When you get divorced in Washington, you need to divide your marital estate. And if you have children, you need to address child support and child custody. But, not all divorces result in the payment of alimony. When deciding whether an award of alimony (technically referred to as “spousal maintenance” in Washington) is appropriate, the courts (and divorcing spouses who are working to terminate their marriage amicably) are required to consider a variety of different factors in light of the unique facts and circumstances involved.
Seeking Alimony in Your Divorce: What Do You Need to Know?
If you are preparing to go through a divorce in which you intend (or hope) to secure alimony, there are several important facts for you to know. Here is a brief introduction to some of the key legal principles and practical considerations that govern alimony determinations in Washington:
1. There Are Different Types of Alimony
When seeking alimony, or spousal maintenance, the first thing you need to know is which type of financial support you are seeking. One option that is available is to seek “temporary” maintenance while your divorce is pending. If you and your spouse are living separately (or if you will be living separately during your divorce), you can seek temporary maintenance to maintain your financial standard of living during the divorce process.
With regard to post-divorce financial support, the primary option is what is known as “rehabilitative” maintenance. Rehabilitative maintenance is intended to provide financial support while you obtain the education or training you need to become self-sufficient. Determining how much rehabilitative maintenance should be awarded and for how long requires a critical assessment of the relevant factors discussed below.
In divorces involving marriages that lasted 25 years or longer, the spouse with the least earning power may have the ability to seek “permanent” spousal maintenance. If, due to the length and circumstances of your marriage it is not realistic to expect that you will become financially independent at the standard of living to which you have become accustomed, then a permanent award of spousal maintenance may be appropriate.
2. There Are Various Factors Used to Determine Alimony
Section 26.09.090 of the Revised Code of Washington is the primary statute governing alimony determinations. It requires a “just” determination of alimony, “without regard to misconduct, after considering all relevant factors, including but not limited to:”
- The spouses’ respective financial resources (including marital assets to be distributed to each spouse in their divorce);
- The spouses’ respective financial obligations (including debts apportioned to each spouse in their divorce);
- The spouses’ respective ages, physical and emotional conditions;
- Each spouse’s ability (or lack thereof) to meet his or her own financial needs independently;
- The amount of time it would take for the spouse with lower earning power, “to find employment appropriate to his or her skill, interests, style of life, and other attendant circumstances;”
- The standard of living established during the marriage;
- The duration of the marriage; and,
- The ability of the spouse who would be paying spousal maintenance to meet his or her own financial needs and obligations while paying maintenance.
There are a number of important takeaways from RCW § 26.09.090. First, it provides for the payment of spousal maintenance, “without regard to misconduct.” This means that if your spouse cheated on you, if you cheated on your spouse, or if either of you engaged in any other form of “marital fault,” this should not affect the determination of alimony. Second, the list of factors is not exclusive. If other circumstances surrounding your divorce are relevant to the determination of spousal maintenance, then they merit consideration during the process. Third, any financial inequity between the spouses is not the sole consideration. Age, health, standard of living, and other circumstances all can (and generally should) influence the determination of alimony as well.
3. There Are Strategies You Can Use to Obtain Spousal Maintenance in Your Divorce
Depending upon the circumstances of your divorce and the type (or types) of spousal maintenance you intend to seek, there are various steps you can take to prepare. There are various strategies you can utilize during the divorce process as well, and making informed decisions based on complete and reliable information is the first step toward achieving your desired outcome. Some of these steps and strategies include:
- Gain a complete picture of your current family finances – Do you know how much you make each year? What about your spouse? How much does your family spend each month on necessities? What about luxuries and other unnecessary items?
- Determine your post–divorce financial needs – Once your marriage is over, how much will you truly need in order to maintain your standard of living? How much debt will you carry from your divorce, and how much will you need in order to cover your monthly expenses?
- Weigh your alternatives – Spousal maintenance and property distribution often go hand-in-hand. Are you willing to give up certain assets in your marital estate in order to negotiate for a larger monthly support payment? Alternatively, could you live with less support if you kept certain pieces of property (such as a residence or car that you own outright)? What other options are you open to considering if your spouse resists your request for spousal maintenance?
- Don’t overlook tax and other related considerations – Tax considerations, personal preferences and priorities, child support payments, and various other factors can all impact a spouse’s need or ability to pay alimony. By examining all of the relevant considerations, you can bring an attractive offer to the table that serves both your and your (soon to be former) spouse’s respective needs.
Speak with a Divorce Lawyer in Tacoma, WA
If you would like more information about seeking spousal maintenance during your divorce, we encourage you to contact us for a confidential initial consultation. To speak with one of our experienced divorce lawyers in Tacoma, WA, please call (253) 470-2356 or request an appointment online today.