In many marriages, one spouse earns significantly more money than the other spouse. Sometimes, this is a function of the spouses assuming different roles in the marriage. For example, in some cases, one spouse pursues a career while the other manages the household. In others, one of the spouses decided to support the other spouse while he or she received a degree that would significantly increase his or her earning potential. Whatever the case, when spouses with a significant disparity in their earning or potential to earn get a divorce, courts often award one party spousal support (also referred to as “maintenance” or “alimony”) to ensure that their financial needs are met.
How do Arizona Courts Determine Spousal Support?
In order to award spousal support in Arizona, a court must determine that one spouse needs maintenance and the other spouse has the ability to pay. Judges consider a variety of factors in determining whether to award maintenance and how much to award. These include the following:
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- The length of the marriage
- The employment history, earning ability, and physical and emotional condition of the spouse that is seeking maintenance
- The comparative financial resources of each spouse, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market
- The ability of the paying spouse to meet his or her needs while paying spousal support
- The contributions of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning potential of the other spouse
- How much the party seeking support reduced his or her income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other party
There are other factors that a judge may consider when deciding issues related to spousal maintenance, and each party will have an opportunity to present evidence in support of their position. For this reason, anyone involved in a spousal support dispute should speak with an attorney.
Financial Circumstances can Change
As many of us are aware, our financial situation can change unexpectedly. In some cases, these changes can be sufficient to warrant a modification of an existing spousal support order. Under Arizona law, a court will modify a spousal support order if a change is “substantial and continuing,” unless the spouses agreed to not seek modification or the divorce order states that support cannot be modified. Some examples of the kinds of changes that may justify a modification of an existing support order include the following:
- Remarriage of the spouse receiving support
- A medical emergency
- Job loss
- If the spouse receiving support becomes able to support themselves
- A significant change in a financial situation
Changes to spousal maintenance arrangements do not happen automatically, and the party seeking modification must usually petition the court for a change. In addition, both parties will have the opportunity to present evidence in support of their position regarding a change in the spousal support order. Because of the complicated legal procedures that are involved in modifying spousal support orders, it is important for anyone involved in a spousal support dispute to speak with an attorney immediately.
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