The good news is couples going through a divorce in Arizona will have new guidelines (and possibly a calculator – but that remains to be seen) to help them determine spousal maintenance amounts. The not so good news, is those guidelines aren’t even drafted yet and aren’t expected to go into effect until 2024.
On September 24, 2022 the spousal maintenance statute (law) was revised. The revised statute asks the Arizona Supreme Court to establish guidelines for determining and awarding spousal maintenance. These proposed guidelines must be established by June 2023 for review. In the meantime, the Arizona legislature did make some additional changes to the spousal maintenance statute.
In particular, Subsection A, which lists the eligibility requirements for a spouse to qualify for spousal maintenance, has been rearranged a bit. I don’t see any notable substantive changes, but time will tell.
The most significant changes are the addition of new Subsections B & C which read (the new language is highlighted in underline):
“B. The supreme court shall establish guidelines for determining and awarding spousal maintenance. The court may award spousal maintenance pursuant to the guidelines only for a period of time and in an amount necessary to enable the receiving spouse to become self-sufficient. The amount of spousal maintenance resulting from the application of the guidelines shall be the amount of spousal maintenance ordered by the court, unless the court finds in writing that applying the guidelines would be inappropriate or unjust. The supreme court shall base the guidelines and criteria for deviation from the guidelines on the following relevant factors listed in paragraphs 1 through 13 of this subsection and considered together and weighed in conjunction with each other:
- The standard of living established during the marriage.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The age, employment history, earning ability and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance.
- The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet that spouse’s needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance.
- The comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market.
- The contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse.
- The extent to which the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse.
- The ability of both parties after the dissolution to contribute to the future educational costs of their mutual children.
- 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.
- 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.
- Excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community, joint tenancy and other property held in common.
- 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.
- All actual damages and judgments from conduct that resulted in criminal conviction of either spouse in which the other spouse or a child was the victim.
C. A maintenance order shall be made without regard to marital misconduct.
What does this all mean? Well, it seems to put emphasis on what Arizona courts have already been leaning towards, which is to award spousal maintenance only to “rehabilitate” the lower income earner until they can become self-sufficient (undefined). This appears it will lead to even lower and shorter awards of spousal maintenance. However, how “self-sufficient” is interpreted or defined remains to be seen.
It also reminds everyone that spousal maintenance can be awarded regardless of why you are getting divorced. Any misconduct committed by either of you is irrelevant for awarding spousal maintenance. (However, it may feel relevant to your personal senses of fairness, so we do address these feelings in mediation.)
As you may see, given the ambiguity and additional bases for disagreement with new legal wording, it is typically better to work out a mutually agreeable spousal maintenance award instead of leaving it up to the lawyers and courts. In mediation, we can look at all of the nuances of your particular situation and get creative around spousal maintenance and other financial decisions that should work better for everyone; and hopefully, feel more fair.