Schultz v. Schultz (2017)

In Schultz v. Schultz, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the family court’s decision to credit a litigant for direct payments of spousal maintenance.

During their divorce, the parties agreed Father would owe Mother spousal maintenance of $3,000 per month for three years. 

In Arizona, support obligations (spousal maintenance and child support) are typically ordered through the Clearinghouse, which facilitates the payment and maintains a complete payment history.

When Father fell behind on his obligation, Mother field a petition for contempt. Mother alleged that Father owed $35,000 in unpaid spousal maintenance, based on the Clearinghouse’s payment history. Father asserted that he paid some of his obligation directly and he should be credited for direct payments not reflected in the Clearinghouse’s records. Father presented canceled checks to Mother totaling $18,210. Mother admitted receipt of these funds but argued that Father was not entitled to any credit pursuant to A.R.S. § 46-441(H), which states: “Payment of any money directly to an obligee or to a person other than the support payment Clearinghouse shall not be credited against the support obligation unless the direct payments were ordered by the court, or made pursuant to a written support agreement by the parties.”

The trial court credited Father because it considered the parties’ consent decree to be a “written agreement” and the decree did not specify that payments could not be made directly. It also found that Mother failed to assert this defense when she accepted payments directly. Based on the unreasonableness of Mother’s position, the trial court ordered her to pay a portion of Father’s attorney’s fees.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s rulings. It reasoned that Mother voluntarily and knowingly waived her claim when she accepted direct payments without objection.