Effort Does Not Entitle a Spouse to More CommunityProperty
Arizona is a community property state. That means that a divorce court divides all community property between the two spouses fairly and equitably when the marriage ends.
The exact division is generally left to the discretion of the trial court. However, an appellate court can review a decision that seems inequitable and order reversal.
In Hatch v. Hatch, 547 P.2d 1044 (1976), the Arizona Supreme Court considered the fairness of a spousal property division.
Facts of the Case
Mr. and Mrs. Hatch lived in Arizona where Mrs. Hatch brought divorce proceedings in 1966. The court entered the divorce decree in 1968. However, it postponed ruling on the division of community property, child support, alimony and attorney’s fees until 1972. It awarded temporary child support of $275 every two weeks. Mr. Hatch did not pay this. He owed Mrs. Hatch over $3,000 in back child support by the time of the final court ruling, four years later.
In its final decree, the divorce court awarded most of the community property to husband. It gave Mrs. Hatch $1 a year in alimony and denied her request for attorney fees. It also retroactively cut in half the child support award and refused to enter judgment for the back child support. From these rulings, wife has appealed.
Equitable Division of Community Property Generally Means an Even Division
In Arizona, community property belongs equally to both spouses, and must be divided equitably between them. This does not mean that each must receive exactly the same amount. But an equitable division usually means that each spouse receives about the same.
Here, the trial judge awarded wife land worth about $27,400, and gave husband land worth some $170,000. This was done, the trial court said, to reward husband for his management of the community property.
The Supreme Court found this distribution unreasonable, arbitrary, and an unconstitutional deprivation of wife’s vested property interest in the community. It emphasized that a distribution cannot be made to reward or punish.
The Court sent the case back to the trial court with orders to divide property reasonably and equitably between the spouses.
Trial Court’s Other Orders Improper
In 1968, the trial court ordered husband to pay $275 every two weeks in child support. He did not do so and by the hearing in 1970, was $3,875 behind in the payments.
The court declined to enter judgment for wife in this amount. Instead, it amended the order and reduced the amount due retroactively from $275 twice a month to $275 per month.
The Supreme Court found this action to be completely improper since support payments may not be retroactively decreased. It also found the trial court’s refusal to grant wife’s court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees was an abuse of discretion.
The Arizona Supreme Court sent this matter back to the divorce court. It ordered the court to enter a new decision consistent with this opinion.