Misconceptions About Alimony in Arizona
Unless a person has been through the divorce process several times in Arizona, it is likely that he or she will approach the divorce process with a good deal of misinformation. The soon-to-be divorced spouse will probably have read a number of websites about divorce and gotten advice about what to expect during the divorce process – whether requested or not – from well-meaning friends and family members. When the individual eventually retains an attorney (or, worse, goes into divorce court unrepresented), the individual is quickly confronted with all that he or she does not know. While an attorney can help prepare the person for what he or she can truly expect and assist in dispelling some myths and misconceptions, it is rare for a first-time divorcee to intimately know the ins and outs of the divorce process.
Alimony – spousal support or maintenance – is one divorce-related issue that presents itself in a number of Arizona divorces but that is poorly understood by most first-time divorcing spouses. Some of the more “popular” misconceptions about alimony in Arizona include:
- My partner and I were never married but have been together for decades – I’m entitled to alimony. If two individuals were never legally married in Arizona (or elsewhere before moving to Arizona), then an Arizona court is powerless to award one spouse alimony. In this situation, it is irrelevant how long the couple was together, the standard of living they enjoyed while together, or how many expenses one person paid on behalf of the other. A valid marriage is essential for a court to even consider awarding alimony.
- My spouse and I were married for x years, so the court must award me alimony. The decision of whether to award one spouse alimony lies within the court’s discretion, meaning that the court may choose to award alimony to one spouse or it may decline to do so. While the length of the parties’ marriage is one factor the court may consider in making its decision, the court may also consider other factors such as the financial needs of each party, any premarital or postnuptial agreement entered into by the parties, and the standard of living of the parties (both during the marriage and the anticipated standard of living of each after the divorce is finalized).
- My spouse cheated on me, so he/she owes me support. Alimony in Arizona is awarded without regard to fault or wrongdoing. This means that a cheating spouse will not on that basis alone be “obligated” to pay alimony to the wronged spouse. A court may consider the effects of wrongdoing if they impacted the family’s finances. For example, if the cheating spouse depleted the couple’s bank accounts and wasted the couple’s assets in pursuit of his or her other lover, this fact may be taken into account by the court if it has left the wronged spouse in a vulnerable financial position.
- Once alimony is ordered, it remains for life. The court has the discretion to set alimony for a specific period of time – several years, for instance – in order to assist the receiving spouse with his or her needs. Alimony can terminate if the court orders that it run for a specific time, if the paying party successfully shows the court the alimony is no longer needed, if the receiving spouse dies, if the receiving spouse remarries, or if the receiving spouse cohabitates with another person such that the receiving spouse is being supported wholly or partially by this other person.