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Equitable Defenses to Non-Modifiable Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

Posted on : October 24, 2017, By:  Christopher Hildebrand
Equitable Defenses to Non Modifiable Spousal Maintenance in Arizona.

Equitable Defenses to Non-Modifiable Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

The Arizona Court of Appeals in the case of Coburn v. Rhodig addressed an appeal from the Maricopa County Superior Court. The parties in the case are Mr. Rhodig (“Husband”) and Mrs. Coburn (“Wife”). The couple divorced in 2010 and Husband, by a consent decree, was ordered to pay spousal maintenance of $3000 per month for a period of 60 months, which would have been satisfied in December 2014. The decree also stated that the spousal maintenance was “non-modifiable as to duration or amount”.

Within a short time, Husband fell behind on this monthly obligation and in December 2010, the parties signed an agreement to settle the arrearage, with the final payment due December 2011. The signed agreement also included an agreement by Wife to “waive any other unpaid support owed her by Husband”. Husband complied with and satisfied all obligations due under the December 2010 agreement.

Equitable Defenses to Non-Modifiable Spousal Maintenance in Arizona.

Equitable Defenses to Non-Modifiable Spousal Maintenance in Arizona.

In 2014, Wife filed a petition to enforce spousal maintenance arrearages from the original consent decree. The reasons stated that she had been unable to locate Husband after signing the 2010 agreement to request payment of arrearages from the original consent decree. She also stated that she had signed the 2010 agreement “under duress”. Husband argued that the 2010 agreement was enforceable under the Arizona Rule of Family Law Procedure 69 (A). This rule supports the equitable defenses of waiver, estoppel, or laches to Wife’s arrearages claim.

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Despite the unfortunate situation I found myself in, Chris Hildebrand @ Hildebrand Law helped me maneuver every step with professionalism, expertise, and even a sensitivity that was an added bonus.Chris and his staff helped me even when I didn't know I needed the help. In other words. . . they made sure we did not leave anything undone. And in the rare instance we needed the expertise of another professional, Chris knew exactly who to recommend.Chris also knew, because of his experience, what to anticipate down the road of litigation. That meant we were better prepared to meet the challenges head on, which lead to a more equitable and fair outcome. I appreciated that Chris did his best to meet my every need in a timely fashion, even if I had a simple question that required only a phone call or e-mail or if we needed to talk face-to-face.I highly recommend Chris Hildebrand @ Hildebrand Law, PC.
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I cannot express enough how thankful I am that I found Hildrebrand Law. Chris Hildebrand is an excellent attorney who has my best interests in mind and always encourages me to do the right thing regardless of what the opposing party is doing. Chris knows family law very well and relies on that knowledge to format options and solutions for each situation that may arise. He knows what the Court expects and what will and will not be tolerated. He has attempted to settle this case quickly and as inexpensively as possible from the start. His paralegal, Laura, is remarkable. She is organized, quick to respond, and compassionate. Chris is well prepared with a binder full of detailed and organized information and that is likely due to her thorough skills and expertise. While getting a divorce that was unexpected is a painful and difficult process, Chris and Laura treat my family and I like friends rather than another just "client." I am hopeful that I do not need to recommend divorce lawyers to anyone in the future but if I do, Hildebrand Law will be a recommendation I would give hands down.
Lindsay Donoian
Lindsay Donoian
06:53 27 Sep 14

Wife argued that the original consent decree stated that the spousal maintenance was non-modifiable, so the 2010 agreement wasn’t valid and the superior court couldn’t modify the decree pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-317 (G). The parties decided that the superior court would decide the matter and the court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Husband’s request since the original consent decree was “non-modifiable”. The court granted Wife’s petition to enforce the original consent decree and financial obligations by Husband for Wife were reissued. Husband was denied the motion for a new trial and to amend the judgment. Husband filed a notice of appeal.

The discussion of the case turns to Waldren, 217 Arizona at 175, ¶ 6, 171 P .3d at 1216. In this case, the superior court concluded it “lacked jurisdiction to modify the spousal maintenance provision in the decree” despite the fact that within two years of the decree, the husband had become disabled and his income was limited. Because A.R.S. § 25-317 (g) strictly prohibits the court from exercising jurisdiction to modify or nullify the decree, no relief was granted for Husband.

Defenses to Non-Modifiable Spousal Maintenance in Arizona.

Defenses to Non-Modifiable Spousal Maintenance in Arizona.

Another means to gain relief from the original consent decree comes with an “application of equitable defenses” in response to a petition to collect arrearages. In the Waldren case, the husband had not submitted this application. In the application of equitable defenses, since it doesn’t require the court to “modify or terminate the decree”, it does not violate A.R.S. § 25-317 (G). Therefore, if a party “establishes an equitable defense by clear and compelling evidence”, the court can deny the other party’s petition to enforce. The words, “clear and compelling evidence” very effectively protects individuals in spousal maintenance cases as well as the welfare of children in child support cases.

In conclusion, the court reversed the order granting the petition to enforce the original consent decree that Wife was requesting. The court also sent the order back to the lower court for an evidentiary hearing to explore the validity of the 2010 agreement and hear Husband’s “equitable defenses” argument. Husband was awarded his costs on appeal as the “successful party” as stated in Arizona Rule of Civil Appellate Procedure (“ARCAP”) 21.

If you have a question about alimony in Arizona, please call to speak to one of our experienced Scottsdale and Phoenix Arizona alimony attorneys at (480)947-4339.

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