Change in Circumstances to Modify Alimony in Arizona
In the unpublished Arizona Court of Appeals case of Costa v. Costa, Nanci J. Costa, Wife appealed the trial court’s order granting Husband a modification of spousal maintenance. In Arizona, a modification of spousal maintenance may only be granted when a substantial and continuing change of circumstances is shown.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals had to determine whether or not the Husband met the burden of proof validating the trial court’s modification. The parties were married in 1983 and Wife petitioned for dissolution of the parties’ marriage in July 2013.
The wife requested spousal maintenance of $200 per month for life. The husband did not respond and the court entered a default decree of dissolution of marriage, including the requested spousal maintenance. That divorce decree was entered on October 2013.
The husband filed for a modification in July 2014 stating that he had experienced a significant, substantial and continuing change of circumstance and that qualified him to terminate the spousal maintenance obligation. The husband stated that at the time the divorce decree was issued, he was employed part-time, but that he was now unable to maintain employment due to his health.
He claimed he only had Social Security Disability Benefits as his only source of income. Husband testified at the evidentiary hearing that in the past eighteen-month period he worked part-time at a retail store, but quit due to health problems.
Specifically, he claimed his emphysema prevented him from completing the required tasks at work. When the decree was entered, the Husband was earning $750 per month from his part-time employment in addition to the $1,550 per month he received in Social Security Disability Benefits. The husband did acknowledge that his health condition had not changed since the time the divorce decree was entered but argued his financial situation changed significantly.
Wife testified that the spousal maintenance enables her to meet her monthly expenses. The wife’s income was $1,489 per month. She testified she was not aware of the Husband’s employment at the time of the original decree and that evidence of such was not presented. The trial court found that the situation did represent a substantial and continuing change in circumstances and that it was appropriate to decrease the Husband’s monthly spousal maintenance obligation to $42.85 per month.
Modification of Alimony Based On Loss of Employment
The wife argued on appeal that the trial court erred when it found the Husband’s voluntary termination of employment justified a reduction of the spousal maintenance obligation in accordance with A.R.S. Section 25-327(A). Changed circumstances alleged as the basis for a modification of support obligation must be proved in comparison to the circumstances that existed at the time of the original order.
The wife argued on appeal that the trial court should have compared the Husband’s current financial circumstances to the circumstances that were considered by the court at the time the decree was entered.
The doctrine of res judicata prevents a party who failed to participate in divorce proceedings and did not appeal the award of spousal maintenance in a default decree from being granted a modification based on facts that could have been raised at the hearing.
Yet the doctrine of res judicata does not prevent a party from introducing evidence of circumstances that existed at the time of the dissolution in order to show that a change in circumstances has occurred since the divorce.
The husband did establish through the presentation of evidence that he was employed at the time of the original divorce decree, but he did not establish that the court was aware of his employment at that time or that awareness of his part-time employment would have impacted the award of spousal maintenance.
There is no reasonable argument that can be made that the court would have decreased the amount of the spousal maintenance award had the court been aware of the additional income.
Judging from the record, the court approved the spousal maintenance award based solely on the Husband’s disability income, which would mean his loss of part-time work that the court was unaware he had in the first place, does not constitute a change at all.
The Arizona Court of Appeals of Arizona, therefore, reversed the trial court’s order to modify spousal maintenance. The appeals court also denied both parties’ requests for attorneys’ fees on appeal.
If you need information about the required change in circumstances to modify alimony in Arizona, you should seriously consider contacting the attorneys at Hildebrand Law, PC. Our Arizona alimony attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience successfully representing clients in modification of alimony cases in Arizona.
Our family law firm has earned numerous awards such as US News and World Reports Best Arizona Family Law Firm, US News and World Report Best Divorce Attorneys, “Best of the Valley” by Arizona Foothills readers, and “Best Arizona Divorce Law Firms” by North Scottsdale Magazine.
Call us today at (480)305-8300 or reach out to us through our appointment scheduling form to schedule your personalized consultation and turn your Arizona modification of alimony case around today.
Arizona Family Law Attorneys in Scottsdale and Tucson Arizona
Other Articles About Spousal Maintenance in Arizona
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- Stopping Spousal Maintenance Payments in Arizona
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Chris Hildebrand wrote the information on this page about circumstances to modify alimony in Arizona to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case. In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.