In re the Marriage of: GENE R. AMES, Petitioner/Appellee,
JULIE L. AMES, Respondent/Appellant.
Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. FN2003-001250 The Honorable Richard Albrecht, Judge Pro Tempore
Scott L. Patterson, PLLC, Tempe By Scott L. Patterson Counsel for Respondent/Appellant
Owens & Perkins, P.C., Scottsdale By Max Nicholas Hanson Counsel for Petitioner/Appellee
Chief Judge Michael J. Brown delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Acting Presiding Judge Samuel A. Thumma and Judge Randall M. Howe joined.
BROWN, Chief Judge
¶1 This opinion addresses whether the trial court erred in dismissing a petition for enforcement of spousal maintenance based on Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") section 25-553, which provides that a party may not seek a judgment on spousal maintenance arrearages more than "three years after the spousal maintenance order terminates." Because the court properly concluded that the petition was not timely filed, we affirm.
¶2 The marriage of Julie L. Ames ("Wife") and Gene R. Ames ("Husband") terminated in June 2003 upon the entry of a consent judgment and decree of dissolution. The decree stated that Husband would pay Wife spousal maintenance of $1, 000 per month for four years.
¶3 In May 2014, Wife filed a petition to enforce the spousal maintenance order, alleging Husband owed her more than $46, 000 for missed payments plus interest from July 2003 through April 2014. In support of her petition, Wife filed an unsigned pleading titled "Affidavit of Direct Payments, " together with email correspondence, alleging that Husband made only eighteen of the forty-eight monthly payments and, even then, paid less than the designated amount when he made sixteen out of those eighteen payments. Wife alleged further that she had repeatedly contacted Husband regarding his failure to make the court-ordered payments, which often resulted in Husband making renewed efforts to meet his obligation.
¶4 Husband and Wife represented themselves at a subsequent hearing on the petition. In response to questioning from the trial court, they agreed that the "total of [the] past due obligation" was $29, 673.26. At that point, however, Husband orally moved to dismiss the petition, contending the action was barred by a three-year statute of limitations (A.R.S. § 25-553) governing enforcement of spousal maintenance orders. Wife responded that she had "addressed" that issue in her petition, and the trial court took the matter under advisement.
¶5 Several days later, the trial court entered a signed order dismissing the petition to enforce spousal maintenance. The court explained that the spousal maintenance obligation began in July 2003, terminated in July 2007, and that Wife waited more than three years after the order terminated to seek enforcement, in contravention of A.R.S. § 25-553(A).
¶6 Through counsel, Wife filed a motion to amend the order or, alternatively, for a new trial. With greater specificity, Wife argued that she and Husband had "kept in contact over the years regarding the payment of the spousal maintenance award, " Husband "made repeated promises to make additional payments in the future, " and he had made continuous monthly payments of differing amounts from January 2007 to February 2011. Wife also argued the court violated her right to procedural due process by ruling on the oral motion to dismiss without providing her an opportunity to file a written response. Finally, Wife argued that because the decree did not expressly identify a specific date on which the spousal maintenance order would end, it did not terminate until the obligation was paid in full, and therefore A.R.S. § 25-553 did not bar her claim. The trial court denied Wife's motion to amend/motion for new trial and this timely appeal followed.