Alimony (known as "spousal maintenance" in Arizona law) is money that one spouse pays to the other for financial support during a divorce case, after the divorce is final, or both. But just because you earn less money than your spouse, there's no guarantee that you'll get alimony. As of 2023, Arizona has guidelines that set out rules for when spouses may get maintenance, how much the payments will be, and how long they'll last.
Read on to learn when the guidelines apply and how they work.
In 2023, Arizona Supreme Court adopted guidelines for judges when they're making decisions about spousal maintenance. As with the state's child support guidelines, the spousal maintenance guidelines are meant to encourage settlements and ensure that awards will be fairly predictable and consistent for families with similar economic circumstances. But the maintenance guidelines also have another goal: to make sure that recipients get to the point of supporting themselves as soon as possible. Toward that end, Arizona now limits maintenance awards to an amount and length of time that supported spouses need in order to become self-sufficient. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-319 (2023).)
The Arizona courts provide an online calculator that you can use to determine the appropriate amount and duration of spousal maintenance, within a range of dollars and months. But you'll need to understand the guidelines themselves in order to fill in the right information in the calculator—and to know when you might qualify for an award that falls outside the ranges. (You can find the full guidelines and calculator here.)
As long as you or your spouse filed for divorce (or "dissolution of marriage") or legal separation in Arizona on or after September 24, 2022, the state's spousal maintenance guidelines will apply in your divorce as well as to any future requests to your maintenance orders (more below on modifications).
For those who filed for divorce before September 24, 2022, the guidelines won't apply to initial maintenance awards or later modifications, unless the spouses agree otherwise. As was true under prior Arizona law, that means the judge will have considerable leeway to decide what's fair, based on the individual circumstances.
You and your spouse have the legal right to agree that Arizona's spousal maintenance guidelines won't apply in your divorce. You may also agree to an amount or duration of maintenance that's outside of the guideline ranges, as long as:
(Ariz Rev. Stat. §§ 25-317, 25-319(D); Ariz. Spousal Maintenance Guidelines, § I.C (2023).)
You should also know that if you and your spouse are able to reach a comprehensive divorce settlement agreement (known in Arizona law as a "separation agreement") before you file for divorce—meaning that you've resolved all of the issues in your dissolution, including alimony—you'll be able to take advantage of the time- and cost-saving benefits of a "summary consent decree" divorce in Arizona.
Unlike many other states, Arizona law doesn't break out alimony into different types, based on the duration and purpose of the payments. And there's no such thing as "permanent" or "lifetime" alimony in the state. There is a distinction between temporary spousal maintenance during the divorce proceeding and post-divorce maintenance. But the guidelines also apply to temporary orders—at least when it comes to the amount of maintenance.
Nonetheless, there are minor differences in how the guidelines apply to temporary alimony. When it comes to post-divorce maintenance, the guideline calculator assumes that expenses are equally divided between the spouses. For temporary orders, the judge must consider how they actually are allocating their expenses. Also, the judge won't attribute income to a spouse who hasn't been employed for the past two years (more below on attributing income). (Ariz. Spousal Maintenance Guidelines, § VII (2023).)
Just because a spouse receives temporary alimony, that doesn't necessarily mean the judge will award any post-divorce maintenance or will award the same amount. Also, although temporary alimony must end no later than the final divorce date, the judge may modify or end temporary orders before then. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-316 (2023).)
Arizona's guidelines make a distinction between eligibility for spousal maintenance and entitlement to that support.
As was true before the guidelines applied, judges must first decide whether a spouse who has requested maintenance meets one of the threshold eligibility requirements. Judges may award alimony to a spouse who:
Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-319(A) (2023).)
Arizona law doesn't say how many years a marriage must last to be considered long. Judges may have different ideas about this, but some lawyers say the threshold is typically 15 years. That's not far off from the longest marriages—16 years or more—in the guidelines schedule for the duration of maintenance payments (as described below).
Even if meet one of the requirements to be eligible for spousal maintenance, that's not the end of the story. The judge will then have to decide whether you're entitled to receive alimony and, if so, how much and for how long. After calculating maintenance under the guidelines, the judge may decide that applying the guidelines would be inappropriate or unjust under the circumstances—and might not even award any maintenance. (More below on the calculations and deviations from the guidelines.)
In order to run Arizona's spousal maintenance calculator, you'll need to gather some information, including:
(Ariz. Spousal Maintenance Guidelines §§ II, III, IV (2023).)
For purposes of calculating spousal maintenance under Arizona's guidelines, income doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as it does for tax purposes or for calculating child support. The guidelines include extensive details on what is and isn't included in "spousal maintenance income," but here are some examples:
(Ariz. Spousal Maintenance Guidelines § II.A (2023).)
Under the guidelines, spousal maintenance income may include "attributed income" (sometimes known as imputed or assigned income) that a spouse isn't actually receiving. The guidelines include a long list of factors that judges must consider when they're deciding whether to include attributed income, including:
Also, the guidelines allow judges to add the following to a spouse's actual spousal maintenance income:
(Ariz. Spousal Maintenance Guidelines § III (2023).)
Based on the information provided, the spousal maintenance calculator will give two sets of ranges for:
The judge will decide what's appropriate within each of those ranges. Judges may order that the maintenance payments will decrease gradually over time (what's usually called a "step-down" award), as long as the amounts are within the guideline range. In some cases, however, a judge may order an amount of support that's outside of the range (more on that below).
Arizona judges may deny a request for spousal maintenance if the couple's combined spousal maintenance income is less than $44,000 a year. (Ariz. Spousal Maintenance Guidelines § VI.E.6 (2023).)
A judge in Arizona may award an amount of spousal maintenance that's outside of the range shown in the calculation, but only if the judge finds that applying the guidelines would be inappropriate or unjust in that particular case. When making that decision, judge must consider all of the relevant factors, including:
The calculator already takes into account basic living expenses, including food, housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, health insurance, and other medical costs. But the judge may consider other expenses as a reason for deviating from the guidelines.
One factor the judge may not consider when awarding maintenance is either spouse's misconduct during the marriage (such as adultery). (Ariz. Spousal Maintenance Guidelines, § VI; Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-319(B), (C) (2023).)
Under Arizona law, judges may award spousal maintenance only for the amount of time that the recipient needs the support in order to become self-sufficient. The calculator results in standard duration ranges, depending on the length of the marriage. Judges may not order support for a shorter or longer time period than shown in the appropriate range, except in certain cases involving long marriages and older spouses. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-319(B); Ariz. Spousal Maintenance Guidelines, § V (2023).)
As long as a spouse is eligible for maintenance and is entitled to an award under the guidelines, the judge must normally order payments for a period of time within the appropriate range, depending on the length of the marriage:
Under Arizona's "Rule of 65" formula, judges may depart from the guideline's standard duration range and decide how long spousal maintenance should last, based on the specific circumstances of a case. However, this rule applies only when all of the following are true:
Regardless of the date that the spousal maintenance order is set to end, Arizona law requires that the obligation to pay maintenance ends when either spouse dies or the recipient spouse remarries. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-327(B) (2023).
Unless a judge orders a spouse to pay maintenance directly to the recipient, all payments should go through the Arizona Support Payment Clearinghouse. But a judge may issue an "order of assignment" (sometimes called an income withholding order) that requires the paying spouse's employer to withhold the maintenance payments from the spouse's paycheck and forward the money to the clearinghouse, which will then send it on to the recipient. Judges must issue these orders if a spouse requests it. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 25-504, 46-441 (2023).)
If your ex isn't keeping up with the payments, you might have to go back to court to enforce alimony. Among other possible steps, you may file a request for what's known as a money judgment—meaning a judgment requiring your ex to pay the arrearages. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-553 (2023).)
But if your ex simply refuses to obey the court's orders, you may have to file a motion asking the judge to find your ex in contempt. In this situation, you should consider speaking with a lawyer who can help you navigate the complicated rules for proving contempt.
After the divorce is final, either spouse may go back to court to request a change in the spousal maintenance order, unless their settlement agreement and original order ruled out any future modifications. First, however, the requesting spouse must show that there's been a substantial and continuing change in circumstances since the order was issued. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 25-319(E), 25-327(A) (2023).)
Some examples of changes that might warrant a modification include:
Just because the maintenance recipient is living with a new partner, that doesn't necessarily justify a modification unless it has resulted in a significant change in their economic circumstances. (Van Dyke v. Steinle, 902 P.2d 1372 (Ariz. App. Ct. 1995).)
The changed-circumstances requirement applies to all modification requests, regardless of when the spouses started their original divorce. Beyond that, however, the rules for modifying maintenance orders are different, depending on whether the guidelines apply. (Ariz. Spousal Maintenance Guidelines, § VIII (2023).)
If the dissolution petition in a couple's divorce was filed before September 24, 2022, Arizona's spousal maintenance guidelines won't apply to a modification request, unless the spouses agree otherwise. Once the spouse requesting the modification has met the changed-circumstances requirement, the judge will apply the same criteria as applied to the original order. (Those criteria are similar—but not exactly the same—as the factors for deviating from the guidelines, as discussed above). The judge may consult the guidelines when deciding on the amount of a modified award—but that's not required.
The guidelines will apply to any requests to modify spousal maintenance as long as the original dissolution petition in the case was filed on or after September 24, 2022. In these cases, the spouse requesting the modification may meet the changed-circumstances requirement by showing that a new guideline calculation (given the spouses' present financial situation) would result in a different amount of maintenance.
However, the judge may not modify the duration of the award beyond the maximum in the standard duration range under the guidelines, unless one of the spouses has become disabled or other extraordinary circumstances arose after the existing order was issued.
For all couples who get divorced after 2018, the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has eliminated any tax deduction or income reporting requirements for alimony. That means the Internal Revenue Service won't count these payments as income for the recipient, and the paying spouse won't get the deduction. However, if your divorce was finalized before December 31, 2018, spousal maintenance payments will still be tax-deductible to the payer and taxable income to the recipient.