SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE IN ARIZONA – A MAZE OF FACTORS, BUT NO SPECIFIC FORMULA

A number of people have asked me if Arizona has a set of Spousal Maintenance Guidelines that the courts use in calculating spousal support.  The answer is, “No.”  

Spousal Maintenance is handled differently than Child Support.  In determining Child Support, our courts utilize a formula contained in the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.  But (unlike some other states) Arizona does not have spousal maintenance guidelines.  And our courts do not use a formula for calculating spousal maintenance. 

 
At one time, Arizona did use a statutory formula for calculating support, but it was repealed about the time I began practicing law, over thirty years ago.  Years later, Arizona adopted a new set of Spousal Maintenance Guidelines using a different formula.  However, in practice, the Maricopa County Superior Court judges uniformly rejected those Guidelines and refused to utilize them as a basis for awarding spousal support.  Eventually, the Spousal Maintenance Guidelines were dropped altogether.
 
Another effort was made to enact Spousal Maintenance Guidelines was made fairly recently, and a committee was even formed to look into the subject and make recommendations.  But the idea has gone nowhere, and no new formula has been accepted.
 

Spousal Maintenance in Arizona continues to be determined on a “needs-based” analysis, using the factors listed in Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-319.  The statute contains a two-pronged approach.  The judge will apply the factors contained in Section “A” of the statute to determine whether the applicant is entitled to an award of spousal maintenance.  If spousal maintenance is deemed appropriate, the judge will then go to Section “B” of the statute to determine the amount and duration of the spousal support award.  

The factors in A.R.S., 25-319 are non-inclusive.  The Family Court is instructed to consider not only the factors listed in the statute, but “all relevant factors,” in determining spousal maintenance.  Nothing in the statute specifies how much spousal support should be paid, or how long the payments should continue.  This gives the judge much latitude in making his or her decision; and, as a result, awards of spousal support tend to vary widely from court to court, and from judge to judge.

 
Thus, the best way to argue a case for spousal maintenance is to:  
 
(1)  Use the statutory factors to show why you are in need of, and entitled to, spousal support;  
 

(2)   Provide proof of how much your monthly expenses exceed your income; 

(3)   Demonstrate how much monthly support you will need to make ends meet; and    

(4)   Explain what you will need to do, and how long it will take, to increase your income to the point where you can approximate the standard of living you had during the marriage (for example, you may need to finish school, take a trade course, grow your own business, move up the ladder at your current employment, etc.).   

This will give the judge a basis for determining the amount and duration of the spousal maintenance award. 

 
Judges are allowed a great deal of discretion in deciding spousal maintenance disputes; and every judge will make that determination using not only the law, but also his or her own world view.  Unlike child support (where we do have Guidelines), there is very little uniformity in determining spousal maintenance in Arizona.  For this reason, it is critically important to put together a well-organized presentation and make and convincing argument at trial.
 
For a look at the factors the Court uses to determine spousal maintenance, see A.R.S., Section 25-319.

http://www.azleg.gov/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/ars/25/00319.htm&Title=25&DocType=ARS

Our attorneys, Gary J. Frank and Hanna Juncaj, are strong litigators, highly-skilled mediators, and compassionate counselors with a wealth of experience in dealing in divorcecustody/legal decision-making and parenting-time issues. In addition to representing Family Law clients in litigation, we are also willing to help people by working with them on a Limited-Scope or Consultation-Only basis.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  We can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or you can contact us by email through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, contact us today.  We’d be happy to help.

TEN TIPS FOR SURVIVING YOUR DIVORCE — AND THRIVING

This year is coming to a close.   If you are in the middle of a divorce – or if you are getting ready to go through one – the next twelve months could be tough.  So, here are some simple guidelines to make the journey less difficult.

1.   Keep your children out of the middle of your dispute

Research shows that children of divorce can grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults.  However, the research also shows that children of high-conflict divorces can develop emotional problems that last a lifetime.  It can be devastating for a child to be caught in the middle of a dispute between parents.  You love your children.  That’s a given.  But loving your children is not enough.  You need to protect them from the emotional turmoil that you, as parents, may be going through.  This is an enormous challenge.  The key is to keep the children out of the middle of your dispute.  Don’t use them as messengers.  Don’t make them witness angry arguments between the parents.  Let them know the divorce is not their fault, and that both parents will continue to love them and take care of them, even after the divorce.

2.            Allow your child to love the other parent

When a marriage comes apart and emotions are at a boiling point, it is easy for a parent to make the mistake of voicing his or her displeasure with the other parent to the children.  Sometimes this leads to a war of words, with each parent feeling the need to “defend” himself / herself by badmouthing the other.  But here’s a warning:  Clinical research shows that this type of behavior can cause serious emotional problems for children.  They need to be able to love both of their parents.  So give them your permission.  You would probably place your life on the line to protect your children from a stranger who tried to hurt them.  Then why wouldn’t you make every effort to protect your children from your own anger and toxic feelings toward their other parent?    

3.            Don’t give your child too much information 


Of course, it is important to be honest with your children – but giving them information that is not age-appropriate, or talking to them about details of your divorce that they are incapable of emotionally processing, can be harmful and destructive.   Don’t talk to your children about the legal issues of your divorce.  Don’t show them your court paperwork.  Don’t share adult information with young children.  If you need to vent or get your feelings off your chest, turn to a trusted friend, a family member, or a therapist.  Keep your children out of the loop.  Let them be children.    

4.            Try to be flexible 

Parenting-time disputes can be the cause of much stress, especially during the holidays.  You can save yourself a lot of grief by trying to be flexible.  Being flexible is not a sign of weakness.  It sends a message that you are willing to compromise.  Extending an olive branch often leads to the other parenting being willing to compromise, too.  Parents who refuse to be flexible can find themselves locked in a never-ending battle; and instead of being able to solve their own problems they tend to return to court over-and-over again, putting their fate in the hands of lawyers and judges. 

 

5.            Don’t rely on “legal advice” from your friends 

Don’t believe everything your hear, especially when it comes from a friend or family member who is trying to give you advice about legal matters.  Everyone knows a friend whose own divorce was a nightmare and promises that your outcome will be terrible, too; or one who insists that your judge will give you everything you want because your custody case is a “slam-dunk.”  Receiving legal advice from a friend or family member can be a huge mistake, since tends to give you false expectations.  If you want good, solid legal advice about your divorce or custody case, talk to a lawyer who specializes in Family Law.

 
6.            Choose a lawyer wisely 


One of the most important decisions you will ever make is finding the right attorney.   Many people who are embroiled in a family law dispute say, “I’m going to hire the meanest, most aggressive, attorney I can find.”   That usually works – for the lawyer.  If the lawyer is only mean, or only aggressive, then the result will probably be a long, contentious, and expensive litigation.  That means more money for the lawyer.  Your money!  What you really want is a highly qualified attorney, one who is looking out for your interests.  The best attorney is someone who is skilled and experienced; someone who will fight for your rights — but who is also looking for ways to resolve the matter peacefully, if at all possible.  Most importantly, you should select an attorney who is a good match for you, and who makes you feel comfortable and confident.

 

7.            Be willing to compromise


Court litigation is, by nature, an adversarial process.  It can take a long time and cost a lot of money – and in the end, the final decision will be made by a judge who is a stranger to both parties.   Therefore, in any divorce or custody litigation, your goal should be to negotiate a solution that meets your needs and the needs of the children.  You can save yourself a great deal of time and money, and avoid much stress, by being willing to make reasonable compromises.  People who are able to negotiate a fair resolution of their dispute tend to be much happier with the arrangement in the long run.


8.            Talk to someone you can trust


A person going through the turmoil of divorce or custody case can benefit from a strong support system.  If you are struggling with a divorce, or if you are caught in a highly contested custody case, find someone to talk to. Whether it is with a family member, a friend, someone from your church, or a therapist, talking about your feelings is a healthy outlet.   There are also many divorce and single-parent support groups in your community that will welcome you and help you understand that you are not alone.  

9.            Take care of yourself

You can’t take proper care of your family if you don’t take care of yourself.  So take time to exercise.  Join a yoga class.  Meet a friend for dinner.  Or just spend some “down-time” relaxing at home. — Good nutrition, vigorous exercise, plenty of sleep and relaxation, lots of love and laughter — these are the keys to surviving a divorce and thriving.  Taking care of yourself will help you get through this tough time in your life.  It’s a wise investment.

 

10.         Know that there is life after divorce


It may not seem like it now, but rest assured that there is, indeed, life after divorce – and it can be great.  It will certainly be an adjustment, and it will take a commitment on your part, but getting out of an unhappy marriage, making new friends, and taking control of your physical and mental health, can give you a new perspective and lead to a happier life.

Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!

 

The law firm of Gary J. Frank P.C. offers strong advocacy for clients involved in all areas of Family Law, including disputes involving divorce, custody (legal decision-making), parenting time, interstate custody or visitation, grandparent and non-parent custody and visitation, division of property and businesses, spousal and child support, modification of existing orders, enforcement of orders, relocation / move-away cases, paternity, guardianships, and other matters involving children and families.  Gary Frank is also an experienced Family Law Mediator who can help you resolve your dispute without the need for fighting in court.  With more than thirty years of experience as a courtroom litigator, as well as a mediator and a former Judge Pro Tem, Mr. Frank brings skill, compassion, and a depth of understanding to each matter he handles, and each client that he represents.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona, and we have satellite office in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley to more conveniently serve our clients.  You can reach us by telephone at 602-383-3610 or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also check us out on our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.

ALIMONY REMAINS A GREY AREA OF FAMILY LAW

Spousal Maintenance, known in many other states as “Alimony,” is the greyest of grey areas in Arizona Family Law. 

Determining whether to award spousal maintenance is a matter of judicial discretion.  This means that it is up to the judge to decide whether an award of alimony would be appropriate, based on an examination of the facts of your particular case.  An award of spousal maintenance may be granted in favor of either spouse, depending on whether it is the Husband or the Wife who is in need of support.

In making her/his decision, the judge will consider the factors listed in Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-319(A).  Factors in that section include the length of the marriage; the age of the spouse seeking spousal support; whether that spouse is able to be self-sufficient through employment; whether she/he has sufficient property to provide for her/his reasonable needs; and whether she/he is caring for a child whose age or condition makes it difficult or impossible to work.  If the judge determines that one or more of the above factors applies, then spousal maintenance may be awarded.

But there is another important part of the equation — How much should be paid in spousal maintenance? . . . And for how long?

For the answer to these questions, the judge turns to section B of the statute.  The problem is that there is nothing in Section B that specifically tells the Court the amount, or the duration, of a spousal maintenance award.  Instead, there is a second list of factors for the judge to consider in making his or her decision.  Here are the factors:

1.      The standard of living established during the marriage;

2.      The duration of the marriage;

3.      The age, employment history, earning ability and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;

4.      The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet that spouses’ needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance;

5.      The comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities in the labor market;

6.      The contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse; 

7.      The extent to which the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced that spouse’s income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse;

8.      The ability of both parties after the dissolution to contribute to the future educational costs of their mutual children;

9.      The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to that spouse, and that spouse’s ability to meet that spouse’s own needs independently;

10.    The time necessary to acquire sufficient education  or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment and whether such education or training is readily available;

11.    Excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community, joint tenancy and other property held in common;

12.    The cost for the spouse who is seeking maintenance to obtain health insurance and the reduction in the cost of health insurance for the spouse from whom maintenance is sought if the spouse from whom maintenance is sought is able to convert family health insurance to employee health insurance after the marriage is dissolved;

13.    All actual damages and judgments from conduct that results in criminal conviction of either spouse in which the other spouse or child was the victim.

As you can see, there is absolutely nothing in the statute that tells the judge how much the spousal maintenance payment should be — or for how long it should be paid.  For child support decisions, the Court has a set of guidelines that can be used to determine the monthly support amount.  But while there is a move afoot in some states to design a set of guidelines, Arizona has none.   Therefore, the final result will depend on how each judge views the facts, and how he or she applies the statutory factors.  This leaves the door open for wide variations in spousal maintenance awards.      

The bottom line is this:  It is important for a person seeking spousal maintenance to present a solid case using a “needs-based” analysis.  Thorough preparation, good organization, and a persuasive presentation will give you the best chance for success.  This is one area of law where a strong, experienced attorney can make an enormous difference.

Gary Frank is an Arizona Family Law Attorney who has been a fixture in the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona for over thirty years.  Our office handles divorce and spousal maintenance cases, as well as custody, child support, relocation/move-away, Paternity, Grandparents’ and Non-Parents’ rights cases, modification actions, enforcement actions, and all other matters related to Family Law.  If you are in need of a consultation, we’d love to talk to you.  Please call us today.  You can reach us at 602-383-3610, or contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  To learn more about our firm, take a look at our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’d be happy to help you.

EMBRACING CHANGE

“Change is constant.  For some people, especially those who come from bigger companies, the constant change can be somewhat unsettling at first.  We must all learn not only to not fear change, but to embrace it enthusiastically and, perhaps even more important, to encourage and drive it.  We must always plan for and be prepared for constant change . . . Never accept or be too comfortable with the status quo, because the companies that get into trouble are historically the ones that aren’t able to adapt to change and respond quickly enough.”


Tony Hsieh
CEO of Zappos.com
from the book, “Delivering Happiness”


The need to embrace change applies to all of us, in both our personal lives and at work.   Over the years, the practice of law has seen enormous changes.  The  most successful lawyers are the ones who not only accept, but embrace, change.  Our attorney, Gary Frank, remains on the “cutting-edge” of Family Law by staying up to date with the latest statutes passed by the Arizona Legislature, and by studying the new decisions handed down by the Supreme Court and Appellate Courts.  He improves his knowledge of the law by attending continuing legal education courses on a regular basis throughout the year.  And he hones his courtroom skills by using the very best litigation practices and strategies.

Many law firms are locked into a particular office location that is often difficult or inconvenient for clients to visit.  But modern advances in technology, such as networked computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, and the internet, have allowed lawyers to become “road warriors” and provide top-notch representation while being more accessible to their clients.  Therefore, the Law Offices of Gary J. Frank are conveniently located throughout the Valley — in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Tempe, and the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix — in order to better serve our clients.      

Yes, change is, indeed, constant; and our ability to embrace change has enabled us to be successful.  But, just as importantly,  our attorney, Gary Frank, is also known for embodying qualities that are timeless and enduring:  Experience; Excellence; Integrity; Strong Advocacy; Common Sense; and and a Commitment to always putting his clients first.  We are a modern law firm with old fashioned values.  That’s what sets us apart.

Our attorney, Gary Frank, has been a courtroom litigator in the Family Law arena for over thirty years, and is a strong and committed advocate for his clients.  In addition to being a litigation attorney, Mr. Frank has acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tem in the Maricopa County Superior Court.  This has given him an understanding of the inner-workings of the court, and a unique perspective  that most attorneys lack.  He has also acted, for many years, as a professional mediator of Family Law disputes.   We handle a full range of Family Law matters, including divorce, custody, spousal and child support, division of property and assets, modification and enforcement actions, as well paternity/maternity cases, grandparent or non-parent custody and visitation actions, and relocation/move-away cases.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to give our office a call today at 602-383-3610; or feel free to contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.   We look forward to hearing from you.

THE TYPICAL ARIZONA FAMILY LAW TRIAL LASTS LESS THAN ONE DAY

Here’s something I’ll bet you don’t know:  While a trial in a criminal or a personal injury case, or even a contract dispute, may lasts days or weeks, or even months, litigants in a typical Arizona Family Law Trial are rarely allowed more than one day to present their entire case.  Family Law trials are often high-conflict matters involving multiple complicated issues such as divorce, contested custody, parenting time, child support, spousal support, and division of property and debts.  Sometimes they involve domestic violence issues.  Other times they entail dividing stock options, determining the value of a business, or selling real estate – all of which may require appraisals and expert testimony.  Sometimes they involve hidden assets and forensic accounting.  These are not easy cases.  Judges have the authority to allow a multiple-day trial, and sometimes they will do so; however,  litigants in Arizona Family Law courts will typically be given one day or less for trial; and each party is allotted one-half of that time in which to present his or her side of the case.      
What does this mean for you?  It means that in order to properly present your case, you will benefit from the help of an experienced attorney; someone who is organized and focused; who knows the rules of the game.  Someone who can take your family history and get right to the very essence of the problem.  Someone who can spot the most pertinent issues; then take the facts and distill them into a concise and persuasive argument.  You need someone who has excellent writing and research skills, since cases are often won by rock-solid arguments made in written motions which are submitted to the court before the trial.  You need someone who knows how to cut directly to the heart of the matter in the courtroom, using a strong cross-examination, or a powerful oral argument.   What you need is a skillful and experienced advocate who is capable of presenting the strongest possible case in the shortest of time frames.   

Our attorney, Gary Frank, has been a courtroom litigator in the Family Law arena for over thirty years, and is a strong and committed advocate for his clients.  In addition to being a litigation attorney, Mr. Frank has acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tem in the Maricopa County Superior Court.  This has given him an understanding of the inner-workings of the court, and a unique perspective  that most attorneys lack.  He has also acted, for many years, as a professional mediator of Family Law disputes.   If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to give our office a call today at 602-383-3610; or feel free to contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.   We look forward to hearing from you.

To Marry or Not to Marry — That is the Question.

Today, more and more people are deciding to live together before marriage.  Many couples live together with no intention of ever marrying.  People frequently ask me: “Is it better to marry or to just live together without legal ties?”  My answer is always the same: “That’s a decision that is best left to each couple, after giving the matter careful consideration.”  There are pros and cons to each arrangement.  On the one hand, if there is no marriage then there will be no need for a divorce if the couple should ever break up.  On the other hand, the law does afford a married person certain protections, and there are often legal consequences when a relationship ends, even if the cohabiting couple never married.

The longer a couple has lived together, the more “things” they typically acquire.  For instance, a couple may pool their money to buy a home, or a car, or a houseful of furniture.  They may have a joint bank account, or mutual investments.  How are these things divided if and when the relationship ends?  And what happens if the parties can’t agree on a division? 

There is no “common law marriage” in Arizona.  When the cohabitation is over, the concepts of divorce and community property do not apply.  If the couple owns property or bank accounts together – and if they are fighting over them – then they may wind up in a lawsuit, even if they never married.  Rather than using a “community property theory” of division, the Court will likely use a “partnership” theory to divide these assets.  A problem may arise where the parties bought a house together but one of them paid all the mortgage payments with his/her separate income from work.  In a divorce scenario this would be an easy call and the value of the house would be split equally, since income earned by a spouse from employment during the marriage is considered “community property” (and both the husband and wife have an undivided 50% interest in all community property).

Spousal Maintenance is a statutory right that is afforded only to a married person in Arizona.  The parties may have lived together for many years, and one of them might have given up a career to be a homemaker or a stay-at-home parent, but if the parties were never married there is no right to spousal maintenance when the relationship ends.  This could put the non-married, stay-at-home partner in a real bind and make his or her life unnecessarily difficult following the break-up.

When people have children together and then separate, they may still end up in court over the issues of custody, parenting time, and child support.  The court will make custody and parenting time decisions based on the best interests of the children regardless of whether or not the parents are married.  Child support decisions will be made based on the parents’ incomes and the needs of the children, pursuant to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.  Whether the parents were ever married is not a factor.

If the parents are not married and the father is not on the child’s birth certificate, then before being given the rights of a parent, the father will have to take the extra step of obtaining a paternity order.  Only then can he ask the court for an order spelling out his custody and parenting time rights.

There are valid reasons for deciding to marry, or live together without marrying.  However, given the fact that this is an important decision with long-term consequences, it would be a good idea to consider the legal ramifications before making a final decision.

Gary Frank has practiced Family Law in Arizona for almost thirty years and has handled cases for both married, and unmarried, persons.  Contact us today for a consultation by calling our office at 602-383-3610, or email us through our website at http://www.garyfranklaw.com/.

ASK THE LAWYER – Helpful Hints on Divorce & Custody Issues from a Phoenix Family Law Attorney

My purpose in writing this blog is to give you, the reader, some useful information on topics related to Family Law.   Contemplating divorce, or running into problems involving custody or parenting time after the marriage has been dissolved, can be stressful and even frightening.  It is often hard to know where to turn for information – and without good, solid information, it is hard to make an intelligent decision.  Hopefully, this blog will provide some of the important information you need and point you in the right direction.

On my web site, I have a section entitled “Ask the Lawyer.”  In that section, you will find questions that clients and others have asked me concerning a wide range of Family Law problems, along with my answers.  The topics include everything from custody and parenting time, to relocation, child support, spousal maintenance, property division, and many other issues that arise when a marriage comes apart.  Some of those issues may apply to your own situation. 

If you are interested in looking at my answers to Family Law questions, check out our website at http://www.garyfranklaw.com/ and click the “Ask the Lawyer” link.

Spousal Maintence vs. Property Equalization Payment – Which is Best?

When negotiating a settlement agreement in which a monthly payment is to be made following a divorce, parties are sometimes faced with a decision:  Should we designate the payment as spousal maintenance — or should it be considered a property equalization payment?  There are pros and cons to both options. 



The purpose of Spousal Maintenance is to provide financial support for a former spouse who qualifies under A.R.S. §25-319.  Under Arizona law, spousal maintenance payments are taxable to the spouse who receives the payment and deductable to the payor.  Since the person on the receiving end will have to pay income tax on the payment, she or he will wind up with something less than the full amount.  On the other hand, there is a measure of security since it is very difficult to avoid one’s obligation to pay spousal maintenance – especially if it is designated as “non-modifiable.”  Under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(5) the Bankruptcy Court has no power to discharge a debt for payment of spousal support.  Knowing that the spousal maintenance award cannot be discharged in bankruptcy provides a level of safety that may be important.


A “property equalization payment” is intended to equalize the final division of property between parties to a divorce.  It can be paid in a lump sum or by installment payments.  Unlike spousal maintenance, a property equalization payment does not result in a taxable obligation.  Thus, the receiving party “pockets” the entire amount.  However, if the person obligated to pay a property equalization payment files for bankruptcy, the entire unpaid balance could be discharged under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(15), and the party on the receiving end could wind up with nothing.


In our struggling-economy, I’ve handled a growing number of cases in which a former spouse threatens to cut off his or her spousal support obligation by filing for bankruptcy.  Current bankruptcy law makes that an idle threat.  However, if the payment is determined not to be spousal support but, rather, a property equalization payment, then there is a danger that the debt could be discharged in bankruptcy.

The decision whether to structure a payment as spousal maintenance or an equalization payment should be made only after a careful and thorough examination of all relevant factors.  Once that decision is made, the provision must be worded precisely in order to assure that there will be no confusion about the parties’ intent.  Gary J. Frank has over 25 years of experience in handling complex divorce and property division matters.  If you have questions or concerns about your own situation, please do not hesitate to call for a consultation.  Our phone number is 602-383-3610.  For more information, contact us be email or check out our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.

The Definition of “Family” Is Changing – Family Law Must Change, Too

The definition of “Family” is changing.  According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, about 29 percent of children under 18 now live with a parent or parents who are unwed or no longer married.  This is a five-fold increase from 1960.  This statistic does not merely reflect a higher divorce rate — it is also the result of a rising number of couples who have decided to live together without ever marrying.  In fact, U.S. census data released in September, 2010 shows that marriages have hit an all-time low of 52% for adults 18 and over.  In 1978 just 29% believed that marriage was becoming obsolete.  Today, that figure has grown to 39 percent.  According to the Census Bureau, opposite-sex unmarried couples living together jumped 13 percent this year, to 7.5 million.  Experts speculate that the sharp increase is a result of both changing societal values and the current economic woes.

Whereas “Family” was once defined as a married man and a woman, and children born in wedlock, that definition is becoming much broader in today’s society.  It now includes “blended families” with step-parents and children from different relationships; single-parent families; families in which the parents are cohabiting; families in which the children are being raised by grandparents; and gay relationships with or without children.  Our definition of “Family” is morphing and growing, and it is becoming more accepting and inclusive.

What hasn’t changed much is the laws relating to divorce and Family Law.  In order to provide protection for people in non-marital relationships, our laws need to change.  For instance, a spouse who has given up her or his career to care for children throughout a long marriage is entitled to spousal maintenance after a divorce; but a person who has done the same thing in a long-term cohabitation arrangement is not.  Unlike California Arizona has no “palimony” law to protect that person.  And while a spouse in a marital relationship has community property rights, and rights of inheritance under the law, a person in a cohabitation relationship has no such protection after a break-up or a death.  Arizona has no “common law marriage” statute.

For these reasons, a person entering into a committed relationship must think long and hard about what form that commitment should take.  Marriage or Cohabitation?  There is a significant difference from a legal perspective, with a spouse in a marital relationship having far more protection.

Some recent changes have been made in Arizona, especially in the area of protecting children.  Grandparents, step-parents, and other non-parents now have a legal right to visitation and, in some cases, custody of children with whom they have had a close bond.  Single people and gay couples are now allowed to adopt children who are in need of a loving family.  Custody laws have become more realistic and fair in guiding judges to make determinations of joint vs. sole custody.  New Parenting Time Guidelines have been enacted, and the existing Child Support Guidelines are in the process of being revamped.

Changes are occurring in how we, as a society, view and define “Family.”  The law must continue to evolve in order to accommodate those changes.

Gary Frank has practiced Family Law in Arizona for almost thirty years, acting in the capacity of a counselor, a litigator, a mediator, and a judge pro tem.  He is a committed advocate for families and children.  If you are in need of advice or representation, contact our office at 602-383-3610 or email us through our website at http://www.garyfranklaw.com/.

OUR MISSION STATEMENT FOR 2012

Here is our mission statement for the new year: 
Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney who cares about his clients.  Whether they are going through a divorce, or dealing with contested custody or other family law issues, we understand that our clients are in the midst of a difficult period in their lives.  By accepting their case, we have made a commitment to be there for our clients; to help them, to support them, and to fight for them.  We will apply the legal knowledge, litigation skills, and powers of persuasion, gained over thirty years of Family Law experience, to tenaciously protect our clients’ interests.  Mr. Frank will work with each client to creatively explore options for settling the dispute in a healthy, amicable, and inexpensive manner if possible.  These options could include the use of mediation, settlement conferences, collaborative divorce, or other dispute resolution measures.  However, if a fair settlement cannot be achieved,  then Mr. Frank can always be counted on to aggressively assert his clients’ rights, utilizing the skills he has honed over his many years as a courtroom litigator.  Our goal is to protect our clients; to preserve their relationship with their children; to assure that they receive a fair division of assets; and, when necessary, to obtain the financial support they need to provide for a secure future.   Gary Frank will continue to be a caring, compassionate attorney, and a fierce advocate for the best interests of his clients.

Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience in the areas of domestic relations, divorce, custody, division of property, support, modification actions, enforcement actions, Grandparents and non-parents rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children.  If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org, or through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.