Divorce Appeals And Spousal Maintenance: Insights and Perspectives

Closeup of man seated at coffee table, calculating bills using a handheld calculator, a small stack of cash, and a set of notes; concept photo for spousal maintenance calculations.

 Divorce Appeals And Spousal Maintenance: Insights and Perspectives

Questions regarding spousal maintenance obligations are among the most common queries Arizona divorce lawyers receive. Amendments to Arizona law in 2022 mandated the development of guidelines regarding the factors the Superior Court judge presiding over each divorce case must consider in making spousal maintenance determinations. These guidelines provide a robust framework for judges to follow in drafting spousal support orders in Arizona divorce cases; they can also form the basis for divorce appeals, if one party believes the court has failed to apply the state’s established criteria appropriately. If you have questions or concerns about spousal maintenance orders in your own Arizona divorce case, consider contacting a member of the experienced family law and divorce appeals team at Sullivan Law Office. Call (480) 719-2558 today to schedule your consultation. 

Can You Appeal a Divorce Decree in Arizona? 

The legal process of an Arizona divorce begins when one spouse files a petition for dissolution of marriage, and ends when the judge presiding over the case issues a corresponding decree of dissolution of marriage, granting the petition and outlining the division of marital property (including responsibility for formerly shared debts) and other important considerations such as parenting time, child support, and alimony, which in Arizona is legally known as spousal maintenance. Once an Arizona family law court has issued the decree, the judge’s decision is binding on both spouses, meaning that each of the former partners is legally obligated to abide by the terms the court has established; however, “binding” does not always mean “immutable.” Individuals who are unhappy with the results of their divorce decrees, or who feel that some aspect of the judge’s decision in their case has been unfair, may have a few options for rectifying their situation, depending on the circumstances. 

Can a Divorce Be Reopened Once Final in Arizona? 

Sometimes spouses confuse contesting a divorce with appealing a divorce decree. The distinction is important because, in legal terms, a “contested” divorce is one in which the spouses do not agree on all aspects of their divorce settlement, whereas appealing a divorce decree means asking a higher court to review the terms ordered by the judge who presided over the initial divorce proceedings. In other words, “contesting” a divorce refers to arguing (or retaining an attorney to argue) the terms of the divorce settlement in front of a Superior Court judge, while appealing a divorce means petitioning the Arizona Court of Appeals to review and modify or overturn portions of the settlement the judge in the Superior Court has ordered. 

Grounds for Appealing a Divorce in Arizona 

The Arizona Rules of Appellate Procedure, which govern appeals from family law cases, allow “any party aggrieved” by a Superior Court’s decision to pursue the appeals process “as provided under Arizona law.” However, simple dissatisfaction with the outcome of the original divorce case may not constitute a grievance in the eyes of the appellate court. 

Appeals Process for Arizona Divorce

A spouse appealing their Arizona divorce will need to file a notice of appeal indicating the grounds on which they seek relief from the lower court’s judgment. According to Rule 85 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure, these grounds may include: 

  • A mistake, including any inadvertent action or “excusable” neglect on the part of the trial court judge 
  • Evidence newly discovered since the original decree was issued, which could not reasonably have been discovered prior to issuance of the decree
  • Fraud or misconduct, by the opposing party, especially if there is a likelihood that the misconduct substantially impacted the court’s decision 

If you have questions about appropriate grounds for appealing a divorce in Arizona, consider reaching out to an experienced Arizona family law attorney at Sullivan Law Office to discuss your case. 

What Is the New Alimony Law in Arizona? 

The Arizona Judicial Branch indicates that state law regarding alimony was amended in 2022. The amendment directed the Supreme Court to develop guidelines for alimony (referred to in legal terms as “spousal maintenance”) such that spousal maintenance would be limited in both amount and duration, with an emphasis on providing the financial support necessary for the spouse receiving alimony to develop their own source(s) of income so as to achieve economic self-sufficiency. 

How Is Spousal Support Calculated in Arizona? 

Judges in Arizona family law cases use the guidelines established under § 25-319 Ariz. Rev. Stat. (2023) in combination with Arizona’s Spousal Maintenance Calculator to arrive at the amount they will order for spousal maintenance in a divorce case. Judges may deviate from the guidelines regarding limitations on amount and duration of alimony payments, but must do so in terms of criteria explicitly established by the state statutes, and must explain in writing the factors they consider in reaching their determination. 

Factors a Family Court Judge May Consider in Arizona Spousal Maintenance 

The Arizona State Legislature’s directive outlined 13 factors the Supreme Court must consider in developing both its guidelines to the lower courts and the criteria for deviating from those guidelines. These 13 factors include: 

  1. Standard of living enjoyed by both spouses during the marriage
  2. How long the spouses were married 
  3. The requesting spouse’s current and expected earning capacity, as suggested by their age, state of mental and physical health, and previous work experience 
  4. Whether the spouse who would be making alimony payments is able to support their former partner while meeting their own economic needs 
  5. A comparison of the spouses’ resources, including relative earning ability
  6. Whether and to what extent the spouse requesting alimony has contributed to their former partner’s current earning ability 
  7. Whether and to what extent the spouse requesting alimony has made career sacrifices for their partner’s benefit that have led to a reduction in their own earning ability at the time of the divorce 
  8. How the financial situation of each spouse will impact his or her individual ability to pay for the educational expenses of the couple’s shared children 
  9. Financial resources awarded to each spouse as part of the division of marital property, with a view toward evaluating each spouse’s ability to self-support on the basis of said resources 
  10. How long it may reasonably take the spouse seeking alimony to acquire the job skills or certifications needed to enter the workforce at a level that will ensure his or her self-sufficiency
  11. Any financial activities, such as destroying or hiding assets the court considers to be community property, on the part of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought, during the marriage or during the course of the divorce proceedings 
  12. Health insurance costs, especially those associated with a conversion from a formerly shared family health insurance plan to an individual plan, and whether the spouse seeking maintenance is reasonably able to convert to an employer-sponsored health insurance plan upon divorce 
  13. Damages and judgments pertaining to conduct that resulted in a criminal conviction of either spouse, if the victim of the crime was the other spouse or any child 

Can Spousal Support Be Changed in Arizona? 

There are two main ways to alter spousal maintenance orders in an Arizona divorce, depending on the circumstances of the case. If one spouse believes that the spousal maintenance awarded by the judge in the Superior Court is unfair – either too high or too low – then they have the right to appeal the judgment, although they will need to show evidence that the judgment was flawed, for instance because the judge in the case was partial to one party or failed to consider all of the required factors, or because the decision was based on erroneous information. 

Spousal Maintenance Divorce Appeals 

Successful divorce appeals can be difficult to achieve because the appellate courts generally presume the accuracy of the lower court’s judgment in each case. This presumption means that the appellant (the party filing the appeal) must meet a high standard in order to persuade the Court of Appeals to overrule the lower court’s decision. 

Spousal Maintenance Modifications 

The high bar established for a successful divorce appeal and the limited time for filing both serve to limit the circumstances in which appealing an Arizona alimony decision is the best option. In some cases it may be more appropriate to file a request to modify the existing order for spousal maintenance. 

Either party in an Arizona divorce may file a request to modify the court’s orders for spousal maintenance, so the modification requested may be an increase or a decrease in the payment amount. Regardless of which party files, however, the request for modification will need to be based on evidence of a substantial change in one party’s circumstances – either a change in the receiving spouse’s overall need, or a change in the paying spouse’s ability to meet their court-ordered financial obligations. Crucially, however, the request for modification is not subject to the same time limits as the notice of appeal; the request to modify may be filed at any point during the spousal maintenance period, and therefore may be an option in some cases that are no longer eligible for an Arizona Divorce appeal. 

Speak With an Experienced Arizona Spousal Maintenance and Divorce Appeals Lawyer 

Judges presiding over Arizona family law cases make their determinations regarding spousal maintenance orders in accordance with criteria established to ensure fairness and consistency throughout the state. Divorce appeals that seek to have those support orders changed must meet a high standard to show the appellate court that the spousal maintenance ordered by the lower court was in error and must be remedied. If you are thinking of appealing the spousal maintenance order in your Arizona divorce case, you may find it helpful to consult with an experienced family law attorney who is familiar with the appeals process for Arizona divorces. Call (480) 719-2558 to speak with a member of the Sullivan Law Office team today.