On July 3, 2023, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel issued Administrative Order 2023-119, which approves and adopts a set of Spousal Maintenance Guidelines, and which provide for the use of a new Spousal Maintenance Calculator.
When do the guidelines go into effect?
These guidelines will go into effect beginning on July 10, 2023.
Who does this administrative order affect?
These new Spousal Maintenance Guidelines (and the new Spousal Maintenance Calculator) apply to Dissolution of Marriage and Legal Separation cases (including post-decree matters) in Arizona in which the original Petition was filed on or after September 24, 2022. If your case began prior to September 24, 2022, these guidelines will not apply unless you and your spouse agree otherwise.
It is notable that even though these guidelines are what the Court will follow, if you and your spouse would like to agree to do something else and not follow the guidelines, you are welcome to do so.
It is also worth noting that if you are already divorced or separated, the creation of these new guidelines does not create a change in circumstances that would warrant a modification of spousal maintenance.
Why were they created?
These new guidelines were created because the previous ones made it difficult for the Arizona Family Court judges to determine the appropriate amount and duration of spousal maintenance awards. We personally have been to seminars where 5 different judges would be given the same fact pattern, and each judge would come up with a different amount and duration of spousal maintenance. With these new guidelines and the creation of a spousal maintenance calculator, it should be much easier and straightforward.
How were they created?
The Spousal Maintenance Calculator uses data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey. The Spousal Maintenance Calculator is based on expenditure and income data for persons with similar demographic and geographic characteristics.
Will I be eligible for spousal maintenance?
Under Arizona Law, there is a difference between “eligibility” for spousal maintenance and “entitlement” to spousal maintenance. A spouse may be eligible but not entitled to spousal maintenance in certain circumstances.
Eligibility means that a party meets at least one of the factors under A.R.S. 25-319(A). In other words, the spousal maintenance guidelines will apply only if the spouse seeking maintenance:
- Lacks sufficient property, including property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for that spouse’s reasonable needs;
- Lacks earning ability in the labor market that is adequate to be self-sufficient.
- Is the parent of a child whose age or condition is such that the parent should not be required to seek employment outside the home;
- Has made a significant financial or other contribution to the education, training, vocational skills, career or earning ability of the other spouse or has significantly reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse; or
- Had a marriage of long duration and is of an age that may preclude the possibility of gaining employment adequate to be self-sufficient.
If a court determines that the requesting spouse is not eligible for spousal maintenance, there is no requirement to even use the Spousal Maintenance Calculator. If a court determines that a party is eligible for spousal maintenance, the court must proceed with the spousal maintenance calculation under the Guidelines to determined what the party is entitled to, if anything.
How does the new calculator work?
he following information is used in the Spousal Maintenance Calculator in order to determine the amount and duration of spousal maintenance:
- Duration of Marriage: This is calculated automatically by inputting the date of marriage and the date of service of process of the divorce or legal separation documents on the Respondent. This will help to consider the appropriate duration of spousal maintenance.
- Family size: To determine family size, include the parties and any child for whom at least one of the parties has a legal obligation to support and for whom that party is actually paying support. (Unlike child support, if a parent does not actually pay child support and does not live with the child, that child is not included in the family size.)
- Combined Spousal Maintenance Income: This combines both parties’ actual income, or, if either party is not working but is capable of doing so, attributed income.
Actual income includes income from any source before any deductions or withholdings. Actual income may consist of salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, dividends, etc. The Spousal Maintenance Guidelines provide more detailed information on what should be included in actual income.
Attributed income is not actually earned or received but is an assigned income based on a court finding that the amount attributed should be used to calculate combined Spousal Maintenance Income. There are various reasons that an attributed income would be used, and the Spousal Maintenance Guidelines explain this more in depth.
- Family’s Average Monthly Mortgage Principal: The mortgage principal for all residences the family uses should be included. The mortgage principal for investment properties should not be included. If the marital residence is rented, nothing needs to be added. The calculator already accounts for other housing components such as rent, interest, taxes, insurance, interest on a home equity line of credit, etc. This number is a monthly amount.
Rather than provide an exact amount and duration of spousal maintenance (like the current child support calculator does), the spousal maintenance calculator will provide judges and litigants with a range of amount and duration. If the judge finds that, for some reason, the amount range is unjust or inappropriate, the Court may deviate based on certain factors. However, the Court is not authorized to deviate from the duration range, unless one party is disabled or can show by clear and convincing evidence that there are extraordinary circumstances which would delay the receiving spouse from becoming self-sufficient.
Once an amount range is established, how does the Court determine the specific amount?
After considering the statutory factors and facts in a particular case, the court can award an amount within the amount range. If the court determines the amount range is unjust, the court can deviate from the amount range, including an award exceeding the amount range, or an award of zero.
Once a duration range is established, how does the Court determine the specific duration that will apply in each case?
For determining the specific duration of spousal maintenance, the court must consider the relevant statutory factors under A.R.S. 25-319(B), including, but not limited to:
- The standard of living established during the marriage;
- The marriage length;
- The age, employment history, earning ability, and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;
- The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet that spouse’s needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance;
- The spouses’ comparative financial resources, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market;
- The contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse;
- How much the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the other spouse’s benefit;
- The financial resource of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to that spouse, and that spouse’s ability to meet that spouse’s own need independently;
- The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment and whether such education or training is readily available.
Overall, these guidelines should be very helpful in determining both the amount and duration of spousal maintenance awards. The way the system previously was left way too much room for debate. With the new Spousal Maintenance Calculator, both judges and litigants should have more clarity when determining spousal maintenance awards. This will save litigants both time and money by reducing the number of contested spousal maintenance cases in family court. Stay tuned for an update on how things have been going once these new spousal maintenance guidelines are being used in practice!
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When dealing with a family matter issue, you do not have to go at it alone. Schedule your comprehensive attorney consultation now and we can discuss the entire case.
Let's Discuss Your Case - We're Here For You.
When dealing with a family matter issue, you do not have to go at it alone. Give us a call and we can discuss the entire case during a comprehensive attorney consultation.