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An important question we have been asked is who qualifies for spousal maintenance in Arizona. Arizona revised statute section 25-319(A) provides the five reasons a court may consider qualifies a person to be “eligible” to receive spousal maintenance in Arizona.
We placed the word “eligible” in quotations because a person deemed eligible for spousal maintenance under A.R.S. 25-319(A) may, nonetheless, still not receive an award of spousal maintenance after the court considers the factors in A.R.S. 25-319(B).
Five Factors That Make a Person Eligible to Receive Spousal Maintenance
The Arizona legislature chose to include five reasons a judge can find a person to be eligible to receive spousal maintenance. A spouse will be eligible for an award of spousal maintenance if they meet ANY of the five factors. Specifically:
- A spouse lacks sufficient property to provide for his or her own reasonable needs;
- A spouse lacks sufficient earning capacity to provide for his or her needs or is the custodian of a young child and should not be expected to work;
- A spouse made a significant financial or other contribution to the education, training, vocational skills, career or earning ability of the other spouse;
- A spouse had a marriage on long duration and is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self-sufficient;
- A spouse has significantly reduced his or her income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse;
The Arizona Court of Appeals in the case of Cotter vs. Podhorez discussed the two parts of the spousal maintenance statute. Specifically, the Court of Appeals indicated the first step was determining if the spouse is eligible for an award of spousal maintenance. If so, the court then decides whether it is appropriate to actually grant that spouse alimony and, if so, how much and how long pursuant to the factors set forth in A.R.S. 25-319(B). This means a person who is deemed “eligible” to receive spousal maintenance under 25-319(A) may or may not be awarded spousal maintenance after the judge considers the factors in 25-319(B).
A Spouse Lacks Sufficient Property to Provide for His or Her Reasonable Needs
The Arizona Court of Appeals in the case of Cotter vs. Podhorez evaluated how a spouse lacking sufficient property to provide for his or her reasonable needs impacts a person’s eligibility to receive spousal maintenance in Arizona. Specifically, the court of appeals addressed what the term “sufficient property” means in a spousal maintenance case.
The Cotter court indicated that “sufficient property” is having enough property “capable of providing for the reasonable needs of the spouse seeking maintenance” whether by actively producing income, such as investments, or converting that property into a form that will provide for his or her needs, such as using property to payoff a home mortgage to reduce living expenses.
The Cotter Court referenced a prior decision from the Court of Appeals in the case of Deatherage vs. Deatherage as ruling that a spouse may have to sell or encumber their property to provide for his or her needs without that spouse having to rely upon spousal maintenance for that support.
This interpretation was a departure from prior thinking on the subject which was that a court cannot expect a spouse to sell assets to support themselves. The Cotter case made it clear that a spouse must use and even sell his or her property to support themselves before relying on spousal maintenance for that support.
Moving on, the Cotter court pointed out there has been no decisions indicating the period of time the property must be available to support that spouse after the divorce or legal separation to render themselves ineligible for an award of spousal maintenance. The Cotter court indicate prior decisions do support the contention that the property must be able to support that spouse over their entire lifetime.
Since a spouse is eligible for spousal maintenance if they meet ANY of the four requirements for spousal maintenance, a spouse who is currently self sufficient through employment to provide for his or her own current living expenses may, nevertheless, still be eligible for spousal maintenance if they still lack sufficient property to provide for their support over their entire lifetime, including when they cease working at retirement age.
The Cotter court indicated a judge should make rulings as to the value of a spouse’s property, the cost of the spouse’s reasonable living expenses, and the length of time the spouse’s property will provide for his or her reasonable needs before that property is exhausted.
A Spouse Lacks Sufficient Earning Capacity or Cares for a Young Child
A person is eligible for an award of spousal maintenance if he or she lacks sufficient earning capacity to provide for his or her reasonable needs or is caring for a young child and should not be expected to work. This factor seems pretty straightforward at first, but a little real world examples can raise some interesting questions.
For example, what if a spouse can earn enough to cover his or her bills but has no other assets and no retirement or savings. Is that person eligible to receive spousal maintenance in Arizona? Likely, they are eligible to receive spouse maintenance because they will be destitute when they retire and have only social security and no assets to sustain themselves.
Another example is what happens if the spouse could be self sufficient for his or her entire lifetime if he or she would just return to school to obtain additional education. Should that spouse receive spousal maintenance for life even if they refuse to go back to school to obtain that education? Likely not, because the spouse requesting rehabilitative spousal maintenance must make reasonable efforts to become self-sufficient.
I do want to touch upon the factors that makes a person eligible to receive spousal maintenance if they are caring for a young child. Although this is a basis for eligibility by statute, it is rarely a factor supporting an award of spousal maintenance in reality.
A Spouse Made Significant Contributions to the Other Spouse’s Career or Earning Ability
A spouse who made significant sacrifices or otherwise contributed the other spouse’s career or earning ability may be eligible for an award of spousal maintenance. However, the eligibility and even the amount and duration of that award are directly proportionate to the benefit that spouse is realizing in the divorce from those earnings throughout the duration of the marriage.
For example, let’s say a stay at home parent is married to a high wage earning spouse. Over a 20 year marriage, the parties have accumulated millions of dollars in assets because of that high wage earning spouse. Those millions are going to be equitably divided thereby leaving both spouses millions of dollars with which to support themselves rendering an award of spousal maintenance highly unlikely.
However, if a spouse worked during the marriage to put his or her spouse through medical school and, upon graduating from medical school, a divorce is filed such that the marital community will not benefit from that medical degree, the supporting spouse would be eligible for spousal maintenance in Arizona.
Marriage on Long Duration and Too Old to be Expected to Seek Employment
A spouse may be eligible for spousal maintenance if they (1) were married for a long time and (2) are too old to be expected to work. Under this factor, both the length of the marriage and the age of the spouse seeking spousal maintenance must apply to be eligible for an award of spousal maintenance.
Arguably, an older spouse married a short period of time would not be eligible for spousal maintenance under this particular factor, but may be eligible under one of the other factors above.
So, one question is what is considered a marriage of long duration under this factor? As a practical matter, a marriage of over 20 years or more is going to be considered a marriage of long duration whereas a marriage of 10 years or less will not be considered a marriage of long duration. Marriages of 15 years are considered marriage of moderate duration.
Spouse Reduced His or Her Income or Career for the Benefit of the Other Spouse
At first glance, this appears very similar to the third factor listed above to be eligible for an award of spousal maintenance in Arizona. However, it is different in it doesn’t require that spouses efforts contributing to the career or earnings of the other spouse. All that is required is that there was some benefit to the other spouse, not necessarily tied to income of career opportunities, that form a basis for an award of spousal maintenance.
It is pretty rare this factor is utilized, but we can think of some possible scenarios that could be argued. For example, a spouse who has less assets or earning ability because he or she is caring for a disabled spouse or a spouse who traveled the country from city to city as his or her spouse pursued their career even if that moving didn’t result in a reduction in the income or career opportunities of the spouse seeking alimony.
Arizona Spousal Maintenance Attorneys
If you have questions about eligibility for spousal maintenance in Arizona, you should seriously consider contacting the attorneys at Hildebrand Law, PC. Our Arizona spousal maintenance and family law attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience successfully representing clients in spousal maintenance and family law cases.
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 spousal maintenance or family law case around today.
Other Articles About Spousal Maintenance in Arizona
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- ARIZONA SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE GUIDELINES
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About the Author: Chris Hildebrand has over 26 years of Arizona family law experience and received awards from US News and World Report, Phoenix Magazine, Arizona Foothills Magazine and others. Visit https://www.hildebrandlaw.com.