Restructuring an entire family is never easy. Add the restructuring of finances to it and that is enough to throw a serious wrench to an already tense situation.
During the course of a marriage, spouses tend to have a system for handling household finances. Some spouses opt to keep their finances in one joint account, while others prefer to keep finances almost completely separate. But most marriages will fall somewhere in between the two. Either way, having an additional party contributing to the income of the household can positively affect household finances. But once a divorce occurs, how do both parties maintain the same standard of living that they once enjoyed during the marriage?
In Washington State, whether a spouse is entitled to spousal support or maintenance upon divorce is dependent on several different factors. If you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement, the court will decide the appropriate amount of alimony to award one party, if any.
Who Is Entitled to an Award of Spousal Support?
Courts award alimony where one spouse has an unmet need and the other spouse has the ability to pay. The party that requests an award of alimony has the burden of proving both these elements. The court determines need and ability to pay based on financial affidavits which the parties are required to file.
Under Washington law, courts may not consider whether one spouse was “at-fault” for the marriage’s demise in awarding alimony. Instead, the court’s determination regarding spousal support depends on the following factors:
- The financial resources available to the requesting spouse to meet their own needs (this can include child support that party receives);
- How long it will take the receiving party to obtain education or training needed to increase their income;
- The standard of living the parties enjoyed during the marriage;
- How long the marriage lasted;
- The requesting party’s age and health;
- The financial needs of the requesting party; and
- The ability of the other spouse to pay while still meeting their own financial needs.
This, however, is not an exhaustive list of the factors that the court will consider in reaching a determination of alimony. A court may take into account any other unique circumstances affecting the parties when entering a decision on spousal support.
There are generally no hard rules or cases that dictate the appropriate amount of alimony that should be awarded in each marriage. These decisions are largely up to the judge’s discretion. Hiring a competent divorce attorney will ensure that this difficult process is fair for all involved, especially as it concerns spousal support or other maintenance.
Types of Spousal Support
There may be several types of spousal support available depending on your individual circumstances.
Temporary Spousal Support
Temporary spousal support is generally available to help support one spouse during the litigation process. This type of award is ideal for someone who relied on their spouse to take care of a majority, or all, of the household bills.
The court may award temporary support to one party for the purpose of allowing them to maintain the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage while the divorce is pending. An experienced divorce lawyer can assist you in obtaining an appropriate alimony award so you can meet your obligations while you’re waiting for the court to finalize your divorce.
Short-Term Spousal Support
Generally, short-term spousal support is awarded in marriages that are of moderate length—anywhere from 5-25 years.
Short-term spousal support would be appropriate for rehabilitative purposes. Rehabilitative support is for the benefit of one spouse that needs time to gain sufficient education or skills to re-enter the workforce. Rehabilitative support can also be for that spouse to acclimate to their new financial status. The ultimate goal is for the court to consider each party’s financial status so that neither party needs to depend on the financial assistance of the State for income post-divorce.
Barring extraordinary circumstances or for fairness, short-term spousal support will not last longer than the length of the marriage.
Permanent Spousal Support
Permanent spousal support may be awarded under exceptional circumstances or where the length of the marriage is considered long-term—over 25 years of marriage. The award of permanent spousal support can be controversial mainly because one party will owe the other monthly maintenance indefinitely.
However, permanent spousal support is not always permanent. There are several circumstances that may terminate an award of permanent spousal support. The Washington Code states that permanent spousal support will automatically terminate upon the:
- Death of either party,
- Remarriage of the party receiving maintenance, or
- Registration of a new domestic partnership of the party receiving maintenance.
Permanent support can be terminated or modified. A modification in spousal support may be warranted if there are changes to the parties’ financial statuses.
Rely on Our Experienced Spousal Support Lawyers
Receiving an award of spousal support can be the difference between financial stability or instability. It is important to have a competent attorney handling your divorce. It does not have to be costly or confusing to receive the most equitable results during litigation or post-divorce. Contact the Tacoma family legal team of Bolan Law Group. We have been advocating for residents of Western Washington since 1977. We know how difficult this time can be, and we want to help. Call us for a consultation today.