Calculating Spousal Support aka Alimony Through Mediation
In Arizona the first question to be answered in terms of spousal support is whether either spouse is entitled to it1. There are several grounds for entitlement to spousal support, including: (1) the length of the marriage; (2) the likelihood that the person claiming it could obtain employment that would generate sufficient income to adequately support his or herself; and (3) whether the person claiming support has sufficient income producing property, such as real estate, stocks or other investments that could reasonably provide for their needs.
Arizona no longer has any type of spousal support guidelines. Instead, in Arizona there is a “reasonable needs” test to determine the amount and duration of spousal maintenance. This means that any spousal maintenance will be based on the reasonable needs of the spouse claiming, his or her reasonable needs for food, shelter, clothes, and other items based on the standard of living during the last several years of the marriage, the reasonable needs of the spouse being asked to pay spousal support, and the amount of the income available to support such reasonable needs.
These reasonable needs serve as a platform from which to discuss and negotiate goals. Our experience is that focusing on goals, rather than win-lose adversarial legal tactics, greatly enhances the likelihood of agreement when the highly charged issue of spousal support is discussed.
Assets – Investments, Real Estate and Retirement Benefits
Some couples strive for an equal division of community assets and debts. Others do not. Either way is perfectly acceptable—to the mediator and to the court—as long as both parties have made fully informed decisions.
Mediators encourage each party to prepare Income and Expense forms. This lets each party calculate his/her monthly expenses over the next year. The list of expenses is reviewed item by item and discussed. This exercise enables people to estimate how much it will cost to support themselves in separate households.
Asset and Liability forms are also to be completed with all information pertaining to real estate, investment accounts, retirement benefits and debt. It is important for the mediator to get an overall understanding of the participants’ situation and helps to identify points of agreement and disagreement concerning assets, debts, parenting, and spousal support. It helps the mediator understand each participant’s concerns and goals. The mediator can also identify and request that one or both participants procure material and/or data that may be useful in making fully informed decisions. In other words, the mediator can give the participants “homework” that is likely to facilitate their decision-making in subsequent sessions. For example, information as to real estate “comps” would probably be useful in deciding the fair market value of the participants’ home.
What If I Need to Change the Spousal Support Agreement?
Agreements to spousal support are modifiable. Modifiable means that either party can request that the support be increased or decreased if there is a material change in circumstances such as a big pay cut, loss of a job, illness or disability. If the supported spouse got a high paying job, the supporting party could then request a downward modification of spousal support. The same would be true for the inverse; if the supporting party were to get a big increase in salary, the other person could request an upward adjustment in spousal support.
1 The American Bar Association provides tables summarizing spousal support guidelines in all 50 states at www.americanbar.org