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An Overview of the Obstacles Doctors Face in an Alimony or Spousal Maintenance Case in Arizona
If you are a doctor, physician, or surgeon and are facing a divorce or legal separation in Arizona, you may face the issue of paying your spouse alimony, often referred to as spousal maintenance. If so, you will need to consider how much you will pay alimony and the length of time you will 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.
Doctors typically have high incomes, are more likely to be the sole financial support for the family, are more likely to have a spouse who is not employed, and have a higher net worth than the average person going through a divorce.
So, let’s talk about dealing with spousal maintenance in Arizona from a doctor’s perspective.
What a Doctor Needs to Know About Temporary Spousal Maintenance During an Arizona Divorce
One of the first things you should address is the payment of temporary alimony. Temporary alimony is alimony you are ordered to pay until the judge issues a final divorce decree or final 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 will very likely request an award of temporary spousal maintenance.
However, before you even start a discussion about temporary spousal support you should first determine how other bills such as a mortgage, car payments, and insurance payment will be paid. In most cases, you will be the only source, or at least the major source, of income 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 maintenance or 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
Spousal maintenance is intended to provide a financial bridge to cover the time between a spouse being unable to support themselves and the time the spouse should be able to financially support themselves.
The judge 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 training, or securing a job while they are seeking spousal maintenance from you. You should also request proof of those efforts.
What a Doctor Should Know About Hiring a Vocational Evaluator in an Arizona Alimony Case
One of the best ways to determine how much a spouse can contribute to their own financial support is to evaluate 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 evaluator.
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 financially support themselves.
If you are a doctor, physician, or surgeon going through a divorce, you should talk to your attorney about hiring the right vocation evaluator to provide the court with a timeline when your spouse could be self supportive and how much it will cost to get there.
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 investment 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 Cohabitating 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.
However, a spouse who cohabitates with another person may not, in fact, be paying all of those expenses. In most cases, people who share those expenses which reduces your spouse’s monthly living costs.
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 co-habitating 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 without the agreement of both parents, a judge could award a 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 your spouse may need for spousal maintenance.
The disadvantage of this strategy is it leaves that much less available cash resources to invest and will lover future investment income to offset his or her need for alimony. So, you should consider these issues and the best options in your particular case.
What a Doctor Should Know About Negotiating a Lump Sum Payout in Lieu of Paying Spousal Maintenance
Some physicians simply don’t want to pay monthly spousal maintenance payments. 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 you are ordered to pay monthly alimony payments whereas spousal maintenance terminates with one lump-sum payment of alimony.
If something were to happen to your spouse that prevents 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 jurisdiction to award spousal maintenance at a later date.
The attorneys at Hildebrand Law, PC have many years of experience successfully representing doctors and their spouses in Arizona alimony, divorce and other family law matters.
Our attorneys have over 100 years combined experience in Arizona alimony and family law cases and have received the US News & World Report distinction of “Best Lawyers – Best Law Firms” several years in a row.
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 alimony or family law case around today.
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