Understanding Spousal Support and Alimony in Washington

Spousal Support (also known as ‘spousal maintenance’ or ‘alimony’) is money paid by the higher-wage-earning spouse to the lower-wage-earning spouse. If you make more money than your spouse, you may be concerned that you will end up paying spousal support for the rest of your life. While lifelong support is not common, the court may order support for any set period of time It deems appropriate. There is no set schedule or formula for setting spousal support. It is up to each attorney to demonstrate what is fair and reasonable, and for each judge to decide which side is correct.

In a divorce, Washington courts strive to lessen the hardship placed on the more financially dependent spouse by the end of the marriage. The court looks at the length of the marriage and what the dependent spouse will need to become self-sufficient. It also considers the ability of the higher-earning spouse to pay, but the needs of the weak are often found to be more important than the ability of the strong to pay.

The longer the marriage, and the more time your spouse has been unemployed or underemployed, the more likely spousal support will be ordered. However, it is not an absolute thing and, it does not necessarily have to last forever. The family law courts in Washington have enormous discretion when determining the appropriate support award and the duration of the alimony payments. This makes alimony and spousal support one of the more complex, and risky, family law issues in Washington.

How Much Alimony (Spousal Maintenance) Will I Have to Pay?

Spousal support is different from the division of community property that also occurs in a divorce. With spousal support, the court is seeking to set both spouses on a path towards an equal income, not equal property. It is different from Child Support because there is no set formula for calculating alimony. A common situation arises when one spouse has worked full time outside the home during the marriage while the other spouse stayed home and took care of the children. After the divorce, how much time will the unemployed spouse need to become able to support themself? What type of job can they get? Do they need additional education or training? These are all questions the court will consider in determining the amount and length of alimony/support.

It is important to build a strong case for, or against, spousal support. Even in uncontested divorces, spousal support may be awarded by the court. Due to this uncertainty, you need an experienced attorney to provide thoughtful, prudent advice and to negotiate a reasonable settlement.

Military regulations control some aspects of family and spousal support for military members. 


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