Unpaid Spousal Maintenance in Arizona: Legal Steps for Resolution

Spousal Maintenance (Alimony) payments can fall behind for a variety of reasons. It’s possible that the spouse paying spousal maintenance (“paying spouse”) lost his or her job or suffered medical problems that impede his or her ability to work. There is also the possibility that the paying spouse simply got tired of paying spousal maintenance. In this article, we discuss what to do when your spouse fails to pay spousal maintenance as ordered by the court according to family law in Prescott, AZ.

What You Should Do if Your Spouse Fails to Pay Court-Ordered Spousal Maintenance
It’s important to find out why you’re not receiving court-ordered spousal maintenance payments. Has your spouse lost a job or experienced a reduction in income as a result of illness or injury? You may consider negotiating an agreement with your spouse whereby spousal maintenance payments are reduced or suspended until your spouse gets back to work if you believe your spouse is unable to pay. If the payments do not resume, make sure your spouse knows you’re prepared to go to court. Ensure your rights are fully protected by hiring a divorce attorney in Prescott, AZ, to draft the agreement.

However, if your spouse refuses to pay spousal maintenance despite your agreement, you’ll have to take your case back to court. To get your spouse to make the overdue payments and keep up with future payments, you’ll need to file a motion (legal paperwork) with the court. In some cases, this is referred to as a motion for enforcement or a contempt motion. The best thing you can do if you end up in court is to consult with an experienced family law attorney in Prescott, AZ, who can draft persuasive legal motions and defend your interests.

Obtaining and Enforcing Spousal maintenance Orders
If spouses fail to pay court-ordered spousal maintenance, they are violating (disobeying) court orders, and judges do not like it when people do not comply with the court’s orders. The courts have considerable discretion when it comes to imposing punishments or fines on delinquent spouses. To collect spousal maintenance, a judge may confiscate the delinquent spouse’s financial estate, including the rent and profits from real estate.

The courts have a wide range of discretion in deciding what punishment to impose for non-payment or how to enforce spousal maintenance awards. State laws may vary, but most states allow the following remedies.

Contempt of Court
A person who intentionally violates a court order may be found in contempt. Thus, a spouse may be held in contempt if they willfully neglect to pay spousal maintenance that has been ordered by the court. The first punishment a judge will likely impose for contempt is an order for overdue support to be paid, as well as an additional fine. A judge might impose jail time if a spouse continues to disobey the order.

Income Withholding
In most cases, spousal maintenance orders begin with an income withholding order, which orders the payor spouse’s employer to withhold and send spousal maintenance directly to the supported spouse. While your spouse is employed, this type of arrangement takes the payor spouse out of the equation and guarantees that you will receive spousal maintenance as long as he or she remains employed.

You should consider asking the court for an income withholding order if your original spousal maintenance order did not include it and you are having trouble getting paid directly by your spouse. Unfortunately, income withholding orders do not work with self-employed (or unemployed) payor spouses. Depending on the circumstances, you can ask the court to order your ex to set up a trust account that you can access if you don’t receive your payments on time. In the case that your spouse is willfully unemployed, you can ask a judge to order them to look for work and/or to impute (attribute) some income to them based on their earning capacity (the amount they are capable of earning based on their education, skills, and work history).

Writ of Execution
The court can award you assets such as bank accounts, CDs, and other assets belonging to your spouse.

Judgment and Interest
In the case of substantial debts owed to you by your spouse, you can request a money judgment against him or her for the entire amount owed, plus interest. In addition, you might be eligible for compensation for the legal bills you paid while pursuing payment of your unpaid spousal maintenance.

It is not easy to file a legal action to enforce spousal maintenance on your own, and a Prescott divorce attorney can ensure that you receive your money once the court issues a judgment. If you are owed a significant amount of spousal maintenance and your spouse is unwilling to pay, you should speak with a family law attorney in Prescott.

What Is the Evolving “Spousal Maintenance” or Landscape of Spousal Maintenance in Arizona?
First, it’s critical to review recent, relevant modifications to Arizona’s spousal support statute. In Arizona, spousal maintenance is no longer taxable as of January 1, 2019. Payments for spousal maintenance are considered taxable income for individuals whose divorces or separations were finalized in 2018 or earlier, but they are still tax deductible for the paying spouse. Only spousal support payments paid in 2019 or later are subject to the new law if both parties consent to the modification in a modification agreement.

A.R.S. 25-319 controls whether a spouse in Arizona is eligible for spousal maintenance, as well as the amount and length of that support. To be qualified for spousal maintenance both now and for the preceding twenty (20) years, a spouse needs to meet at least one of the following four “threshold” requirements:

  • The spouse lacks sufficient assets, even those that were assigned to them, to satisfy the other spouse’s requests.
  • In the current labor market, neither partner can earn enough money to support themselves, or they are both caregivers for children whose ages or conditions prevent them from working outside the home.
  • One spouse paid tuition to support the other spouse’s education.
  • After a lengthy marriage, the partner is divorcing and is too old to locate employment that can support them.

Arizona statutes now have special provisions for spousal contributions that have made a substantial financial or non-financial contribution to the other spouse’s training, education, career, or income-generating capacity. Furthermore, in Arizona, modifications that have significantly reduced one spouse’s income or career prospects in favor of the other spouse are now grounds for spousal spousal maintenance.

Furthermore, spousal maintenance awards in Arizona are becoming less eligible and, when granted, are being granted for shorter periods and smaller amounts. Thus, it is especially interesting that the state legislature increased the requirements for qualification. By raising the threshold requirements, the state legislature seems to be telling the courts that they want the current trend away from spousal maintenance awards to be reversed and that more spouses should be able to receive it.

Things About Spousal Maintenance That Arizona Courts Cannot Consider
In determining whether to grant spousal support, courts do not take either spouse’s misbehavior into account. Thus, the fact that one partner was unfaithful has no bearing on the court’s decision to grant or refuse spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance is meant to maintain equity following a divorce, not to be used as a form of punishment.

The statutes do not stipulate how much spousal maintenance judges should award when they do grant a maintenance request. Judges have the authority to grant maintenance in an amount and for a duration that is judged appropriate in the given situation after considering all pertinent factors. It’s important to remember that per A.R.S. 25-530, judges are not allowed to consider veterans’ disability benefits for service-connected disabilities when making spousal maintenance decisions.

What Can Modify Spousal Maintenance?

Any court-ordered agreement’s surrounding circumstances may allow for a modification of the order’s provisions. Financial and personal circumstances can significantly alter any court-ordered spousal maintenance payments for spousal maintenance in Arizona, particularly if they affect the financial security or circumstances of either party.

The following are some common variables that could alter a spousal maintenance determination.

Parental Responsibilities and Childcare
The majority of divorce cases involve the determination of childcare responsibilities. The goal of child support orders is to provide the child with a life that is similar to what they may have had if their parents had stayed together. The child’s best interests are the consideration in both decisions.

The courts in Arizona favor maintaining both parents’ involvement in their children’s lives, whether it be by providing for their immediate needs or by paying child support. If a spouse is paying both spousal maintenance and child support, the court must take into account the end date of the payment agreement, even though it is independent of spousal maintenance. Child support duties cease upon the child’s eighteenth birthday or high school graduation, and spousal maintenance may be renegotiated.

Spousal maintenance is frequently used to guarantee one spouse’s financial stability. Spousal maintenance payments, however, may also jeopardize the financial security of the people providing them. Sadly, some people erroneously believe that filing for bankruptcy will free them from having to pay spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance obligations and payments are non-cancelable in bankruptcy, per 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(5). Although they might be able to request an adjustment, spouses going through bankruptcy will probably still need to make these payments.

If a spouse is ordered to pay spousal maintenance, they must do so even if they are no longer employed. Instead, the spouse must request that the court alter the spousal maintenance decree by A.R.S. 25-327. To fulfill the requirements of the application to modify spousal maintenance orders, the spouse must provide proof that their circumstances have changed or are still changing. All unpaid amounts, however, will remain unaltered and uncanceled; the payor will still be liable for any arrears.

A.R.S. 25-327 stipulates, as previously indicated that spousal maintenance will cease if one spouse remarries while the other is still obligated to pay spousal maintenance. Consequently, neither partner will have to pay the remaining amount of spousal support. The paying spouse’s obligation to continue paying spousal maintenance does not end if they get married again.

Spousal maintenance payments must be made even if neither party’s living condition or financial situation changes. It is feasible to ask for a spousal maintenance order to be reevaluated, nevertheless. Making any necessary adjustments requires speaking with a divorce lawyer in Prescott who understands Arizona’s spousal maintenance laws.

Contact An Experienced Family Law Attorney
To recap, you may be entitled to file a court case to recover the unpaid spousal maintenance amounts if you find that your ex-spouse has not been paying you as agreed. Spouses have a limited amount of time to submit their requests to the court before they are permanently barred from doing so. Divorce lawyers in Prescott, AZ, can help you fight for what is lawfully yours.

If you believe you are owed back spousal maintenance payments, contact Stephanie Willison. She can provide you with answers and ensure your legal rights remain protected.  For more information, click to call or fill out our online contact form.

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