How to Get Credit for Direct Payments of Family Support in Arizona
Most people are ordered to pay their child support and/or spousal maintenance through the Support Clearinghouse. The Support Clearinghouse, likewise, keeps track of all of those payments to make it easier for courts to track whether a person has paid all of their support obligations or are in arrears on those payments.
Payments one spouse may give to the other spouse directly are not able to be tracked by the Support Clearinghouse resulting in the appearance someone is behind in paying their family support obligations. The question becomes can you get credit for direct payments of a spousal maintenance obligation.
The Arizona Court of Appeals in the case of Schulz vs. Schulz addressed that issue. In the Schulz case, Mr. Schulz paid most of his alimony to Ms. Schulz through the Support Clearinghouse. However, he also made some direct payments to Ms. Schulz that did not go through the Support Clearinghouse.
Ms. Schulz argued that all payments Mr. Schulz paid her directly should not be considered spousal maintenance payments because they should be considered gifts to her. The trial court ruled against Ms. Schulz and she appealed the case to the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Ms. Schulz relied upon a statute that prevents a court from allowing a credit for direct payments if there is no court order or written agreement providing that those payments are for spousal maintenance. Mr. Schulz argued that another statute, ARS 25-510(G), allows a trial judge to give him “equitable credits” to apply for the direct payments against any unpaid alimony.
The Arizona Court of Appeals concluded the trial court may credit spousal maintenance payments made directly to Ms. Schulz as credits against the arrearages that appear in the Support Clearinghouse records. So long as Mr. Schulz met his burden of proving those direct payments were for spousal maintenance, he will receive credit for those payments.
Accepting Direct Payments as a Waiver of Spousal Maintenance
The Court of Appeals rejected Ms. Schulz’ argument that another statute, ARS 46-441 only allows credits for direct spousal maintenance payments that were made by an agreement of the parties or an order of the court. The Court of Appeals, instead, concluded that there are equitable defenses to the collection on unpaid alimony.
For example, Arizona recognizes a former spouse may waive payment of, among other things, spousal maintenance payments. In this case, Mr. Schulz would have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Ms. Schulz voluntarily and intentionally abandoned her claim for unpaid alimony.
In this case, Mr. Schulz had proof of all the checks he paid to Ms. Schulz and she accepted each of those payments without ever objecting to the direct payments. The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial judge’s conclusion that Ms. Schulz waived her claims for unpaid spousal maintenance associated with the direct payments.
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Chris Hildebrand wrote this article about direct payment of spousal maintenance to ensure everyone has access to information about spousal maintenance payments in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and spousal maintenance 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 actually caring about what his clients are going through in a spousal maintenance or divorce case.