If you are a doctor, physician, or surgeon and are facing a divorce or legal separation in Arizona, you will likely face the issue of whether you will be ordered to pay your spouse alimony, often referred to as spousal maintenance, to your spouse, how much you will be ordered to pay, and how long you will be required to pay it.
Working in the medical profession results in a doctor facing some unique spousal maintenance issues that many other people do not have to worry about.
Specifically, doctors typically have very arduous and, sometimes, inconsistent work schedules, have very high incomes, is more likely to be the sole financial support for the family, is more likely to have a spouse who is not employed, and has a higher net worth than the average person going through a divorce in Arizona.
So, let’s talk about dealing with spousal maintenance in Arizona from a doctors perspective.
What a Doctor Needs to Know About Temporary Spousal Maintenance During an Arizona Divorce
One of the first things you will have to address is the payment of temporary alimony. Temporary alimony is an amount of alimony you are ordered to pay your spouse until the judge issues a final divorce decree or decree of legal separation.
If you earn a significant amount, are the primary source of financial support for your family, or have a spouse who has been unemployed for a significant period of time, your spouse or his or her attorney will be requesting temporary spousal maintenance.
However, before you even start the discussion of temporary spousal support you should pay, if any, you should first determine how all the other bills (mortgage, car payments, insurance payments etc) will be paid. In most cases, you willl be the only source, or at least the major source, to pay these bills.
It would make no sense for you to agree to pay a certain amount of temporary spousal maintenance only to later discover your spouse stopped making the mortgage payment on the marital home. Now you have to make that payment when you expected your spouse to pay it with the spousal maintenance you paid him or her.
So, you need to first reach an agreement on who will pay the community obligations. Then you can address the issue of temporary spousal maintenance.
Although every doctor’s situation is different, you may consider agreeing to pay the mortgage, the car payments, the insurance payments, and other debts and, depending on the circumstances, pay no temporary spousal maintenace or, at least, a significantly lower amount of temporary alimony in your Arizona divorce or legal separation case.
What a Doctor Needs to Know About the Expectations the Judge Will Likely Have for Your Spouse to Contribute to Their Own Financial Support
One of the purposes of spousal maintenance is to provide a financial “bridge” to cover the time between a spouse being unable to provide for their own financial support and the time the spouse should be able to financially support themselves.
The judge, therefore, should have an expectation your spouse is making a reasonable effort to provide for their own support by either attending school, receiving job training, or by working at his or her highest earning capacity.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be appropriate to inquire as to what your spouse has done to obtain additional education, job trainning, or securing a job while they are seeking spousal maintenance from you and requesting some proof of those efforts; depending upon what stage you are in the divorce process.
What a Doctor Should Know About Hiring a Vocational Evaluator in an Arizona Alimony Case
Typically, one of the best ways to determine how much a spouse can contribute to their own financial support without the assistance of alimony is to look at that spouse’s prior work history and earnings.
But what do you do when your spouse has been unemployed for a significant period of time or who has a prior earning history that, if he or she returned to that type of employment, would not be able to support themselves? One good answer is to hire a vocational evaluation expert.
A vocational evaluator is a person who, through experience, education, and/or training, is considered by the court to be an expert to evaluate what types of jobs a person could secure and how much he or she could earn from that job now and in the future.
The vocational evaluator can also provide the court with an opinion of other jobs the person would be able to secure with additional training and/or education, how much that training and education will cost, how long it will take a person to complete that education and/or training and how more the person will earn to be able to be financially self supportive or at least more self supportive.
If you are a doctor, physician, or surgeon going through a divorce, you will want to talk to your attorney about hiring the right vocation evaluator on your case to provide the cour with a timeline of when your spouse could be self supportive and how much that will cost.
What a Doctor Should Know About the Impact of Investment Income on Alimony in Arizona
A judge will consider the extent to which you spouse can meet their own financial needs without relying solely on spousal maintenance for that financial support, including invstment income.
If you spouse will receive a significant sum of money and/or investments in the divorce, it may be helpful to retain a financial expert to determine investments that would be suitable given the age of your spouse and the extent of his or her assets for the purpose of determining the reasonable rate of return your spouse will earn from those investments.
That income can then be used to offset the spousal maintenance being requested.
What a Doctor Should Know About The Impact on Alimony of a Spouse Cohbitating With Another Person
The court will assume your spouse will incur the typical household expenses such as a mortgage or rent payment, utility costs, and other similar living expenses with no financial assistance from others when making a decision on Alimony in an Arizona divorce or legal separation case.
However, a spouse cohabitating with another person may not, in fact, be paying all of those expenses when he or she is cohabitating with another person. In most cases, people cohabitating share those expenses equally; thereby reducing your spouse’s monthly living costs and, therefore, his or her financial need.
The Arizona Court of Appeals in the case of Van Dyke vs. Steinle ruled a spouse who receives spousal maintenance may have that spousal maintenance modified or terminated if he or she begins cohabitating with another person.
What a Doctor Should Know About The Impact of Contributing to Your Children’s 529 Educational Plan on Alimony in Arizona
A child in Arizona is deemed to be an adult when he or she reaches 18 years of age. As a result, a judge in Arizona does not have the authority to order either parent to contribute or pay for children’s college expenses after they emancipate and graduate from high school.
Despite that, the law in Arizona does allow a judge to consider each parents’ contributions to the children’s future college expenses when awarding spousal maintenance.
Although a judge cannot order the spouse seeking spousal maintenance to contribute to his or her children’s college expenses, a judge could award that spouse less spousal maintenance if they refuse to contribute to their child’s college expenses; particularly if the spouse from whom spousal maintenance is requested is contributing to those college expenses.
What a Doctor Should Know About the Impact of a Paid Off House on Alimony in Arizona
If there are enough assets to divide, you may consider structuring the settlement of your case to include providing your spouse with a paid off house to lower the amount you spouse may need for spousal maintenance.
The disadvantage of this strategy is it leaves that much less your spouse will have available to invest and receive investment income to offset his or her need for alimony. So, you should consider these issues and what’s the best option in your particular scenario.
What a Doctor Should Know About Negotiating a Lump Sum Payout in Lieu of Paying Spousal Maintenance
Some physicians simply do not want to pay monthly spousal maintenance payments to their spouse. If there are sufficient assets, you may be able to resolve the issue of spousal maintenance by negotiating a one-time lump sum payment of alimony.
There are other advantages to paying a one-time lump sum of alimony instead of monthly payments of alimony. Specifically, your alimony may be modifiable in the future.
If something were to happen to your spouse that prevente them from working while he or she is still receiving spousal maintenance, the spousal maintenance could be modified for a longer period of time, including an indefinite award of spousal maintenance, or an increase in the amount of alimony paid.
However, if the alimony was paid in one-lump sum at the time of the divorce, the court loses jurisdication to award spousal maintenance at a later date.
If you want more information on some of the issues doctors face in a divorce or legal separation, you should read the content on our doctors and divorce page.