Family Law Attorneys Helping with Spousal Maintenance Arrangements for Divorcing Couples
Serving the Bonney Lake, Gig Harbor, Lakewood, Puyallup, University Place Areas of Washington State
Many Washington State final divorce decrees include some provision for spousal maintenance (the “old” or “traditional” term was alimony). It is important to recognize that such spousal maintenance is not part of the property division in the marriage dissolution. It is rather a periodic payment – usually monthly – ordinarily from the income of one ex-spouse to the other. The judge generally weighs two important variables:
- The established “need” of one of the spouses, and
- The established ability to pay of the other spouse
Whether spousal maintenance is ordered at all and in what amounts (as well as the duration of time for which the payments must be made) depends upon the particular circumstances of the case, including the length of the marriage, the education and earning histories of the spouses, earning potential, and health issues preventing employment. Some attorneys also argue that it depends somewhat on the judge. If the payer’s “ex” has a new live-in relationship, does that affect the payment of spousal maintenance? The answer – as with so many legal questions – is that it depends.
Change in Circumstances is Required to Support Modification of Payments
Generally speaking, in Washington State, an award of spousal maintenance cannot be modified unless there has been a “substantial change in circumstances,” that was not contemplated by the parties at the time of their divorce, and that implicates either (a) the ability of one spouse to make their required payments or (b) the financial need of the spouse receiving maintenance.
For example, if the paying spouse loses his or her job, experiences a business failure, or becomes seriously ill, that is often a significant change in circumstances that can support reduction (or even elimination) of spousal maintenance payments. Alternatively, if the spouse receiving the spousal maintenance were to win a substantial lottery, that sudden change in circumstances would also affect the amount and extent of payment.
Cohabitation – Even Remarriage – By Itself, Does Not Justify Modification of Spousal Support
As unfair as this seems to some parties, Washington is essentially a no-fault state when it comes to divorce and spousal maintenance. Accordingly, the mere fact that your ex-spouse has moved in with some or even remarried won’t automatically affect spousal maintenance. If, however, the cohabitation or remarriage substantially improves the economic situation for the spouse receiving the maintenance, the paying spouse certainly has an argument that there has been a “substantial change in circumstances” that should support a modification of the decree. Note that the law provides that spousal support will terminate if the person receiving support remarries. The parties can agree otherwise in the decree, but the default rule is that it will terminate.
Bear in mind that remarriage of the spouse who pays spousal maintenance almost never results in any reduction in payments, even though the paying spouse may argue that it is more expensive now to maintain the new household.
Cohabitation Has No Effect on Child Support Payments
As one would imagine, child support may not be modified merely because the person with primary custody has begun to cohabit with another adult. Recognize that the Washington State courts view child support from the child’s viewpoint, not from the parents’.
Skilled, Experienced Legal Counsel is a Must
Has your former spouse entered into a live-in relationship with another since your divorce decree? Has your former spouse remarried? Have the economic circumstances in place at the time of the divorce changed such that a modification is in order? Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S. has more than 30 years of combined experience providing quality family law services to individuals throughout the Pacific Northwest. If there’s a simple solution, that’s our first choice. We work closely with you to resolve matters quickly and economically. Contact us on the web, or call our office at 253-272-2997.