Spousal maintenance is probably one of the hardest areas to give advice in family law. Unlike child support, which can be mathematically calculated down to the penny, spousal maintenance is based on a number of factors and considerations, some certain and some subjective. The age of the parties, income differences, years of marriage, education, health of parties and lifestyle during marriage are some, but not all, of the factors that a judge would have to look at and consider.
Countless spousal maintenance seminars over the years have presented panels of judges and well-respected practitioners that give a wide divergence of outcomes using the same factual situations before them. As this lack of consistency has troubled judges and lawyers for years, a number of states – including Arizona – and organizations have attempted to create a formula to make the amount and duration of spousal maintenance more consistent. The trouble with these calculators is admittedly they usually only compare the difference between spouse’s salaries and the length of the marriage, and none of the other factors that our laws require. Nonetheless, some judges and lawyers look at these calculators for a starting point or guidance on how to proceed.
A law firm in Massachusetts has done a nice job of gathering all the different calculators from history and around the country (see www.alimonyformula.com) and made it easy to compare all the different systems in one place. If, for example, you run the numbers with one spouse making $40,000.00 gross annually and the other making $135,000.00 gross annually and the marriage being twenty years long, you get wide and varying results – everything from zero to $726 per week for the amount and seven to twenty years for the duration. Using these same salaries and length of marriage, Arizona’s calculation would state anywhere from $1,638 to $2,340 per month for the amount and six to ten years for the duration.
Now before anyone starts counting their money or anyone has a heart attack, you need to keep in mind that the Arizona spousal maintenance calculator is merely a guideline. That is, it is not law and there is absolutely no guarantee (in fact, I highly doubt) that a judge would follow this calculation blindly. As I mentioned above, it is a tool to maybe just start the conversation.
Attorneys look at all the factors and then ask themselves “what are the reasonable needs of the person who is asking for spousal maintenance and is there a shortfall based upon what they are expected to make after the parties are divorced and living apart and can the other spouse afford to pay it?” Then, if there is a shortfall, ask “what is a reasonable time for the receiving party to be able to make up for this shortfall?” In other words, is the shortfall going to go on forever or can we expect that a reasonable person can make up for this shortfall so their former spouse is not stuck subsidizing their ex forever.
Both parties should be reasonable and reach a compromise. One spouse should not expect lifetime spousal maintenance or anywhere from $1,638 to $2,340 per month for the amount and six to ten years for the duration. The other spouse, however, should not be allowed to micro-manage the other’s life after divorce by asking for receipts to prove his or her reasonable expenses, nor should the spouse get away with paying nothing or only one year after a twenty year marriage.