An award of spousal maintenance or alimony is not automatically given to one of the parties in every divorce case filed in Arizona just because it has been requested. First, the Court is required to examine the facts and circumstances in each case to see if the requesting party is even eligible to receive spousal maintenance, pursuant to the grounds set forth in A.R.S. §25-319(A). In the first of our four part series this month, we will look at how one qualifies or is found eligible to even be awarded spousal maintenance.
Under A.R.S. §25-319(A), there are four possible grounds listed for finding a party is eligible for an award of spousal maintenance. The Court has to specifically address each of these factors and find at least one of the four apply to the facts and circumstances of the case before it can enter any award for spousal maintenance. The four grounds for qualification, as set forth in the statute, are the spouse requesting alimony:
1. "Lacks sufficient property, including property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for that spouse's reasonable needs" Important to note here is that the Court has to consider the property apportioned to the spouse which means the property that this spouse is likely to or receives in the final division of assets of the parties at the conclusion of the divorce. Also, the use of the term reasonable needs is important; reasonable needs does not mean all of their alleged needs or to maintain a "jet set" lifestyle. For example, even if one spouse possesses little of their own property now, but the Court anticipates that they will receive significant assets at the conclusion of the divorce proceedings, especially if they are significant enough to allow an income stream from an investment or that they may defray a substantial amount of living expenses, that may disqualify them from receiving an award of spousal maintenance under this factor.
2. "Is unable to be self-sufficient though appropriate employment or is the custodian of a child whose age or condition is such that the custodian should not be required to seek employment outside the home or lacks earning ability in the labor market adequate to be self-sufficient" This provision is really three factors in one as delineated by the two instances of "or" in this sentence; a finding of any one of the three can qualify one for an award of spousal maintenance. Both the first and third parts are basically the same concept, i.e. a spouse who is employed but cannot earn enough to pay their reasonable living expenses or someone who may or may not be employed who in the jobs that they are qualified for or capable of getting will not earn enough to pay their reasonable living expenses. The second part speaks to the fact that the rising expense of childcare, or care for a special needs child, may cost more than the benefit of having that parent work outside the home.
3. "Contributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse" This may mean more than just putting the other spouse through school. It may also include efforts made to aid the other spouse in obtaining specialized training or certifications for their employment. For example, Wife works to maintain the household bills while Husband, a recent medical school graduate and physician, completes his board examinations, internship and residency prior to going into practice.
4. "Had a marriage of long duration and is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self-sufficient" Length of the marriage is a significant factor under this ground, but the duration of the marriage itself is not enough to ensure qualification for an award of spousal maintenance without some additional evidence on lack of earning capacity in some form or fashion. Even if the parties were married for 20 plus years, if both parties are employed and are able to meet their reasonable needs through the income from their employment, then neither spouse may be able to qualify for spousal maintenance under this provision.
As stated previously, the Court only needs to find that one of these four grounds exists in order to find a party eligible for spousal maintenance, but depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, it may not always be so easy to qualify to even be eligible for an award under these terms.
Even if one of you qualifies and is eligible for an award of spousal maintenance, you are still not done yet - the Court still must determine the amount and duration of any such award. Look for part 2 of this series in which we will examine the factors that the Court looks at in determining how much and for long that spousal maintenance award will be.
If you would like to meet with one of our experienced Attorneys, please call OWENS & PERKINS at 480.630.2464 to schedule your free 30-minute consultation.