Failure to Increase Income Does Not Provide a Basis to Extend Alimony in Arizona
In Arizona, the family court’s denial of a petition to modify spousal maintenance can be appealed. On appeal, the Arizona Court of Appeals typically does not consider new evidence but will reconsider the facts of the case in search of an abuse of discretion on the part of the court.
A Brief History of the Case: Green v. Green
The Greens divorced in 2005 at which time Wife met the criteria under Arizona state law to be awarded spousal maintenance. Accordingly, Husband was ordered to pay wife spousal maintenance of $1,925 per month for nine years. Four months prior to the nine-year mark, Wife petitioned the court to modify spousal maintenance with an increased monthly payment to continue indefinitely.
The modification was requested based on her assertion that substantial and continuing changes in her own financial circumstances, as well as medical condition, called for it. Wife presented evidence at an evidentiary hearing and the superior court denied her request. She appealed.
Discussing Issues of Law on Appeal: Green v. Green
On appeal, Wife alleges that the superior court erred in its denial of her Petition to Modify Spousal Maintenance. The Court of Appeals of Arizona will review the trial court’s dismissal for an abuse of discretion. The court may order a modification of a spousal maintenance award if the party can establish a continuing and substantial change in circumstances (per A.R.S. Section 25-327(A).
In order to determine if the circumstances have changed, the court compares the current economic circumstances with those that existed at the time the original decree/award was granted. Factors considered include financial resources of both parties and the ability to generate income on the part of the party receiving the award, among other factors.
Wife’s assertion that her circumstances changed after the 2005 divorce decree was based on an increase in expenses combined with an inability to increase her income and development of a medical condition that made working difficult. She testified regarding her work history since the divorce (as a para-educator paid $10.85/hour nine months each year). She had not pursued any additional education or training to obtain additional job qualifications.
Additional testimony was offered regarding Wife’s development of painful medical conditions and deteriorating health that would limit her ability to perform work tasks. She did testify upon further questioning that she was still able to work and that her physician had not advised her not to work.
The superior court found that Wife failed to prove the existence of a substantial and continuing change in circumstances and, therefore, denied her Petition to Modify Spousal Maintenance. The court noted she made no efforts to increase her income to meet her own living expenses, followed her physician’s recommendations in regards to medical conditions or changed her occupation in order to address her health complaints in relation to employment.
Wife argues that the court erred in focusing on her “failure” to increase her income as Arizona law does not require individuals in receipt of spousal maintenance to increase their earning potential and there was evidence that her expenses had increased to exceed her income.
However, Wife’s argument fails to address the issue that evidence established that her financial circumstances had not changed since the original spousal maintenance award. As the family court’s ruling was based on substantial evidence, there is no abuse of discretion in the denial of Wife’s petition to modify.
In Conclusion: The Arizona Court of Appeals Decision in Green v. Green
The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the family court’s decision as the court found no abuse of discretion in its decision and ample evidence supported its findings.
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