Tough Issues

I’ve been a trial lawyer in Arizona for more than 24 years, and I’ve seen many of the toughest issues in life.

My experience, combined with the testimony of an expert witness, can be valuable to you and to the court in making tough decisions about children in divorce and paternity including legal decision-making, parenting time, and relocation. Not only do I have decades of experience dealing with these issues, I’ve had experts testify regarding these issues, and worked with them to present our cases to the court.  I’ve also used experts for challenging financial matters including spousal maintenance, division of business assets, business valuations, and child support income attribution.

THE GOOD NEWS

Arizona has an excellent system of laws and courts to assist families with the legal issues they face.

Merit selection works. Our family law judges in Maricopa County Superior Court are very well-qualified, and extremely conscientious. I have never had a case where I felt the judge really didn’t care.

 

THE HARD PART

There are really tough issues in family law. It’s challenging to strike a balance in most cases, but some cases are even more difficult. Our society is facing profound changes in our law, some of which were not anticipated, and which could become overwhelming.

It is easy to say what is right about our family law system in Arizona; it is equally easily to be critical.

What is needed is to recognize those things can be fixed, and which most need to be fixed.

 

CHILD SUPPORT AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

These important issues require constant effort and improvement. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has emphasized the importance of child support enforcement, as well as Domestic Violence Shelters.

 

NEEDED REFORM–EXAMPLE ONE

In addition to the efforts Arizona is making in these areas, the tracking system for amounts owed in Maricopa County (Child Support Clearinghouse) needs to be addressed. Having the correct and fair amount of child support be reflected in the records is vital to both parents paying and parents receiving support.

NEEDED REFORM–EXAMPLE TWO

The Story: For privacy I  don’t describe my actual cases or clients; this is merely a story or hypothetical:

In 2008, a man owned a construction company. He believed his company would bring in $175,000 a year in income. His wife wanted $8,000 a month in combined child support and spousal maintenance. He agreed to ten years non-modifiable spousal maintenance. The recession hit. Within a few short years he had lost everything. He declared bankruptcy and worked at Home Depot. A few years more, and he was put in jail for not paying; he owed over $200,000 in back support.

Arizona’s number one statute in need of reform is A.R.S. 25-319C, which provides the parties can agree maintenance terms shall not be modified.

Under Arizona case law, the courts have said the judge cannot change the spousal maintenance if the terms state that it shall not be modified.

 

WHY IS THIS ISSUE TOUGH?

The way I’ve described, it doesn’t sound tough. On these facts, it may seem obvious. It isn’t.

There is a strong policy reason for A.R.S. 25-319C; it allows people to have certainty. There is also a strong policy to enforce child support, and to put people in jail when it isn’t paid.

The answer is a statutory change that allows parties to agree that spousal maintenance shall not be changed, except to avoid manifest injustice. It requires a higher standard for modification, but it would be possible. The balance is tough to strike. Ultimately, judges should be deciding when it needs to be modified.

 

NEEDED REFORM–EXAMPLE TWO

The Story: Let’s use the same man, but in this story we’ll say he lived with the woman, had the same children, but never married her.

How much spousal maintenance would he owe?

Zero.

 

THE TOUGH ISSUE

Should we change our laws in Arizona so that people who cohabitate are treated fairly compared to people who marry? Right now it is certain our law is not fair or equal among high-income-earners; those who cohabitate have a financial benefit over those who marry.