Spousal Maintenance/Alimony/Spousal Support

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What is Alimony or Spousal Maintenance?

In Washington State, alimony is more commonly referred to as spousal maintenance or spousal support. The purpose of spousal maintenance is to support a spouse while he or she becomes self-supporting, or able to earn his or her own living expenses.

Can I receive maintenance if I filed for divorce?

Spousal maintenance can be awarded to either the husband or the wife regardless of who initiated the divorce or why. Washington courts do not consider marital fault when determining spousal maintenance or alimony so it doesn’t matter if a party ‘caused’ the divorce or initiated it; they can still be awarded spousal support if the court determines they are in need.

How long can I receive maintenance or alimony?

Each case is unique. The duration of the marriage is one of the most important factors in determining maintenance as well as the earnings of the party paying maintenance and the party receiving it. Generally, the longer the marriage the longer the court will order maintenance. There is no schedule available when determining maintenance. Instead, the award of spousal maintenance is up to the court to determine.

How does the court decide to order maintenance?

There are several statutory factors that the courts use when setting a maintenance award. The factors include:

  1. The financial resources of the parties seeking maintenance.
  2. The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find employment appropriate to his or her skills.
  3. The standard of living established during the marriage.
  4. The duration of the marriage.
  5. The age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations of the parties seeking maintenance.
  6. The ability of a spouse for whom maintenance is sought to meet his or her needs and financial obligations, while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance.

See RCW 26.09.090

Are there other factors the court considers when determining alimony or spousal maintenance?

In awarding spousal maintenance, the court will consider the property division, including the type and value of property, and whether the property produces income. The court will also consider how the allocation of property is divided. In some cases, there may be an unequal distribution of property where one spouse receives a larger portion of the assets. It is not uncommon for a court to award a 55/45 split of property where the spouse with the lower income receives a larger portion of the assets.

In some cases a spouse may decide to go back to school to get additional education and training. A vocational expert may be hired to testify as to the spouses ability to work, the current job market, and the income the spouse could be expected to earn.

How long can I receive maintenance or alimony?

Maintenance may be temporary (awarded during the pendency of the action) or may last for many years as part of the final decree. The role of maintenance is to equalize the standard of living of the spouses for an appropriate period of time.

Can maintenance or alimony be ordered until death of a spouse?

Lifetime maintenance in Washington is rare, except in cases of a long-term marriage where one spouse is disabled or unable to work because of medical conditions, and the other spouse has the ability to pay long-term maintenance. If the marriage is in excess of 25 years, the court may award lifetime marriage.

Can I still receive maintenance or alimony if I remarry?

Maintenance terminates upon the death of either spouse, or the remarriage of the party seeking maintenance. Sometimes maintenance awards are secured by life insurance on the person paying maintenance so that in the event of his or her death, the life insurance proceeds can be used to pay the maintenance obligation after the death of the party ordered to pay maintenance.

Is maintenance or alimony income?

Maintenance is taxable to the person receiving the award, and deductible to the person paying the award.

Can maintenance or alimony be modified?

Maintenance is generally modifiable. However, the parties may agree to make maintenance non-modifiable. In that event, any maintenance continues for the period of time set forth in the Decree of Dissolution regardless of the change in financial circumstances of the parties.

Do I need an attorney to assist me in obtaining spousal support or maintenance? Do I need an attorney to help me if I am ordered to pay spousal support or maintenance?

I am a skilled and experienced family law attorney with over 35 years experience helping clients in both King and Snohomish County. If you are facing divorce, the lawyer you choose to represent you does matter. You need a tough but fair advocate on your side to ensure your rights are protected. I encourage you to contact me if you are in need of spousal support or if you have been ordered to pay it.

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