Are you facing divorce in Washington State? You may wonder if you qualify for alimony in Washington and what the rules are in your state. When you are facing the life-altering experience of divorce, consulting an experienced divorce attorney can help you better understand the laws that govern divorce and spousal support.
What Is Alimony?
Alimony is also called spousal support or spousal maintenance. When one spouse needs financial help from the other after a divorce, the court can order alimony payment. Each state has its own laws regarding spousal support, and courts tend to have flexibility with whether or not to award alimony, how much they should award, and how long the payments will last.
The purpose of alimony is to ensure that neither spouse is left penniless and unable to care for themselves or the children after a divorce. Spouses are encouraged to be self-supporting, but the court understands that sometimes a spouse needs financial help to be independent. This is especially true when one spouse left their career to become the caregiver for the family.
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Types of Spousal Support in Washington
In Washington, a judge can award three types of alimony. Those types of maintenance are as follows:
- Temporary support: Divorces are not a quick process and aren’t cheap. One spouse often requires help from the other while the divorce is processed. Sometimes, the court will award temporary support so both spouses can remain financially solvent during the divorce process, even if one of them doesn’t have a job. This kind of spousal maintenance is only paid while the divorce is pending finalization, and it stops when the judge signs the final divorce decree.
- Short-term support: Often, a spouse who has been dependent on the other spouse can become financially independent, but they may need assistance and time to obtain the job skills or education they need to get a job that will provide for their needs. For example, if one spouse stayed home with the children while the other worked and gained new career skills, the court could order the spouse who worked throughout the marriage to pay short-term support, so the other spouse can gain new skills or education to return to work. Short-term support is also called rehabilitative maintenance, and the judge typically adds an ending date or event for this kind of support. The courts will sometimes allow the spouse receiving support to request an extension or review of the provision before it ends.
- Long-term support: This type of support is sometimes referred to as permanent support. It’s rare for long-term maintenance to be awarded, but it happens on occasions when a spouse isn’t expected to become self-supporting. For example, this type of support could be granted if one spouse can’t obtain work due to advanced age or disability or if the spouse can’t obtain the necessary skills to acquire gainful employment.
How Do You Qualify for Spousal Support in Washington?
The primary qualification for spousal support in Washington is demonstrating the need for help on the part of one spouse and the ability to pay on the part of the other. Before evaluating the need for alimony, the judge will divide the marital property, determine who will have custody, approve or order a parenting plan, and calculate who pays child support and how much must be paid.
When the court determines that spousal support is appropriate, the judge will determine what kind of maintenance to award, how much, and for how long. The judge doesn’t have a formula for determining maintenance awards, but there are factors to consider. Those factors are as follows:
- The financial resources the spouse who requested support has, such as property and any child support they are receiving.
- How long it is expected to take for the supported spouse to obtain the training or education they need to find employment?
- Standard of living while the couple was married.
- How long the couple was married?
- Personal details such as age, physical or emotional condition, and financial obligations of the person requesting support.
- The likelihood the spouse ordered to pay support will be able to remain financially independent and still pay support.
As with most other issues handled in a divorce, spouses can choose to negotiate the terms of the maintenance associated with their divorce. If you and your spouse agree to the kind, amount, and duration of the support, typically, the court will approve the order for support.
Maintenance Norms in Washington
It’s often said that judges in Washington award alimony for a length of time that equals approximately 25% of the length of the marriage. This is a rough estimate, but there is a more accurate way of looking at how judges typically award spousal support in Washington.
With a short marriage (0-3 or 0-5 years of marriage), the court usually awards enough maintenance to meet the basic everyday needs of the spouse who earns less for a few months. This award allows them to get back on more solid financial ground. The payments usually end there or suddenly taper off, and they rarely last beyond the divorce decree’s entry.
Judges are required by law to consider both the requesting spouse’s need for maintenance and the paying spouse’s ability to pay spousal support. Alimony shouldn’t be more than the potential recipient’s needs or the potential payor’s ability to pay. The need and ability are considered relative to the other spouse. For example, a working spouse who is barely able to meet their own obligations could be required to pay maintenance if the other spouse didn’t work during the marriage, has no income, and hasn’t had the opportunity to seek a job; however, if the parties are on relatively equal economic footing, alimony would be inappropriate.
The assessment of need is also considered in relation to the length of the marriage. When a shorter marriage ends, the court usually looks at needs as relating to basic needs. For that reason, someone seeking support after a brief marriage might only receive enough alimony in Washington to ensure they are eating. When the marriage was longer, the courts attempt to equalize the economic status between the recipient and the payor. If the marriage was very long, the judge might order that the recipient receive as much as half of their ex’s monthly income.
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How Child Support Impacts Alimony in Washington
Before determining whether spousal support is appropriate, the court should first determine who pays child support and how much. That determination will help the judge decide whether any further maintenance is necessary. Child support is for the children, but it’s also beneficial to the parent because payment of the child’s expenses benefits everyone who lives in the same household.
Child support causes a dramatic reduction in the amount of alimony that is awarded to the child’s parent. Often, the reduction is a dollar-for-dollar difference. This is especially true when the court is trying to equalize financial positions. Judges will often only award maintenance in an amount that leaves the recipient with half or less of the family’s income, and that amount has the child support factored into it.
Misconduct and Spousal Maintenance
Washington is a no-fault state when it comes to divorce, but that doesn’t mean that a judge can never consider a spouse’s misconduct. Rather, Washington courts aren’t allowed to punish an individual for causing the divorce. Misconduct is relevant to other portions of the proceedings. For example, wrongfully decreasing income to avoid an alimony award or hiding financial information can be considered when it comes to determining maintenance awards.
It’s important to understand the difference between how divorce is handled in an at-fault divorce and how it’s handled in a no-fault state. In an at-fault divorce state, alimony or property allotment can be decreased for the person who caused the divorce. For example, if one party caused the divorce by cheating on the other person, that person might receive no spousal support and very little property in the divorce. However, determining who caused the divorce can be impossible because both parties play a role in the breakdown of a marriage, and attempting to discover who is at fault creates a more antagonistic process.
Washington State doesn’t look at who caused the divorce. Instead, the state looks at what is in the best interests of the children and the people involved.
When couples in Washington State seek a divorce, the question of spousal support is decided based on the need of the recipient and the ability of the payor to pay the support. If you have questions about alimony in Washington, contact the lawyers at the Aberdeen Law Firm.
Related Content: What Constitutes a No-Fault Divorce in Bellevue, Washington?