Family Law Attorney In Scottsdale Arizona
Ask any Arizona family law attorney what issue they hate litigating and the answer is almost always: spousal maintenance (a.k.a. alimony). The reason? Historically, there has been so much “gray area” in Arizona’s law on this topic and that makes for unpredictability on how judges and courts will rule. With that lack of consistency, no one really knows what to expect and lawyers hate not knowing what to expect.
Or, at least that’s how it was before – last fall, the Arizona legislature revised the spousal maintenance statute (A.R.S. § 25-319) and mandated certain changes, including the drafting and adoption of guidelines for spousal maintenance by the courts similar to the guidelines that exist for child support, to bring more accountability and certainty to this area of the law. On July 10, 2023, after months of extensive work and public comment, the Supreme Court of Arizona formally adopted new spousal maintenance guidelines to be used in all new divorce and legal separation cases going forward. These guidelines provide much needed clarity and certainty in a field that had very little in the way of predictability and sometimes common sense. Most family law attorneys and judges statewide breathed a collective sigh of relief as we now have guidelines and calculations that can be made, much like the ones for child support, to create consistency across rulings and to help litigants know what to expect which increases the likelihood of settlement prior to a trial.
Traditionally, under the statute, the Court had to engage in a 2-part analysis:
1) Is someone even eligible to receive spousal maintenance? and
2) if so, how much and for how long is appropriate?
These new guidelines assist particularly with the second question which is arguably most hotly litigated and contested part of the analysis, as the guidelines offer a consistent calculation and method to figure out that answer.
So, what does this mean for you? Well, first, the Court still has to determine under the law if a person is even eligible to receive spousal maintenance. That didn’t change. The courts have a set of criteria to consider when making this determination, such as the resources that the parties will have after the divorce, if one spouse made sacrifices to further the education or career of the other, or if the party requesting spousal maintenance is of such an age that makes it difficult to essentially start a new career. The Court only has to find that one of these criteria have been met to find a party eligible for an award of spousal maintenance and move on to the second prong.
Assuming a spouse is a candidate to receive spousal maintenance, the new Guidelines and calculator spring into action to help determine how much spousal maintenance is warranted (expressed as a range) and how long is an appropriate length of time to have it in place. Here are the factors that go into the calculator:
- Size of the family, including the spouses themselves
- The respective income of the parties
- The amount of principal paid to a mortgage each month (if any)
- Ages of the parties
- Length of the marriage
Once those numbers are input, a range of spousal maintenance award is generated for the Court to consider. They can deviate from this range in extraordinary circumstances, but, for the average situation, this range of the award is an excellent set of guideposts for the courts to rely on and for the parties to consider when entering negotiations. And this is all encompassed within the express directive now in the revised statute that such an award of spousal maintenance be “only for a period of time and in an amount necessary to enable the receiving spouse to become self-sufficient.”
Ultimately, the question, “how does this affect you?” can be answered with this: it simply makes the process of determining an appropriate spousal maintenance award, should the court determine that a party is eligible to receive it, much easier and more consistent. This means more meaningful negotiations between the parties, less anxiety about what to expect, and better consistency across the court system as each judge must use the same tools in determining the amount and duration of such an award.
Family Attorney Near Me
To understand these new guidelines in-depth, or if you need help navigating these significant changes, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experienced team at Owens & Perkins. Our dedicated family law attorneys are more than prepared to provide the guidance and support you need during this transition, helping to make the process clearer and more manageable for you.