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Effort Does Not Entitle a Spouse to More Community Property in Arizona

Mon 8th Aug, 2016 Arizona Community Property Laws

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 the 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, the wife has appealed.

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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 the 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 the 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 the 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.

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Decision

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.

If you need information about why working harder does not entitle a spouse to more community property in an Arizona divorce, you should seriously consider contacting the attorneys at Hildebrand Law, PC. Our Arizona divorce attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience successfully representing clients in divorce 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 divorce case around today.

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