Divorce 101 – What is Alimony?
What is Alimony?
When couples are splitting up, an award of alimony to one party or the other means that the “monied” spouse will be ordered to contribute funds toward the living expenses of the “non-monied” spouse, post-dissolution, for a certain period of time.
In the State of Arizona, in making a determination of whether an award of spousal maintenance is appropriate, the court first will look at whether the spouse with “less” money is able to meet their reasonable needs based on income and/or assets (which will be awarded to that person in the divorce).
If the court determines that one individual is unable to be self-sufficient (or has contributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse), it must then move to the second question: what will the amount and duration of the alimony award be?
In many cases, this part of the equation boils down to two important things:
1. What will the non-monied spouse’s reasonable needs be after the divorce is final?
In considering the question of reasonable needs, a court will be unlikely to require a non-monied spouse to be compensated to the exact extent of the standard of living during the marriage. The fact of the matter is that when two parties are divorcing, income(s) that once supported one household must now support two. In the vast majority of cases, this means that each party will have to reduce/adjust his or her standard of living downward post-divorce.
To preserve credibility with the court, in presenting a “reasonable needs” argument (whichever side you are on), be honest about your needs. Do not overinflate them. Support your assertions about what you will require financially (post-divorce) with lease agreements, mortgage statements, utility bills, credit card statements and so on. Furthermore, to protect yourself, do research and obtain good-faith estimates of what your expenses will be once you are divorced. Take care not to underestimate those expenses, either.
This is important for BOTH the monied and non-monied spouse. In terms of the monied spouse, the court will also consider the second important question:
2. Can the monied spouse support both parties post-divorce?
While it may be clear that one party is unable to support themselves post-divorce, it may be that the individual with more financial resources is also unable to support BOTH parties post-divorce. This is particularly true in cases where the monied spouse will be assuming a larger portion of the community debt as a result of a divorce settlement or is required to pay monthly child support.
In requesting an award of alimony, be realistic about what you are requesting. As much as you may “need” money, be honest about whether your ex’s salary/financial resources can support the award you want. If you request an amount which you know, based on your joint financial circumstances, is not realistic, you risk appearing unreasonable to the court. This could likely compromise any award you ultimately receive.
Alimony and Rehabilitation
In Arizona (except in cases of marriages of “long” duration), judges are increasingly viewing spousal maintenance awards as rehabilitative. In other words, the purpose of the award is primarily to assist the non-monied spouse get back on their feet, post-dissolution. The length of an award will depend, in part, on how long it will take the “out-spouse” to acquire education, training, and/or work experience to achieve an income level allowing them to become self-sufficient.
For the spouse requesting spousal maintenance, it is vital to gather and present evidence of a roadmap for future financial independence. This information could include documentation of education curricula and costs. A lack of reliable, documented information regarding the rehabilitation plan could also compromise the length and amount of the spousal maintenance award.
The subject of alimony is complex. In Arizona, it is completely discretionary, meaning that whether or not to award spousal maintenance is not governed by any objective factors. As a result, many similarly-situated individuals find themselves with widely varied results, depending on the judge.
As always, it is for this reason that divorcing spouses should always do their best to work together to achieve settlement prior to going to trial. In most cases, an agreement results in higher satisfaction (and less attorney’s fees) for both individuals.