IS IT ‘CHEAPER TO KEEP HER’? Arizona Certified Family Law Specialist Discusses The Finances of Getting Divorced Sooner Rather Than Later

Category: Family Law

As an Arizona State Bar Certified Specialist in family law matters in Arizona, I have sometimes heard comments such as: “Wow, divorce is expensive, maybe it would just be cheaper to keep her.”  However, such comments often miss the real cost of delaying an inevitable divorce.

To be clear, not everybody needs to rush out and file for divorce now.  In fact, my best selling book available on Amazon discusses what a Divorce Attorney can teach people about improving their marriages and staying married (click to order).  With that said, once it is determined that a divorce is necessary, there are certain costs that begin to pile up, making it cheaper to divorce him (or her) rather than ‘cheaper to keep her’ (or him).

For example, here in Arizona, the longer a couple is married, the more likely one party will be ordered to pay spousal support to the other spouse.  Additionally, longer marriages result in larger awards of spousal support.   Imagine a marriage of five years, and you would be appalled at a judge ordering spousal support for 10 years.  On the other extreme, imaging a 30 year marriage, and a five year award of spousal support may seem insufficient.

Similarly, Arizona is a Community Property State.  Generally, assets acquired during the marriage belong to both parties.  This includes contributions to retirement accounts, equity accumulating in a residence, and other assets that generally increase over time.  From time to time I have been consulted by spouses who want a divorce, but then decide not to proceed with the divorce at that time.  I am then hired a few years down the road when the marriage again deteriorates beyond repair.   Often, in calculating what they must pay to their spouse from their retirement account, or from the equity in a house, they are quite frustrated that it is tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars more than it would have been had they filed for divorce the first time we met.

Arizona is also a Community Debt state.  I have seen cases in which the delay of filing for divorce allowed the other spouse additional time to accumulate substantial medical, credit card, or other debts.  The spouse not incurring the debt is then often frustrated that had he (or she) filed sooner, this debt would have been the sole and separate debt of the other spouse.

Child support can also be an issue when divorce is delayed.  I have seen cases in which the parties have lived apart for many years, but never formally filed for divorce.  Under Arizona law, a spouse can request child support retroactive back 36 months prior to filing for divorce.  Had the divorce been filed when the parties first began living separately, the child support and other financial issues could have been determined appropriately.  Now, one spouse may find himself (or herself) owing $1000 per month for the past 36 months and being instantly $36,000 (for example) in arrears on their child support obligation.

Rarely is it “cheaper to keep her (or him).”  If you can save your marriage with marriage counseling, do so.  However, once you have determined that you need a divorce, do not delay in filing because often there is a financial penalty informally imposed for such delay.

If you are contemplating or involved in a divorce, legal separation, or annulment case or other family law case, and if you have determined that you need experienced legal representation, please call 480 733-6800 and ask to speak with Douglas C. Gardner, or visit our website at: