How Is Alimony Determined in Washington State?

April 1, 2023


Alimony goes by many names, including spousal maintenance, spousal support, and more. Regardless of the term used to refer to alimony, you might be curious how much you will be required to pay your ex after having a divorce in Washington State. For many people, spousal support can be a course of worry and confusion throughout the process.

If there is an asset or income inequality between former spouses, or one person has been financially reliant on the others, alimony is a way to financially recover after the marriage has concluded. However, alimony is far from a guarantee in the State of Washington. The court will review your case based on its merits. Understanding spousal maintenance and what it might look like after divorce is essential.

There are a variety of factors in terms of whether alimony will be required. If it is required, the amount of money involved will vary for each former couple. Having a family attorney in Washington is the best way to determine what to expect in terms of spousal support, both related to whether it will be required, and how much it might be.

What Are the Two Types of Alimony in Washington?

As you can see from the examples above, alimony can come in different forms. The two options include:

  1. Maintenance on a temporary basis while the divorce case is going forward
  2. Maintenance that lasts a certain amount of time after the divorce has been finalized

Some states choose to categorize different types of alimony meant to address the circumstances that the couple is accustomed to during the marriage. Washington chooses not to do this. The main purpose of alimony is to address one person’s need for financial support and the other individual’s ability to pay it.

What Factors Go Into the Amount and Length of Alimony?

In the simplest terms, alimony is determined based on one spouse needing financial assistance and the other having the means to pay for it. Based on Washington law, judges can choose to award alimony for a period of time and an amount that the judge finds fair after considering all aspects of the case, including:

  •       The financial resources of the person asking for alimony, including any assets from property division in the divorce and the ability to meet financial needs independently
  •       The amount of time needed to gain training or education required for the spouse on alimony to gain appropriate employment
  •       The standard of living that both parties had while married
  •       The length of the marriage
  •       The financial obligations, age, and emotional and physical condition of the spouse asking for maintenance
  •       Whether the other person can meet their financial obligations and needs while paying alimony

The length of the marriage is only one of many factors a judge will consider when choosing whether to require alimony. However, in many cases, this factor will be considered to a higher degree than other things.

How Marriage Length Affects Alimony

Some people say that a judge awards alimony for a time making up about ¼ of the marriage’s length. This is somewhat accurate but a more accurate summary can be useful.

  •       Short marriage alimony – If you have been married for up to three or five years, this is considered a short marriage. Maintenance will be enough to help the spouse with less income meet their everyday needs for a few months until they are back on their feet. Payments may start to taper off or simply end at a certain point. For short marriages, payments rarely extend beyond the entry of the divorce decree.
  •       Mid-length marriage alimony – Couples who were together for three to 25 years have been in what is called a mid-length marriage. Maintenance to the spouse who earns less might be provided for around 20 to 33% of the marriage length. The amount given could be enough to meet basic needs, equalize the two party’s economic positions, or fall somewhere in the middle. Most of the time, the monthly payments will taper down over time.
  •       Long marriage alimony – Those who were together for around 20 to 25 (more) years were considered to be in a long marriage. In this situation, the maintenance funds tend to be enough to equalize the two people’s economic positions for a large number of years. Sometimes, alimony will be provided for life.

The Impact of Child Support on Alimony in Washington

One of the things the judge will consider when deciding on alimony is the amount of child support that the person will be receiving. This is part of their financial resources when talking about spousal support. While child support is largely for any children, it may have some benefit for the custodial parent by lowering the cost of everyday living expenses.

Is Misconduct Considered When Calculating Alimony?

Washington law says that a judge should not take into account misconduct when determining spousal maintenance. Alimony is not intended to be a punishment, even if the person paying it acted in ways that led to the dissolution of the marriage.

However, as with most things, there are exceptions in certain circumstances. For instance, if one person abused the other, which led to a mental or physical condition, this may affect the person’s need for alimony. If the person’s ability to make a living was impacted by the other spouse, alimony may be required for that reason.

Which Person Pays Spousal Maintenance in Washington?

Either member of the past relationship can request alimony. Gender does not affect the process of requesting it. It also doesn’t affect whether it is provided, what amount is required, or how long alimony will be paid. If one person needs help financially and the other can afford to assist, most judges will order the party with more income to pay alimony to their former spouse.

The Payment and Enforcement of Spousal Maintenance

Most of the time, spousal support involves regular payments, most commonly every two weeks or once a month. However, the way those payments are made can vary, partially depending on whether there are children involved.

  •       When a child support order is in place, the spouse who is paying will be expected to send both child support payments and spousal maintenance to the Washington State Support Registry. The only exception is if the judge agreed to some other type of arrangement for a specific couple.
  •       If there are no children involved, the judge can ask that maintenance be paid directly to the other spouse or the court clerk. In the latter situation, the clerk will send the payment to the other spouse.

If you’re in a situation where the spouse isn’t adhering to the payment schedule put in place by the courts, you do have options. Speak with the court about enforcing the order by filing a formal motion (legal request). This request could be that payments are taken from the other person’s wages. You also can speak to the judge to hold your spouse in contempt of court. This can result in serious fines or even jail time for the paying spouse.

How Long Does Alimony Typically Last?

If the alimony is temporary, it ends as soon as the divorce has been finalized. For other types of alimony, the divorce paperwork will lay out when the alimony ends. Unless each spouse agrees to something different in writing or the decree has different instructions, maintenance will end in the following situations:

  •       The spouse receiving payments registered a new domestic partnership or remarries.
  •       Either of the two spouses die.

The Process to Modify Washington Alimony

Either person can ask the court to terminate or modify the spousal maintenance unless a written agreement says otherwise. However, succeeding in the request can be a bit more complicated. You will be tasked with showing there has been a substantial change in circumstances, such as an income increase or involuntary loss of a job.

In most situations, unless both you and your spouse have an agreement about any proposed changes, modifying alimony is a long process that has a host of legal issues associated with it. For that reason, it’s best to work with an experienced family law attorney in Washington.

Alimony and Taxes

If the divorce was made final before 2019, the spouse making payments can deduct them from federal income taxes. The other spouse will also need to report any payments as income. However, if the divorce was completed later, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act removed the tax deduction and income reporting requirements for spousal support.

Based on this, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not consider alimony payments income for the person who receives them. Likewise, the person who is paying will not receive any tax deductions for paying them.

Secure an Experienced Washington Family Attorney

When it comes to divorce and the possibility of alimony, an expert family law attorney in Washington can be a huge help. This person can look at the factors related to your case and guide you to an outcome that you are satisfied with. Knowing all the options gives you the chance to be flexible and consider the whole picture when determining whether alimony is appropriate for your divorce.

For aggressive and experienced lawyers in Washington, you need look no further than the Aberdeen Law Firm. We work hard to protect you and your family, including with alimony payments that may or may not be required. Our hard-working and committed lawyers have years of experience with people in the exact same position you are in. Get started by contacting us for a free consultation and finding out what options are open to you.

Related Content: How Many Years Do You Have to Be Married to Get Alimony .


Fill our form below or Call (855) 593-1497 Today!