Understanding Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

Spousal maintenance can be a confusing concept to understand. Unfortunately, you may receive misleading advice from lawyers or friends. What most people don’t realize is that spousal maintenance in Arizona is very random.  There is only a vague, subjective statute (law) with very little guidance.  The other big secret is that most couples never have spousal maintenance decided by a Judge (to go to trial could cost $100,000+ in legal fees).  Instead, most settle the issue after months or years of litigating and incurring legal fees.  However, you actually have the option of settling the issue of spousal maintenance out of court before incurring the time, cost and stress of litigation by going through mediation. Read on to find out more about spousal maintenance in Arizona.

What is Spousal Maintenance?

Spousal maintenance, also called alimony in other states, is a negotiated amount of money that one spouse pays to their former spouse after a divorce. This amount is often paid to the recipient on a monthly basis and the negotiated amount to be paid traditionally does not change. Spousal maintenance is not the same thing as child support, and a person may receive both child support and spousal maintenance at the same time.

How is Spousal Maintenance Calculated?

In Arizona, there are competing views on the purpose of spousal maintenance.  Some argue it is supposed to be rehabilitative and only provide enough support and for enough time for the spouse to be self-sufficient (undefined).  Others claim it should be a way to make the spouse whole who terminated or who put his or her career and/or education on hold.  As one family law attorney recently explained in his spousal maintenance seminar, the amount and duration of spousal maintenance in Arizona is completely RANDOM. Think about it, If there was some set predetermined calculation, why would couples spend thousands and thousands of dollars litigating this issue.  So, Luckily, with mediation, you can negotiate a fair spousal maintenance agreement without having to involve the court.

How much Spousal Maintenance is Awarded in Arizona?

There is no calculator or set guidance on the amount of spousal maintenance in Arizona.  As most couples negotiate it themselves or through their attorneys, there is also no definitive case law precedent.  Of course, the payor’s attorney will argue for the least amount and the recipient’s attorney will argue for the most amount.  So, neither person will receive what the attorneys are demanding.  As there is no set rule of law on amount, in mediation, we can get creative.  Instead of a certain dollar amount for a certain amount of months, divorce mediation couples have agreed to assets in lieu of spousal maintenance, or in addition to lower spousal maintenance.  Other couples have agreed to variable amounts based on fluctuating incomes or bonuses.  Some have even agreed to equalize incomes for a certain period of time.  Others have had the higher earning spouse pay directly for the lower earning spouse’s expenses (e.g.,mortgage payments, car payments, full tuition for a new degree or certificate program).  There’s no limit to how you structure spousal maintenance in mediation as long as it’s workable and feels fair to both people.

How Long does Spousal Maintenance Last in Arizona?

There is no set guidance on the duration of spousal maintenance in Arizona.  Some attorneys will argue based on old, invalid guidance, that it should be 30% to 50% the length of the marriage, but this is not binding.  In mediation, we look at the whole picture: the goals of each of the spouses ( short and long term), the goals for the children, each person’s personal sense of fairness (which is often different), the history of the marriage and each spouse’s contribution, and the realistic financial situation. Discussing all these factors together, most couples reach agreement on a satisfactory duration that makes sense for their situation and feels as fair as it can be under the circumstances.  Additionally, in Arizona, spousal maintenance will typically end upon the death of either party or if the recipient remarries unless negotiated otherwise.

Why Mediation is the Best Option for Spousal Maintenance

Just because a couple wants a divorce doesn’t mean that they want to hurt each other. As views and interpretation of spousal maintenance are inconsistent, mediation offers a healthy and collaborative approach that divorcing partners may use to negotiate. Mediation inspires creativity and problem solving in which each party works together to find the fairest solution for all those involved. The result can be financial, emotional, and mental stability for everyone.

Don’t wait until later to jump into your spousal maintenance negotiations. To get started now, download this checklist to make sure that you’re properly prepared for your next steps and ensure that you are considering important items in preparing for your divorce mediation.