During a divorce, one of the major concerns – from both spouses – is the economic impact of alimony. In Washington, the Courts refer to alimony as spousal maintenance, but the terms are nearly interchangeable. The purpose of maintenance in family law cases in Washington depends on the length of the marriage and the finances involved. Specifically, there are three unofficial tiers of marriage for purposes of Washington spousal maintenance.
Marriages Lasting 0 to 5 Years:
Short term marriages often will go without spousal maintenance as the Court’s assume the relative economic position of the spouses did not change much during the marriage. When maintenance is approved, it is generally utilized for only a handful of months in order to get the lesser earning spouse on his or her feet after separation. The spousal maintenance rarely lasts after the dissolution is finalized.
Marriages Lasting 5-20 Years:
Mid-term marriages generally involve spouses whose finances are significantly intertwined. Perhaps one spouse is a stay-at-home parent and has been out of the work force for quite some time, or maybe one spouse has limited their earning potential to the benefit of the higher earning spouse. For these types of marriages, the unofficial rule of thumb is that maintenance is approved after the divorce is finalized for approximately 25% the length of the marriage. For example, after a ten-year marriage, maintenance usually lasts for two to three years.
Marriages Lasting 20+ Years:
Long-term marriages not only involve economic circumstances that are generally inseparable, but often one spouse has relied on the earning potential of the other for a large portion of their life and would be unable to live a similarly comfortable life without the support of their spouse. In many of these cases, the courts will opt to equalize the finances of the spouses by splitting assets and future income sometimes permanently.
Washington maintenance laws are a confusing mishmash of state statute and court rulings. Understanding your rights and responsibilities is an important first step to ensure you receive the maintenance you are entitled to, and oppositely, that you do not get taken advantage of in the dissolution process. Working with an attorney will propel you into the best position. At Magnuson Lowell, PS, our qualified family law attorneys will analyze your specific financial situation to protect your best interests.