In Washington, there are two issues that are involved in every divorce. These are: (i) the division of the spouses’ marital property; and (ii) ensuring, to the extent possible, that both spouses will be able to continue to enjoy the standard of living established during their marriage after their divorce.
The means for achieving the latter is through the payment of spousal support. Washington law establishes a list of factors to be considered when calculating spousal support, but it does not establish specific guidelines or a set formula that divorcing spouses must use. As a result, spouses must negotiate spousal support during the divorce process. In the event that they are unable to reach an agreement, then each spouse will need to present his or her case to a judge who will issue a binding decision.
Answers to Five Important Questions about Spousal Support in Washington
Establishing spousal support during a divorce in Washington presents some challenges, but spouses can overcome these challenges with an informed approach and the help of experienced legal counsel. Here are answers to five important questions about spousal support from the attorneys at Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S., in Tacoma, WA:
1. Is There a Difference between Spousal Support, Spousal Maintenance, and Alimony?
In Washington, there is no difference between spousal support, spousal maintenance, and alimony. These terms are used interchangeably, and most people are more familiar with the terms spousal support and alimony. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) uses the term “maintenance,” but this term is less-frequently used in discussions during the divorce process.
2. How Is Spousal Support Calculated in Washington?
When calculating alimony during a divorce, spouses and their attorneys need to focus on the factors listed in Section 26.fSection 26.09.09009.090 of the RCW. This section of the law states that “the court may grant a maintenance order for either spouse . . . . [and t]he maintenance order shall be in such amounts and for such periods of time as the court deems just, without regard to misconduct, after considering all relevant factors.” These factors include, but are not limited to:
- Financial Resources – The first factor examines the financial resources of the spouse who is seeking maintenance. This includes (i) any separate and community assets the spouse will own after the divorce, and (ii) the recipient spouse’s ability to meet his or her financial needs independently.
- Employability – The second factor examines the recipient spouse’s current ability to earn an income post-divorce. This includes, “[t]he time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to . . . find employment appropriate to his or her skill, interests, style of life, and other attendant circumstances.”
- Standard of Living – The third factor is the standard of living that the couple enjoyed during their marriage. In Washington, spousal maintenance awards are intended to allow both spouses to maintain their standard of living, post-divorce.
- Duration of the Marriage – The fourth factor is the duration of the marriage. Generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the longer the duration of spousal maintenance that may be awarded.
- Age, Health, and Financial Condition – The fifth factor focuses on the recipient spouse’s overall physical, psychological, and financial health. The statute specifically requires consideration of his or her, “age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations.”
- Ability to Pay – The sixth factor listed in Section 26.09.090 is the paying spouse’s ability to pay. This requires examination of the payor’s ability to meet his or her own financial obligations while also paying maintenance as agreed or ordered.
None of these factors inherently weighs heavier than any other, and this list is not exclusive. When negotiating spousal maintenance during their divorce, spouses have a significant amount of flexibility to arrive at a mutually-agreeable award in terms of both amount and duration.
3. How Long Do Spousal Support Awards Last in Washington?
Just as there is no set formula for calculating the amount of spousal support in Washington, there are also no specific guidelines for establishing the duration of a spousal support award. As noted above, the duration of the marriage is a factor in determining the duration of maintenance, and the courts in Washington have indicated that a marriage of 25 years or longer may justify an award of permanent alimony. For shorter marriages, the duration of the marriage is just one factor that must be considered along with the other factors discussed above.
4. Can Either Spouse Request a Modification of Spousal Support after Their Divorce?
Washington law allows for the modification of spousal support awards after a divorce, but only under very limited circumstances. Specifically, the spouse seeking a modification of spousal support (including termination of spousal support) must be able to demonstrate that a “material change” justifies his or her request. Examples of material changes include a significant change in income (e.g., loss of a job) or discovering that one spouse hid assets or income during the divorce. Spouses can modify maintenance awards by agreement in Washington, but their agreement is subject to court approval.
5. If a Spousal Support Recipient Remarries, Does the Obligation to Pay End?
In Washington, the general rule is that the remarriage of the recipient spouse justifies the termination of maintenance payments. However, the parties can negotiate terms that vary from this general rule.
Speak with a Spousal Support Lawyer in Confidence
The attorneys at Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S., represent spouses in Tacoma, WA, with respect to establishing and modifying spousal support and all other divorce-related matters. If you would like more information about Washington’s maintenance laws, we encourage you to contact us for a confidential consultation. To speak with one of our attorneys at a convenient time for you, please call us directly or tell us how we can help online today.