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Spouse abuse and spousal maintenance rulings

What many call alimony is called spousal maintenance in Arizona. In times past, the the general practice of family courts tended to tip the scales of spousal maintenance payments in favor of the wife. But society is a fluid thing. There are more women in the workforce today than ever before and in many instances breadwinning and parenting roles have been reversed.

Family courts are faced with trying to keep pace with the rapid social changes. To do this they tend to apply general guidelines to determine whether spousal maintenance in a given divorce proceeding is appropriate. Factors that may influence a determination can include:

  1. Whether the parties are employable to the extent that they can meet their reasonable needs on their own.
  2. Whether the parties have assets of their own that might contribute to their meeting their reasonable needs.
  3. Whether the needs of young children are such that one of the parties needs to stay home or can only work part time.
  4. Whether one spouse contributed to the educational or career opportunities of the other.
  5. The length of the marriage.

There may be issues that can mitigate the amount and duration of spousal maintenance awarded. One significant one might be if a spouse is convicted of an abuse crime charge against the other.

This standard may be applied in Arizona to reduce an award. It is not necessarily applied elsewhere. In California, for example, efforts are under way to ban alimony awards to those convicted of violent sexual assault. Current law only allows for such ban when a spouse is convicted of attempted murder of other.

Advocates call the law change a matter of common sense. They note the case of Crystal Harris, 39, whose former stay-at-home husband forced her to perform oral sex in 2010. Before he was convicted in the case, however, a family court judge ordered her to pay him alimony of $1,000 a month. The judge said to do anything less would amount to gender bias.

Supporters of the law change say the issue isn't one of gender, but one of breaking bonds between victims and their attackers.

Harris hasn't had to pay her ex-husband alimony since he began serving a six-year prison term. But it could be reinstated after his release, expected in 2014.

Source: ABC News, "Sexual Assault Victim Ordered to Pay Alimony to Attacker Fights to Change California Law," Juju Chang and Alyssa Litoff, April 5, 2012

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