How long does spousal maintenance last in Arizona?
The trial court has broad discretion in determining the amount and duration of spousal maintenance. Specifically, the court considers thirteen statutory factors to determine a proper spousal maintenance award. The trial court doesn’t need to apply every factor, but neglecting an applicable factor may overturn the court on appeal.
In general, public policy favors fixed termed, transitional maintenance in order to promote both parties’ independence. However, the court has discretion to award indefinite spousal maintenance when there is evidence that independence is unlikely to be achieved. In particular, the award of indefinite spousal maintenance is more common in cases involving a lengthy marriage and/or an elderly supported spouse.
If you are unhappy with the Court’s decision on spousal maintenance, you may be able to have it modified.
A spousal maintenance order may be modified or terminated only on a showing of changed circumstances that are substantial and continuing. These include changes in the ability to pay, the needs of the parties’, remarriage, change in health or employment etc. The party seeking modification bears the burden of proving a change in circumstances. Further, a substantial change in the financial circumstances of either the husband or wife may support a modification of a spousal maintenance award. In determining whether to modify a spousal maintenance award, the trial court should consider the same factors taken into consideration when granting an award for support and maintenance. These factors include the financial resources of the party receiving spousal maintenance, the ability of the party receiving spousal maintenance to produce sufficient income, and the financial resources of the party paying spousal maintenance.
What happens in other cases for long-term spousal maintenance?
Evidence of changed circumstances supported modifying award of four years of spousal maintenance to continue maintenance until death, remarriage, or further order of the court. Schroeder, 161 Ariz. at 32. In that case, the former wife was diagnosed with cancer and underwent modified radical mastectomy. Id. While the procedure did not prevent her from continuing to work, it did require that she pay additional out of pocket expenses. The trial court held the wife’s “ill health and her inability to sustain meaningful employment constituted a substantial and continuing change in circumstances.” Id. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Arizona found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in reaching this decision. Id.
This case is important because it established that ill health and inability to sustain employment can constitute a substantial and continuing change in circumstances. If this is true, logically it follows the inverse is also true. In other words, a change to good health and ability to sustain employment can be argued to constitute a substantial and continuing change in circumstances. In the instant case, the former wife has claimed to have a long-term medical condition; this condition was certainly a major factor in determining the initial spousal maintenance award. Accordingly, if our client can prove the medical condition no longer exists, any additional out of pocket costs resulting from condition would also no longer exist. Further, diminution in ability to sustain employment caused by the condition would be erased as well. Because the Schroeder emphasized these effects as important to issues of health, the removal of the effects through the refutation of the medical condition will likely constitute a substantial change in circumstances.
2. If ex-wife, who had recently undergone surgery, became employable, that would constitute sufficient change of circumstances to modify spousal maintenance, but it would not constitute change of circumstances until it occurred. In re Marriage of Rowe, 117 Ariz. 474, 476.
The case is important because it established that a change in employability is sufficient to constitute a change of circumstances to modify spousal maintenance. If our client can prove his former wife has become employable since the initial award of support this will almost certainly constitute a change in circumstances under the rule. It is important to note a connection between the former wife’s claimed medical condition and her employability may be exploited. If she claimed her inability to sustain employment stemmed from her claimed medical condition, then disproving the medical condition will likely support her employability.
3. Evidence of substantial change in circumstances subsequent to parties’ divorce was sufficient to support downward modification of wife’s spousal maintenance, even though husband’s income had increased, where his expenses and payments had also increased, wife no longer had minor children to care for, and wife was entitled to receive portion of husband’s retirement benefits. Cooper v. Cooper, 167 Ariz. 482, 490.
This case is informative because it illustrated a multifactor analysis where the court balanced the interests and found a reduction in spousal maintenance appropriate. It is clear the court gave great weight to the wife no longer having minor children to care for. The likely reason for this is it represented a reduction in costs to the wife. In the instant case, it can be argued that the discontinuance of medical expenses represents a reduction in expenses similar to a parent no longer having to provide for minor children.
Spousal Maintenance cases are incredible fact specific. It is important to carefully look at past cases and consult with an attorney before preparing and presenting your arguments to a judge. For more information on spousal maintenance, give the office a call at 480-649-2905.