Experienced Family Law Attorneys for Spouses and Domestic Partners Seeking to Secure Alimony or Limit Their Obligation to Pay Maintenance in Washington State
Washington law provides for maintenance (also known as “spousal support” or “alimony”) following the dissolution of a marriage or domestic partnership. In seeking to establish your right to receive alimony or limit your obligation to pay maintenance, it is critical to have a thorough understanding of the legal principles and procedures involved. While the law is less prescriptive with regard to alimony as compared to other aspects of a divorce or dissolution, separating spouses and domestic partners will often have very different opinions about what constitutes an appropriate maintenance award.
Yes. Maintenance and child support serve different purposes. Maintenance is intended to put former spouses or partners on (roughly) equal financial footing – either by providing the resources necessary for a dependent spouse or partner to pursue financial independence or by providing long-term support to a former spouse or partner who is unlikely to be able to attain independence. In contrast, child support awards are specifically designed to meet the financial needs of the couple’s children until they reach the age of majority (in most circumstances).
However, as you may have noticed, receipt of child support is included in the maintenance factors we listed above. Since child support payments will typically cover expenses that would also be covered by alimony (such as rent/mortgage payments and utility bills), judges in Washington will frequently reduce maintenance awards for spouses and domestic partners who also receive child support.
In any divorce or dissolution, maintenance is potentially on the table. Washington’s maintenance statute does not establish any hard-and-fast rules or specific conditions that must be satisfied in order for one spouse or domestic partner to be entitled to financial support from the other.
As a general rule, however, the longer the parties have been together, the greater the chance that the spouse or partner with the least-stable financial situation will be entitled to maintenance following their divorce or dissolution. For couples that have been together 25 years or longer, there is case law to suggest that maintenance should be used to put the parties on equal financial footing on a permanent basis.
Schedule a Consultation With a Tacoma, WA Family Lawyer
If you are preparing for a divorce or dissolution and would like more information about maintenance in Washington, contact Bolan Law Group for an initial consultation. To schedule an appointment with one of our experienced family lawyers, call 253-470-2356 or inquire online today.
In Washington, the courts are required to consider a number of statutory factors when awarding maintenance in connection with a divorce or dissolution. These factors should also guide spouses and domestic partners who are resolving their differences amicably out of court. The primary factors to be considered when establishing a maintenance award in Washington are:
- The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance. This includes separate property belonging to the party seeking maintenance, as well as his or her: (i) share of community property, (ii) ability to earn a living independently, and (iii) entitlement to child support.
- The time required for the party seeking maintenance to attain financial independence. The party seeking maintenance is entitled to pursue employment that is, “appropriate to his or her skill, interests, [and] style of life.”
- The standard of living established during the marriage or domestic partnership. Generally speaking, a maintenance award should allow the recipient spouse or domestic partner to maintain the standard of living enjoyed prior to the divorce or dissolution.
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Are minors required to testify in court?
Any person who is “competent” to testify, whether or not they are a minor, can be required to testify in court. Competence generally means that the person understands the difference between truth and falsehood and understands the duty to tell the truth. Competency also requires that a person have personal knowledge of the topics about which they are called to testify.Even though children may be competent and qualified to testify in court, many courts look unfavorably on children testifying. This is especially true in family law cases. Calling a child to testify in a family law case often involves asking the child to testify against a parent, which is not in the best interest of a child.
What constitutes a “severe economic hardship” in a child support case?
The term “severe economic hardship” can be relevant in child support cases in a few different circumstances. If a parent or child is experiencing a severe economic hardship, that can be a basis for the court to modify an order of child support. Economic hardship to the parent receiving child support may be a factor in determining how much the other parent is required to pay. Also, economic hardship may be a basis for the court to increase child support in steps, as opposed to all at once.
There is no exact definition of economic hardship. It is a condition that depends on the specific circumstances of each case. However, if an economic hardship is self-created, it likely will not be a basis to modify child support or use a graduated increase. Self-created hardships may include voluntarily quitting a job or reducing work hours to part time. On the other hand, involuntary financial situations, such as a medical emergency or layoff, may be a basis for modification of child support.
Can spousal maintenance (or alimony) be changed after the divorce decree is entered?
Yes, unless the decree specifically states that the obligation to pay spousal support (or alimony) is non-modifiable. This obligation will only be changed by the court after entry of the decree in exceptional circumstances. This may include a drastic and unexpected change in income of either party or that one party failed to disclose assets in the divorce process.
What constitutes domestic violence, and what can I do about it?
Domestic violence is defined as (a) physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, between family or household members; (b) sexual assault of one family or household member by another; or (c) stalking as of one family or household member by another family or household member.
“Family or household members” includes, but is not limited to, spouses, domestic partners, former spouses, former domestic partners, persons who have a child in common, adults related by blood or marriage, adults who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past, and people who have a biological or legal parent-child relationship, including stepparents and stepchildren and grandparents and grandchildren.
If you are the victim of domestic violence, you can seek a domestic violence protection order. The order may restrain the respondent from having any contact with you; from coming to your home or workplace; from coming within a certain distance of you, your home, or workplace; and/or from harassing, stalking, or keeping you under surveillance. In Pierce County, you can apply for a protection order in Room 108 of the Pierce County Superior Court, at the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, or at a domestic violence kiosk. More information can be found here.