Downing v. Downing – 11/25/2011

December 6, 2011

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two Holds That A.R.S. § 25-530 Requires Court to Ignore Service-Related Federal Disability Benefits in Determining Spousal Maintenance Awards.

In a marital dissolution proceeding, the former husband (“Husband”) filed a motion to terminate spousal maintenance of his former wife (“Wife”) pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-530.  The recently enacted statute requires that “[i]n determining whether to award spousal maintenance or the amount of any award of spousal maintenance, the court shall not consider any federal disability benefits awarded to the other spouse for service-connected disabilities pursuant to 38 United States Code chapter 11.”  Following a hearing, the trial court reduced Husband’s maintenance obligation to $100 a month — half the difference between the parties’ incomes after disregarding Husband’s federal disability benefits.  Wife appealed.

The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed. 

Under A.R.S. § 25-319(B), a court must consider certain enumerated factors in determining the amount of a spousal maintenance award, including the comparative financial resources and earning abilities of the spouses, and the ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet his or her needs while maintaining those of the spouse seeking maintenance.  Because § 25-530 required the trial court to ignore Husband’s federal disability benefits for purposes of determining the amount of a spousal maintenance award, the trial court correctly disregarded those benefits in making its determination under § 25-319(B).

The Court of Appeals rejected Wife’s argument that, if the court ignores Husband’s service-connected disability benefits, it must also ignore that Husband’s service-connected disability reduces his earning ability.  Although Section 25-319 requires the court to ignore service-related disability benefits, it does not require the court to ignore the disability itself.

Wife’s equal protection argument that § 25-530 discriminates on the basis of gender was grounded on unsupported assumptions that could not serve as a basis to conclude that the statute is unconstitutional. 

Judge Brammer authored the opinion; Presiding Judge Eckerstrom and Chief Judge Howard concurred.