Other states have maintenance, but in Washington state we call spousal maintenance or spousal maintenance. Here’s a quick rundown of spousal support in Washington State so you can prepare for your first meeting with your divorce attorney.
What is it? Spousal support is a monthly payment from one spouse to another that has been agreed by divorced spouses or ordered by the court. In general, spousal maintenance is based, inter alia, on the needs of one party in relation to the solvency of the other spouse. See RCW 09.26.090: Maintenance Orders for Spouses or Life Partners – Factors. (wa.gov)
If I divorce, will I be sentenced to pay or receive spousal support? A spouse has the right to claim spousal support in the event of a divorce. Whether a court will award spousal maintenance is determined by careful consideration of the specific circumstances in your case. Does one spouse earn significantly more than the other or do they have significant personal wealth? Has a spouse given up job opportunities to stay home and look after the children? Does the shared property provide enough support for each spouse without the need for an additional monthly payment? Does a spouse have to go back to school to study to find work that will enable them and their children to earn a living? Does one spouse have medical problems that prevent them from working? How old is each spouse and how much time is there for their respective careers? What was the standard of living during the marriage? All of these and other factors can be taken into account when deciding whether to provide spousal support.
How much and how long? Washington does not have a formula for determining spousal support. It is based on the maintenance needs of the receiving spouse and the maintenance ability of the paying spouse. There is a loose guideline that is often used by attorneys for one year of spousal support for every three or four years of marriage. However, this is not required by law and cannot be used as a precedent. The court has a wide discretion in granting spousal support based on the unique facts and circumstances of your case.
The length of your marriage is an important factor. In 1982 King County Judge Robert Winsor wrote an article for the Washington State Bar News that is still widely referred to today. Judge Winsor categorized marriages by duration: short (five years or less), long (25 years or more), and medium-term (anything in between). Winsor claimed that in a short marriage the goal is to put the parties in the economic position they were in at the beginning of the marriage, taking into account interest rates or inflation. Judge Winsor believes that in a short marriage, alimony would be paid only in exceptional circumstances or for a very short adjustment period. In a long-term marriage, the goal is to put the parties in roughly equal financial straits for the rest of their lives, if both of them manage their jobs and assets sensibly. This could lead to a long-term maintenance premium. For medium-term marriages, you should do something in between. It follows that it is in the medium-term marriages that we see the widest range of results. Judge Winsor, “Guidelines for the Exercise of Judicial Discretion in Dissolutions,” Washington State Bar News, vol. 14, p. 16 (Jan 1982).
What if i lose my job? If the court orders you in the spousal maintenance process, you can ask the court to adjust the amount and duration based on circumstances such as loss of work. When you have reached an agreement, as is the case with most divorces, it depends on the terms of your agreement. Many spouses will agree to fixed spousal support in negotiations.
An experienced divorce lawyer can analyze the various factors of spousal support in your particular case and give you a range of reasonable conclusions. It helps to be flexible and look at the bigger picture when it comes to whether the spousal support is reasonable with your divorce.