Arizona has statewide guidelines for child support, partly because federal law requires us to. But federal law requires no spousal maintenance guidelines. Maricopa County, though, enacted spousal maintenance guidelines in 2000; they were subsequently reviewed and re-approved in 2002. These guidelines contain a mathematical formula for calculating spousal maintenance. However, as the guidelines state, the "do not change or create public policy." They also do not constitute a presumption nor are they intended "to replace the trial court’s obligation to consider specific evidence as well as all applicable statutory factors." The guidelines are simply intended to be a starting point for determining spousal support, by providing helpful examples as well as references to relevant statutes and caselaw.
The Guidelines, which have never been officially adopted by court rule, provide a method of calculating the amount and duration of a spousal maintenance award by way of a formula derived from an historical review of randomly selected prior spousal maintenance awards. They have been used by family law attorneys as a useful estimate of the possible spousal maintenance award in a given case and, indeed, some Maricopa County Superior Court judges have incorporated them into their spousal maintenance awards. The formula is calculated by taking the difference between each spouse’s gross monthly income and multiplying that result by a factor of .015, then multiplied by the years of marriage. For example, suppose husband and wife have been married for 15 years. If the husband earns $5,000.00 gross per month and the wife earns $1,500.00 per month, the difference of $3,500.00 is multiplied by .015 and then by 15 (years) , then under the Guidelines calculation, and assuming the relevant statutory factors for an award of spousal maintenance are met, wife would be entitled to an award of $787.50 per month. The duration of that award is then calculated by applying a factor of 0.3 and 0.5 to the length of marriage to determine the range of the duration of the award, in this case from 4.5 to 7.5 years.
In considering the income of the spouses, the Guidelines state that non-obligatory deductions and fringe benefits enjoyed by the spouse should be considered in determining ability to pay. Such things as employer-furnished auto, meal-expense reimbursement, and the like, should be considered. Consideration should also be given to benefits available to the receiving spouse, as for example, where the receiving spouse retains the family residence which has a monthly payment far below the average monthly payments in the area.
The Guidelines are not intended as a guide in determining temporary (i.e. pendente lite) spousal maintenance. It is the policy of the court to recognize that, under Arizona law, community property rights do not terminate until the entry of the final decree of dissolution. Generally speaking, community income earned during the pendente lite state of the proceedings-and the obligation to pay community debts pendente lite-should be divided equally. While each case may be different, a spouse who is capable of employment has an obligation to seek and become employed.
The Guidelines also provide that the supporting spouse shall not be required to pay more than one-half of his or her net income as child support and maintenance, on the theory that requiring payment of more than one-half of a spouse’s net income would remove that spouse’s incentive to work.
These Guidelines were the subject of a 2006 Court of Appeals case. In Cullum v. Cullum, the husband appealed from a superior court order awarding his wife spousal maintenance in the amount of $500 per month for 72 months. On appeal, the husband argued that the superior court erred in awarding his wife spousal maintenance. He also argued that the court did not consider the relevant factors for the amount and duration of the spousal maintenance pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-319(B), but instead relied upon the Guidelines. The Court of Appeals first determined that the wife was entitled to an award of maintenance on the basis of several statutory factors. Specifically, the wife was working on obtaining her master’s degree, she needed more education in order to increase her income, she was the primary care-giver of the children, she did not work full-time outside of the home for many years during the marriage, and her expenses exceeded her income. The Court of Appeals further found that the superior court did not abuse its discretion when it used the Guidelines to determine the wife’s maintenance award. The Court reasoned that the Guidelines allowed the court to consider the evidence and the statutory factors, and they established the general principles of spousal maintenance. Therefore, the superior court reviewed the statutory factors for awarding maintenance and then used the Guidelines to calculate the duration and amount of the maintenance. The Court said this was perfectly fine.
Yet the Guidelines have never been uniformly applied by judges and as a practical matter seem to have lost much of their significance in the maintenance analysis. In the 2007 case of Leathers v. Leathers, the Court of Appeals said that the trial court does not have to consider the Guidelines at all if it does not want to. That means it is unlikely that maintenance orders coming from the bench will ever be consistent and predictable. Which in turn means that it is vitally important that you have a knowledgeable and experienced attorney in your corner.
The 2010 case of Ramsay v. Ramsay illustrates this point. There, the husband contended on an appeal of a spousal support award that the trial court erred because it's award was significantly more than what would have been awarded under the Guideline formula. The appellate court disagreed with the husband:
"There are no legally authoritative 'guidelines' governing spousal maintenance in Maricopa County or any other Arizona county. A.R.S. § 25-319(B) vests the trial court with broad discretion to determine the amount and duration of spousal maintenance awards after due consideration of the factors that the Legislature articulated. The statute does not direct the court to refer to any set of guidelines, and the court's disregard of any such informal reference materials cannot give rise to a finding of abuse of discretion."
In Ramsay, the Court of Appeals held that since the family court properly considered the 13 statutory factors as required, the award was proper, even when the Guidelines provide a significantly different result.
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child custody issues in the Phoenix metro area, you need an aggressive
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