Guide to Spousal Maintenance in Washington

If you and your spouse are seeking a divorce in Washington, one of the terms of your settlement agreement may be alimony, spousal support, or spousal maintenance, as it is referred to in Washington.

Spousal maintenance is a court-ordered sum of money usually paid by the higher wage-earning spouse to the spouse with fewer financial resources. It is meant to facilitate a smoother transition for the receiving spouse during and after the divorce. 

But spousal maintenance isn’t automatically awarded, and it is rarely open-ended. 

What is rehabilitative alimony? Learn more about the types of alimony here.

When is spousal maintenance awarded in Washington?

Spousal maintenance must be requested by the seeker. The court will then consider that person’s financial needs and the other spouse’s ability to pay when making its decision.

Washington courts can award spousal maintenance in any amount for any period of time that they think is fair, considering many different factors. These include the following:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The financial resources, earning capacity, and needs of both people
  • The ability of each person to meet their needs independently
  • How much time would be required for education and training to enable the recipient spouse to become self-supporting
  • If the requesting spouse will be receiving child support
  • The standard of living they enjoyed while married
  • The requesting spouse’s age and physical and mental health

Either spouse can request spousal maintenance, regardless of gender. 

Types of Washington maintenance

Unlike other states, Washington does not categorize support payments based on specific circumstances. The court provides for only two types of spousal support awards: temporary maintenance during the divorce process and maintenance for a prescribed period of time after the divorce. 

As mentioned, one of the primary considerations when awarding spousal maintenance in Washington is the length of the marriage. 

  • Short-term marriages of less than five years typically haven’t changed a spouse’s financial situation to a great degree. So, the court’s objective will be to return the requesting spouse to their premarital financial position. In this case, a spouse may only receive temporary support while the divorce is in process or, in some cases, short-term support after it is final. 
  • Medium-term marriages of 5 to 25 years can significantly affect the financial lives of both people. Although it is not implicitly set out in Washington law, judges often use a rule of thumb that awards one year of spousal maintenance for every three to four years of wedlock. The initial amount may be higher if the requesting spouse must return for re-education or training to become self-sufficient. There may then be a step down in payment until maintenance concludes.
  • Long-term marriage of 25+ years affects a couple’s financial life significantly. In this case, the court most often seeks to equalize the two people’s financial positions until retirement or even permanently.

As a temporary alimony payor, is your expense tax-deductible? Read our article, How 2017’s Tax Bill Changed How Alimony Is Taxed.

How to estimate spousal maintenance in Washington

Washington doesn’t have a formula for spousal maintenance, but various online calculators can give a ballpark estimate. 

With children

Courts in Washington take child support into account when considering an award of spousal maintenance. While child support technically is for the primary support of the children, it can also generally benefit the custodial parent by lowering their living expenses. 

As such, the court may consider whether the requestor will also be receiving child support when determining the amount of spousal maintenance. 

Without children

Without children, the court’s focus will solely be on the needs and capabilities of each spouse. The goal is for each person to maintain a sustainable standard of living without undue hardship.

The money aspect of divorce can escalate your tension to a new level. If you’re divorcing in Washington, it’s important to thoroughly understand your rights and responsibilities when it comes to your financial future. Let us join you on your journey. You can choose from our various online divorce plans, selecting the one that makes you feel most comfortable. You might also benefit from one or more of our flat-rate services, depending on what you need.

We’re here to help. Schedule a free 15-minute phone call to meet one of our account coordinators.