Do I Have to Support My Wife After Divorce in Washington State? 

February 16, 2023

After years of marriage, you’re facing divorce. If you have children, you know that you and your spouse are responsible for continuing to provide for them. However, you may wonder if you will have to support your spouse after your divorce in Washington State. This article will discuss what you need to know about alimony in Washington State.

What Is Alimony?

Alimony is also called spousal maintenance. It’s a court-ordered payment one spouse makes to the other to help ensure that neither spouse becomes impoverished due to a divorce. Spouses are encouraged to be self-sufficient, but sometimes one spouse needs assistance to reach an independent state.

Spousal support isn’t an automatic award in Washington State. It also isn’t based on gender, meaning either spouse can be ordered to pay spousal support.

What Do I Do If I Want to Receive Alimony?

In Washington, alimony isn’t an automatic award as a part of the divorce process, but there are some things you can do if you think you deserve to receive spousal support.

  • You can request a support order as part of your divorce.
  • You and your spouse can agree on spousal support and request that the judge makes it part of the court order.
  • Ask the judge to determine if you are entitled to spousal support.

These are ways to request spousal support, but they don’t guarantee that the judge will make the order. The request must be made during the original divorce process. You aren’t allowed to request spousal support once your divorce is finalized.

Types of Support in Washington

Judges in Washington State have the option of ordering one of three kinds of spousal support.

Temporary Support

Divorces take time. They aren’t inexpensive, and often one spouse needs at least a little financial help from the other one while the divorce is in process. Sometimes, the court will award temporary support so both spouses can pay their bills during the divorce process, even if they don’t have a job. Temporary support only lasts until the divorce is finalized.

Short-term Support

Sometimes, one spouse can become independent, but they need extra time to do so. This could be because they need more advanced education or new skills to be able to obtain a job that allows them to be independent. For example, if the wife has stayed home to raise the children while the husband was the provider, she may not have the job skills needed to re-enter the workforce. The court could order short-term support to allow her to go to school or take a training course to help her find a job.

With short-term support, the judge will include a date the support ends within the court order. Sometimes, the termination point is centred around an event, college graduation, for example. Often, the person receiving support can petition for an award extension or a review of the situation before the end date arrives.

Long-term Support

Long-term support, also called permanent support, is rare. However, there are occasions when this kind of support is ordered for spouses who can’t support themselves. Long-term support isn’t likely if you’ve only been married for a short time. However, if you’ve been married for a long time, 25 years, for example, and one spouse is unable to work because of age, disability, or the inability to obtain the skills they need to find a job, a judge could order long-term, indefinite support.

Remarriage or Domestic Partnership

Unless the judge states otherwise in their order, the spousal support ends if the spouse receiving support enters a new domestic partnership or remarries. Another event that ends spousal support is the death of either spouse.

How to Qualify for Spousal Support in Washington

The determination to order spousal support in Washington is based on need and ability to pay. That means the spouse receiving the support must demonstrate they need financial help. The spouse who is ordered to pay the support must also be able to pay.

Before a judge determines if there is a need for spousal support, they will allocate the couple’s property and other assets. Custody of the children will be established, the parenting plan approved, and the support for the children will be determined. Those calculations will help the judge decide if spousal support is necessary.

If the judge decides that spousal support is needed, the judge decides the kind, amount, and length of the spousal support for the case. There isn’t a formula for determining how much maintenance to award to spouses. The following factors are used instead:

  • The receiving spouse’s financial resources, including any child support they receive
  • How long the supported spouse will need to acquire education or skills to enter the workforce
  • What the standard of living was during the marriage
  • How long the couple was married
  • The receiving spouse’s age, mental, emotional, and physical health, and current financial obligations
  • Whether the paying spouse will be able to maintain financial stability while paying support to their spouse

Spouses can work together to negotiate the terms of spousal support as a part of their divorce. If you and your spouse can agree on the kind, amount, and length of time for spousal support, the court will typically approve your suggested spousal support agreement.

How Spousal Support Payments Are Made

Judges have full discretion regarding the frequency of support payments and how they are made. In Washington, judges often order periodic payments. Those typically are required monthly or bi-weekly. Usually, these payments are made by income withholding that is withheld from the paying spouse’s check and forwarded to the appropriate state agency by their employer.

The rules can be adjusted for self-employed spouses or those who don’t receive regular paychecks. In these cases, the judge could order a lump-sum payment. That could be one payment, or it could be multiple payments made over a short period.

Rarely the judge could order a spouse to transfer the title to personal property to the other spouse to be counted as the maintenance payments.

Can an Order for Spousal Support Be Modified in Washington?

Unless the judge specifically orders against it, either spouse can request a change to a spousal support order. To request the change, the spouse must demonstrate that there has been a significant change in circumstances since the spousal support order was signed. For example, if the paying spouse lost their ability to work due to illness or accident, they can request the court review the case and determine whether spousal support is still appropriate.

If you’re the paying spouse, and you are requesting a modification to your maintenance order, you must continue to pay the current ordered amount unless the judge tells you otherwise. If you don’t follow the existing court order, you could be called to attend a hearing and explain why you aren’t following the court order. The judge could then order you to pay your ex-spouse’s attorney’s fee, court costs, or a fine. You could also be sentenced to jail time for failure to comply with a court order.

If the spousal support were originally payable in a lump sum or through property transfer, that order would usually be considered unable to be modified.

Spousal Support and Taxes

Spousal support was once considered income for the receiving spouse for tax purposes. The paying spouse could also use the maintenance payments as a tax deduction. However, that changed with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Act eliminated the ability to claim a tax deduction and the responsibility to claim the payments as income for any divorce that was finalized or modified after January 1, 2019.

What Happens If the Paying Spouse Gets Behind on Support Payments?

If you’re receiving support payments and your spouse gets behind on payments, you can file a contempt motion with the court. When you file a contempt motion, you ask the court to enforce the support order and make your spouse pay the support. Since this is a legal process, you should ask your divorce attorney to assist you with filing a contempt request.

Get the Help You Need

With any process associated with a divorce proceeding, you should have a qualified divorce attorney advocating for you. These professionals understand the state’s laws and can help guide you through the correct procedures when dealing with a divorce. An experienced divorce attorney can help you present the appropriate information to the court to determine whether you should receive or pay support to your spouse in a Washington divorce case.

If you’re facing divorce or need a modification of your support order, contact the attorneys at the Aberdeen Law Firm. The experienced attorneys with the Aberdeen Law Firm can help you navigate the divorce process from start to finish.

Related Content: The Ultimate Guide To Divorce in Washington



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