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How does spousal maintenance (or alimony) work in Arizona?

Have questions about how spousal maintenance works in Arizona? We cover everything you need to know here.

evident Editorial Team
published
December 19, 2022
Road leading to Monument Valley in Arizona

If you are facing a divorce process in Arizona, you may be wondering how alimony works in Arizona.

The first thing to know is that alimony is actually called spousal maintenance in Arizona. (Arizona, like many states, no longer uses the term Arizona in its divorce laws).

This article provides an overview of spousal maintenance in Arizona, including how it's calculated, what types of support are available, and other key details you should know.

Key Takeaways

What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance, also known as alimony or spousal support, is financial support provided from one spouse to another surrounding a divorce or separation. 

Spousal maintenance payments can be made in a series of monthly payments or as a lump sum payment, though periodic payments are more common. 

Spousal maintenance can be issued during the divorce process, after the divorce has been finalized, or both.

When is spousal support awarded in Arizona?

In Arizona, judges are given broad discretion over whether to award spousal maintenance and how much spousal maintenance should be awarded.

According to Arizona law, there are five criteria a judge looks to when determining whether to grant a request for spousal maintenance. Those scenarios are if the requesting spouse:

  1. Lacks sufficient property to provide for their reasonable needs, including after property division from the divorce proceedings
  2. Lacks the earning ability required to become financially self-sufficient
  3. Is the primary caretaker of a child whose age or condition prevents the requesting spouse from seeking employment outside the home
  4. Made a significant contribution, financial or otherwise, to the education or earning ability of the other spouse, or otherwise sacrificed their own career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse
  5. Is unlikely to be able to gain appropriate employment to become self-sufficient due to the length of the marriage and their age

If one more of these scenarios is at play, the judge may issue a spousal maintenance order.

How many years do you need to be married to get spousal maintenance? 

There is no minimum amount of time you must be married to receive spousal maintenance in Arizona.

That said, the length of the marriage is one of the factors a judge will take into account when considering maintenance.  

Generally speaking, judges are more likely to award spousal maintenance, and for a longer time, for longer marriages.

Maintenance could be ordered after a short marriage in Arizona, but this is less likely, and the arrangement would probably not last more than a few months.

Types of spousal maintenance in Arizona

In Arizona, there are two main types of spousal maintenance awards: 

  • Temporary spousal maintenance, either while a divorce is pending or after it has been finalized
  • Permanent spousal maintenance

Temporary spousal maintenance

Temporary spousal maintenance can be awarded either during divorce proceedings or after the divorce has been finalized.

Temporary maintenance awards during the divorce process are sometimes referred to as "pendente lite" and are issued when one spouse needs financial support while divorce proceedings are ongoing. Awarding spousal maintenance while the divorce is pending does not necessarily mean the court will order spousal maintenance after the divorce has been finalized.

Once the divorce is finalized, courts will evaluate whether continued spousal support is appropriate. Temporary post-divorce support is typically awarded for a fixed period of time.

Most post-divorce support is temporary and is aimed at helping the receiving spouse become financially independent. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as "rehabilitative spousal maintenance."

Permanent spousal maintenance

Permanent maintenance is ongoing support that does not have an end date.

Permanent spousal maintenance is less common in Arizona, but may be appropriate if the receiving spouse cannot become financially independent because of their health or age.

How is spousal maintenance calculated in Arizona?

Arizona courts don’t use a set formula when determining the duration of a spousal maintenance order.  Instead, when deciding how much spousal maintenance to award in Arizona, the courts consider numerous factors, including:

  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age, employment history, earning ability, and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance
  • The comparative financial resources of the spouses, as well as their respective earning abilities
  • The ability of the other spouse to pay while meeting their own needs
  • Whether the requesting spouse contributed to the education or career opportunities of the other spouse
  • Whether the requesting spouse sacrificed their own career opportunities for the sake of the other spouse
  • The time it would take for the spouse seeking maintenance to acquire the necessary education or job training to become self-sufficient
  • The ability of both spouses to contribute to the future educational costs of their children, if any
  • The cost for the spouse seeking spousal maintenance to obtain health insurance and any potential reduction in health insurance costs for their ex-spouse

As noted above, Arizona law aims to provide reasonable spousal maintenance where appropriate to help the spouse receiving support become financially self-sufficient.

Reaching your own agreement

All of the above factors determine how a judge will evaluate a spousal maintenance award. But it's important to note that you and your former spouse can agree to the type, amount, and duration of spousal maintenance through your own agreement. 

If you do, Arizona’s alimony laws may serve as a backdrop for discussions with your ex-spouse, but they will not necessarily limit the structure of your agreement. (For instance, you could agree to spousal maintenance payments that would last longer or shorter than a court would likely order). 

As with many areas of Family Law, the best outcomes typically involve out-of-court agreements rather than contested court battles.

Child Support vs Spousal Maintenance in Arizona

Keep in mind that child support is different from spousal maintenance, and while spousal maintenance payments are up to the judge's discretion, there is a much clearer expectation that both parents will contribute to a child's upbringing.

Additionally, the two forms of support are calculated differently. Judge's have more discretion when determining spousal maintenance than they do for calculating child support, which has stricter guidelines.

Can you modify spousal maintenance in Arizona?

Yes, it is possible to modify or terminate spousal maintenance in Arizona under certain circumstances. 

To request a modification, you must petition the court that approved the original spousal maintenance order. 

Courts typically only modify spousal maintenance in Arizona based on a substantial and continuing change in circumstances, such as:

  • The spouse receiving payments remarries 
  • Either spouse dies
  • The recipient spouse becomes financially self-sufficient

Under Arizona law, though, it is also possible for couples to agree that their maintenance arrangement cannot be modified. 

Failure to pay spousal maintenance in Arizona

There are consequences for failing to pay spousal maintenance in Arizona.

If the paying spouse is not making payments as ordered, the courts have the ability to enforce spousal maintenance orders using the following tactics:

  • Suspension of driving, professional, or recreational licenses 
  • The ability to report the debt to credit reporting agencies
  • Requesting the court to seize the delinquent spouse’s property
  • Putting liens on the delinquent spouse's property 

Additionally, the courts can charge the uncooperative spouse with a class 1 misdemeanor under Arizona law. The delinquent spouse can receive up to 6 months of jail time. 

Criminal charges are typically used as a last resort, though, and courts will seek to enforce spousal maintenance awards in other ways.

FAQs about spousal maintenance in Arizona

Is Arizona a community property state?

Yes, Arizona is a community property state. This means that all assets and debts a couple acquires during their marriage are presumed to be shared equally.

Unlike other community property states, Arizona does not require property to be divided exactly equally during divorce proceedings. But property division should be fair and will usually be roughly equal.

Keep in mind that only community property is divided equally, and each spouse's separate property is treated differently.

Who qualifies for alimony in Arizona?

Arizona law allows either spouse to petition the courts for spousal maintenance, but the requesting spouse must demonstrate a need for financial support. 

The following factors guide how Arizona courts determine a “need” for support:

  • One spouse lacks sufficient financial resources to provide for their reasonable needs, including after property division from the divorce
  • One spouse lacks the earning ability required to become financially independent
  • One spouse is the primary caretaker of a child whose age or condition prevents the requesting spouse from seeking employment outside the home
  • One spouse made a significant contribution, financial or otherwise, to the education or earning ability of the other spouse, or otherwise sacrificed their own career opportunities for the benefit of their ex-spouse
  • One spouse Is unlikely to be able to gain adequate employment to become self-sufficient due to the length of the marriage and their age

The courts evaluate each case on an individual basis.

How long do you have to be married to get alimony in Arizona?

In Arizona, there is no minimum amount of time that you must be married to qualify for alimony payments.  That said, the length of the marriage is one of the factors a judge considers when evaluating spousal maintenance. 

Overall, the longer you were married, the more likely a judge is to order spousal maintenance. But it is only one factor they consider, and factors like the need of the receiving spouse, the ability to pay of the paying spouse, and similar considerations will ultimately dictate whether spousal maintenance is appropriate.

The bottom line

If you have other questions about spousal maintenance in Arizona, it may be worth speaking with a family law lawyer.

And here are the key questions to ask a family law attorney when you first speak.

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