal Maintenance is handled differently than Child Support.  In determining Child Support, our courts utilize a formula contained in the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.  But (unlike some other states) Arizona does not have spousal maintenance guidelines.  And our courts do not use a formula for calculating spousal maintenance. 

At one time, Arizona did use a statutory formula for calculating support, but it was repealed about the time I began practicing law, over thirty years ago.  Years later, Arizona adopted a new set of Spousal Maintenance Guidelines using a different formula.  However, in practice, the Maricopa County Superior Court judges uniformly rejected those Guidelines and refused to utilize them as a basis for awarding spousal support.  Eventually, the Spousal Maintenance Guidelines were dropped altogether.

Fairly recently, yet another effort was made to enact Spousal Maintenance Guidelines, and a committee was even formed to look into the subject and make recommendations.  But the idea has gone nowhere, and no new formula has been accepted.

Spousal Maintenance in Arizona continues to be determined on a “needs-based” analysis, using the factors listed in Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-319.  The statute contains a two-pronged approach.  The judge will apply the factors contained in Section “A” of the statute to determine whether the applicant is entitled to an award of spousal maintenance.  If spousal maintenance is deemed appropriate, the judge will then go to Section “B” of the statute to determine the amount and duration of the spousal support award.  

The factors in A.R.S., 25-319 are non-inclusive.  The Family Court is instructed to consider not only the factors listed in the statute, but "all relevant factors," in determining spousal maintenance.  Nothing in the statute specifies how much spousal support should be paid, or how long the payments should continue.  This gives the judge much latitude in making his or her decision; and, as a result, awards of spousal support tend to vary widely from court to court, and from judge to judge.

Thus, the best way to argue a case for spousal maintenance is to:  

(1)  Use the statutory factors to show why you are in need of, and entitled to, spousal support;  

(2)   Provide proof of how much your monthly expenses exceed your income; 

(3)   Demonstrate how much monthly support you will need to make ends meet; and    

(4)   Explain what you will need to do, and how long it will take, to increase your income to the point where you can approximate the standard of living you had during the marriage (for example, you may need to finish school, take a trade course, grow your own business, move up the ladder at your current employment, etc.).   

This will give the judge a basis for determining the amount and duration of the spousal maintenance award. 

Judges are allowed a great deal of discretion in deciding spousal maintenance disputes; and every judge will make that determination using not only the law, but also his or her own world view.  Unlike child support (where we do have Guidelines), there is very little uniformity in determining spousal maintenance in Arizona.  For this reason, it is critically important to put together a well-organized presentation and make and convincing argument at trial.

For a look at the factors the Court uses to determine spousal maintenance, see A.R.S., Section 25-319.
http://www.azleg.gov/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/ars/25/00319.htm&Title=25&DocType=ARS



Gary J. Frank is an attorney and mediator with over thirty years of Family Law experience in dealing in divorcecustody, and parenting issues. For many years he acted as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, which gave him an insight into the inner workings of the courts that many attorneys lack.  In addition to representing Family Law clients in litigation, we are also willing to help people by working with them on a Limited-Scope or Consultation-Only basis.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  We can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also reach us through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, contact us today.  We’d be happy to help.