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Spousal Maintenance (Alimony): When Is Is Awarded? How Much Will Be Awarded? And For How Long Will the Payments Continue?
Spousal maintenance (alimony) presents unique problems. Under the statute, ARS §25-319, the court may award spousal maintenance if the requesting spouse meets certain criteria. If the court determines that an award of maintenance is proper, it then must consider a laundry list of other statutory factors to determine the amount and the duration of the award. And, unlike child support, Arizona does not have Guidelines for spousal maintenance. Each situation is decided on a case-by-case basis.
In most situations, the court’s goal is to encourage a spouse who has not been in the workforce to become self-sufficient. Maintenance in this situation will be for a specific period of time, but not forever. However, there are situations in which a court orders maintenance for an unspecified period of time, i.e., until further order of the court. Such orders usually are entered when the marriage lasted long time or the requesting spouse has disabilities that preclude gainful employment.’
In most situations, awards of spousal maintenance are subject to modification if there has been a substantial and continuing change in circumstances. The party receiving spousal maintenance may request an increase in the amount and/or the duration of the award. Likewise, the paying party may request that the award be reduced in amount or duration, or eliminated altogether. Whether such requests to modify will be granted depends on the wide range of factors. It is important to discuss those factors with an experienced attorney.
Arizona law permits the parties to stipulate in a Property Settlement Agreement that the award of spousal maintenance is non-modifiable. Such agreements may be beneficial because they permit each party to plan for the future without the threat of a modification. By the same token, non-modifiable maintenance agreements may be dangerous. They generally preclude the receiving spouse from requesting an increase in the amount or the duration of the award even if that spouse cannot earn sufficient income. Similarly, they bar the paying spouse from decreasing the amount or duration of the award even if that spouse suffers a financial setback and no longer has sufficient income to pay the maintenance award.
Maintenance awards, moreover, create a unique form of obligation in that they generally cannot be discharged in an ordinary bankruptcy, and they can be enforced through contempt. It is possible that a party who fails to pay the maintenance order could be sent to jail.
For IRS purposes, maintenance payments generally are counted as income to the party receiving the payments, and are deductible by the party making the payment.
Needless to say, spousal maintenance issues must be discussed with a lawyer who is experienced in such matters and who will take the time to explain your options. When people are going through a divorce, they often fail to realize the long-term impact of their decisions. For example, they may think that they have sufficient income to pay a large monthly maintenance award without considering the fact that they may remarry and take on greater financial responsibilities in the future. People often make rash decisions in order to get the divorce case over quickly, and fail to realize how their decision will affect their financial future. An attorney who has been through the process hundreds of times can educate the client on the many factors that must be thought through.
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