Spousal Support also known as Alimony
Spousal support, more commonly known as alimony, is an easy enough definition: one spouse paying money to another spouse after a divorce.[i] Now, determining how much one spouse needs to pay another spouse is not always a simple task. There are a lot of factors that go into this determination, including: the length of the marriage, the income of each spouse, accustomed lifestyle, children, and more.[ii] Awards of spousal support use to be a very common award by the court, but today, that is just not the case.[iii]
What is Spousal Support?
There are a few different types of spousal support available and each type of spousal support has a goal for awarding the support. There are four standard type of spousal support that could be awarded to a spouse – depending on the state and what their jurisdiction permits.
To begin with, there is temporary spousal support.[iv] This type of spousal support is granted during the divorce proceeding.[v] A divorce proceeding could take years to resolve and during that time period, one spouse may be substantially disadvantaged financially. One spouse may have been a stay at home parent for the past 20 years and has no income. If her soon to be ex spouse stops financially providing for her, so could risk being homeless – unless she can obtain work. The only problem with that is she has stayed home for 20 years and it is not that easy to just jump back into the work force. Temporary spousal support is used to support one spouse during the proceeding, until a judge can make a final decision about the matter. It will allow the spouse to live their life as closely to what it was before the divorce began as possible. This is just one example of many possible scenarios for why temporary orders for spousal support can be decided at the beginning of the proceeding, rather than making the spouses wait until the end.
Now, just because a judge may grant temporary spousal support for say $2,000 a month, that does not mean that the judge will also grant $2,000 a month in spousal support at the end of the divorce proceeding. The point of temporary spousal support is to provide the spouse with financial security while the judge makes a decision. It is temporary, and could go up and or down when the judge makes the final decision. Once the judge does grant temporary orders for spousal support, it will be effective as soon as you separate from your spouse.
The next type of spousal support is a short-term type of spousal support.[vi] This type of spousal support is meant to be rehabilitative for one of the spouses.[vii] It is also referred to as the “bridge the gap” type of spousal support. This type of support was designed to help the dependent spouse get back on their feet and have the ability to support themselves after the divorce.[viii] This could apply to a lot of different situations. The most common scenarios would include stay at home spouses. This would include the standard stay at home spouse, who raises the family and tends to the house. This type of spouse has likely spent a good portion of their adult life living this type of lifestyle and it would take some time for them to adjust to living a life where they are the primary source of income in their household.
For marriages that are shorter, it will likely be a quicker process for the dependent spouse who has spent less time in the home as a dependent. This is likely the case for dependent spouses to care for the home while the other spouse attends school to better himself or herself. It is not uncommon for one spouse to stay home while the other attend school, and then once that spouse has completed their program, for the other spouse to them go back to school. Overall, the length of the marriage will be a major factor to determine first of all, whether or not rehabilitative spousal support is appropriate for this dependent spouse, and second how long the support should be. No matter the scenario, the rehabilitative spousal support will end once the dependent spouse has the ability to support themselves either through a new job or a new educational path. Because of this, the length of this type of support will vary from person to person.
The next type of spousal support is a long-term method.[ix]This is a permanent method of spousal support, meaning that it could require one spouse to pay another spouse until the dependent spouse remarries or passes away. This type of support is used for marriages that have lasted more than ten years and has a dependent wife that the judge determines will most likely not enter into the workforce again.[x] This type of support is not available in all of the states. Also, in many states, if the dependent spouse begins to live with another individual in a manner that mimics a marriage – the court may determine that spousal support should end. All the different types of spousal support will end if the dependent spouse either dies or remarries. Because this is well known, many people will avoid remarrying in order to keep recovering spousal support. For this reason, many people chose to just live their lives with a new partner without marriage. But if the court catches wind of this, they are likely going to cut off spousal support all together.
Finally, there is reimbursement spousal support.[xi] This type of support is the only spousal support that is not based solely off financial need.[xii] It is actually determined based off a spouse who sacrificed education, training, or career advancements during the marriage by taking odds and ends jobs while the other spouse trained for a lucrative career.[xiii] It is a common understanding that the spouse who made the sacrifice would benefit from the higher standard of living once the other spouse obtained their desired career.[xiv] If the marriage ends before that spouse gets any of the expected benefits of the other spouses desired career, reimbursement spousal support aims to rebalance the scales between the spouses by making the spouse return some of what was given during the marriage.[xv] It will be a subjective decision to determine when this type of spousal support will end, and that will be whenever the judge feels as if everything is as close to balanced out as it can be between the spouses.[xvi]
Spousal Support in Arizona
In Arizona, in order for a spouse to obtain spousal maintenance, a court must find that the spouse has a financial need and that the other spouse has an obligation to pay for those financial needs.[xvii] The length of the marriage and standard of living will also play a large role in the judge’s determination for spousal support. If one spouse can prove one of these three needs, the judge will likely grant spousal support: the spouse does not have enough property, even after the marital distribution, to provide for reasonable needs; the spouse contributed to the other spouse’s educational opportunities; or the spouse is unable to be self-sufficient through appropriate employment opportunities.[xviii]
In order for the judge to determine whether or not the spouse can be self sufficient through employment will require even more factors for the judge to consider.[xix] This will include looking at the educational level of the spouse as well as previous work experience.[xx] Arizona gives special consideration to spouses who acted as homemakers for a considerable amount of time.[xxi] The longer a person is out of the workforce, the hard it is to join the workforce again. So a spouse who has stayed home to raise children and tend to the home for twenty years, who also has only a high school education, is not going to be able to easily transition into the workforce again. While it is not impossible to do, it will be challenging, and the judge typically does not want to punish the spouse for the couple’s decision for them to stay home in benefit of the family.
Arizona, as well as many other states, also takes the financial stability of the other spouse into consideration.[xxii] Even if one spouse was a homemaker for twenty years and has a slim possibility of obtaining employment, if the other spouse has hit hard financial times and cannot even support himself, the court will consider this. The court is not going to ask that spouse to give more than he has, or give so much to the other spouse that he is unable to pay for his own life. The court will make sure to take the other spouse into consideration when it comes to awarding spousal support, and the court will do so in every type of spousal support.
Entering into Agreements for Spousal Support
Now, as discussed previously, the judge will play a large part in determining spousal support – but that will only happen if the spouses cannot come to an agreement by themselves. There are plenty of scenarios where spouses are divorcing amicably and are able to reach an agreement about spousal support. Even if the spousal support is two or three times as much as what the court would have ordered, the court is not going to tell the spouses they cannot agree to that amount. If one spouse wants to pay the other spouse twice as much as the standard, for the rest of the other spouse’s life – then that is up to the spouses. The court will only step in and make decisions for the spouses if they are unable to come to an agreement. If the spouses can decide on spousal support, the court will just enter their agreement into the system to ensure that the spouse’s stick to the plan they created.
[i] See Alimony NOLO Legal Encyclopedia Divorce Net (Accessed August 12, 2016) http://www.divorcenet.com/topics/alimony
[ii] See Alimony: What Do I need to Know Before Divorce? NOLO Legal Encyclopedia (Accessed August 12, 2016) http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/alimony-what-you-need-know-30081.html
[iv] See Types of Spousal Support NOLO Legal Encyclopedia Divorce Net (Accessed August 12, 2016) http://www.divorcenet.com/resources/divorce/spousal-support/types-alimony-or-spousal-support.htm
[xi] See Types of Spousal Support NOLO Legal Encyclopedia Divorce Net (Accessed August 12, 2016) http://www.divorcenet.com/resources/divorce/spousal-support/types-alimony-or-spousal-support.htm
[xvii] See Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Arizona NOLO Legal Encyclopedia Divorce Net (Accessed August 12, 2016) http://www.divorcenet.com/resources/divorce/spousal-support/understanding-and-calculating-alimony-ar