In order to modify or terminate an existing, Court ordered obligation to pay spousal maintenance (Alimony), a person is required to file a Petition with the Court under A.R.S. 25-327.
The original determination regarding spousal maintenance was made based upon a number of factors. It is easy to anticipate that some of those facts will change over time. However, the Court has no way of knowing that a change has occurred unless you inform the Court through an appropriate Petition. Even if a person loses their employment, the existing Court order will continue the spousal maintenance obligation until an appropriate Petition is filed with the Court and the Court approves the Petition. Even if the appropriate Petition is filed with and granted by the Court, the new order will not retroactively eliminate any arrearage that accumulated prior to the filing of the Petition to modify or terminate the existing Court order.
Non-payment of spousal maintenance is actually classified as a class 1 misdemeanor in accordance with A.R.S. 25-511.01.
In brief, if circumstances change in a way that makes payment of Court ordered spousal maintenance impossible, don’t just stop paying; file a Petition to Modify or Terminate the existing Court order. If you cannot afford to hire a licensed attorney to help you, the Maricopa County Superior Court has self-help forms and instructions for modification of spousal support that are available online, free of charge. I highly recommend hiring a competent attorney to assist with any effort to modify or terminate spousal maintenance because this is a complex issue that involves highly subjective decisions being made in an area where your Judge will have broad discretion. But if that is not an option, attempting to do it yourself would be a much better course of action than simply failing to pay in accordance with the existing order.
A.R.S. 25-327 is the operative statute for the modification or termination of spousal maintenance (Alimony) under Arizona law. In order to prevail under A.R.S. 25-327, a litigant will have to demonstrate that there has been a change of circumstances that is both “substantial” and “continuing.” Obviously both of those terms are subjective in nature. This makes it hard to know for sure what counts. For example, a reduction in pay representing 1% of your income does not seem to be “substantial.” On the other hand, a 99% reduction in pay is clearly “substantial.” At some point between those two it becomes hard to anticipate what a Judge will view as “substantial.” In my experience, it is largely based upon additional factors, such as the total income, the individual’s ongoing financial obligations, and the likelihood of the reduction impacting one’s ability to support their self and meet their ongoing financial obligations. “Continuing” is also subjective. The loss of a job may not be viewed as “continuing” in some situations because the Court will expect the unemployment to be temporary while the obligated party looks for a new job. However, in other situations, such as a medical disability issue, the Court is likely to see the change of circumstances as a “continuing” change of circumstances.