PHEONIX — Last week, the media reported that conservative state lawmakers in West Virginia were pushing new legislation to deny spousal support to divorcing spouses who’d committed infidelity. Now, Arizona has jumped on the bandwagon too.
Republican state senator Linda Gray wants cheating and adultery to qualify as “misconduct” in a divorce. The proposed legislation SB1206, if passed, would allow evidence of “misconduct” that could potentially affect issues such as property division, child support, and spousal support (known in the state as “spousal maintenance”). The law wouldn’t stop judges from granting divorces in any way, as long as the marriages are considered “irretrievably broken”.
There has been no date set yet for a hearing on the proposed legal change.
Senator Gray also feels that domestic violence, verbal abuse, abandonment, and financial irresponsibility (such as gambling away assets or spending money on an extramarital partner, for example) should count as misconduct as well. However, Arizona has not considered infidelity as a factor in divorce outcomes since the 1970s.
“Sometimes in a relationship,” Gray, who represents Glendale County, AZ, said to the East Valley Tribune, “people really have a good cause on why they are getting divorced. If there has been abuse, why not let the judge know that?”
The legislation was created in part by Cathi Herrod, the president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative organization that promotes pro-family views. Herrod told theTribune that her proposed change “would enable the judge to say to the party who wanted the divorce, ‘You take the business and the debt,’ [and to] the party who didn’t want the divorce and still has a child at home, ‘You get the house free and clear and you restart your life.'”
However, not everybody thinks the requested legislation will be of any benefit to divorcing couples, and some feel it may cause more harm than good.
“You’re really inviting the parties to start bringing up who had the affair first and all these other issues. It’s really going to expand the litigation,” Judge Colleen McNally, who serves Maricopa County Superior Court, told the same paper. She added that such finger-pointing about infidelity and cheating in court “really has a negative effect on the kids.” The Arizona Legislature makes divorcing parents go to special classes to help them diffuse conflict and focus on the children’s needs, but Gray’s and Herrod’s legislation would detract from these positive efforts: “The whole focus of that class is [to help you] understand that something went wrong in your personal life, but you’ve got these kids. Let that go. Focus on [them].”
The legislation does not fully define “misconduct”. Although Herrod reportedly intended it to imply adultery and spousal abuse, Judge McNally questioned the vague language, saying to the East Valley Tribunethat it could very well mean, “‘Who didn’t pick up their socks?'”
Arizona family law currently doesn’t guarantee spousal maintenance; spousal support usually goes to ex-spouses who have no means to support themselves, or who supported their exes through school, in longer marriages. In general, Arizona divorce law divides property equitably between divorcing spouses, with no consideration for marital misconduct.
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