Ending a marriage is a significant life event, as it marks the conclusion of a partnership and the beginning of a newly independent life for both former spouses. Whether your marriage lasted only a few months or endured for several decades, the divorce process can seem like an intimidating undertaking. As you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse explore your options for legally dissolving your marriage, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed by the number of monumental decisions ahead of you. For example, you will need to determine how to divide your marital property in an equitable manner, address which of you will remain in your home (or if selling the property will best suit your needs), and explore whether spousal maintenance is appropriate for your situation. Spousal maintenance, also referred to as spousal support or alimony, enables both parties to enjoy a solid financial foundation as they transition from married life to their independent ways of living. Spousal maintenance negotiations can become heated and complex, especially when the parties do not share similar goals. When you enlist the guidance of a knowledgeable and caring Seattle divorce attorney, you can trust that this legal professional will help you advocate for your best interests and secure the most fair and favorable outcome. Let’s take a look at how spousal maintenance matters typically work in Washington State and how working with an experienced and understanding King County divorce lawyer can help you achieve your goals.
First, it’s helpful to recognize why spousal maintenance is available to divorcing spouses in Washington State. It’s somewhat rare for both spouses to walk away from the marriage with the exact same earning capacity; in many marriages, one spouse earns more than the other. In some cases, one spouse is the sole wage earner, while the other forgoes a career to take care of the home or raise children. However, when the marriage ends, the spouse with little earning capacity will likely need financial assistance in order to attend classes or obtain a certification to reenter the workforce and find gainful employment. In cases like these, the Washington court may order the higher-earning spouse to pay spousal maintenance to the lower-earning spouse during this transitional period. The spousal maintenance may end once the lower-earning spouse has found a steady job. For other divorcing couples, spousal maintenance may continue indefinitely. Essentially, spousal maintenance ensures that both spouses are able to walk away from the marriage with the stable financial support they need to begin the next phase of their newly independent lives.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to determining the amount of spousal maintenance one spouse will pay the other. Instead, the judge will assess a wide range of factors in order to establish a spousal maintenance agreement that works best for the unique needs and circumstances of each divorcing couple. Below are just a few of the main factors (outlined in RCW 26.09.090) that play a role in determining spousal maintenance calculations in Washington State.
Spousal maintenance is one component of the divorce proceedings. The couple must also negotiate an equitable division of property (it’s essential to understand that “equitable distribution” does not always mean an even fifty-fifty split). In cases where the higher-earning spouse has a considerable amount of separate property (i.e., property or financial assets that belonged to them before entering into the marriage), the judge may determine that it’s fair to have this individual pay spousal maintenance to the lower-earning spouse to compensate for this substantial gap in personal assets.
In many marriages, one spouse provided the majority of the household income, while the other focused more on maintaining the home, volunteering, or raising children. Once the marriage ends, one spouse may need time and training to find a steady income that will support their newly independent lifestyle. Washington courts will explore the specifics of this need, as some spouses may find employment relatively quickly (while others may need comprehensive training, education, and financial support until they find a job).
It’s no surprise that divorce can disrupt and change your life in many ways. Washington strives to minimize this dramatic shift from marriage to independence by ensuring that both spouses can continue to enjoy a similar standard of living to the one established during the marriage.
For example, the court will consider how easily the lower-earning spouse can afford housing, utilities, transportation, food, and other comforts they relied on during the marriage once the divorce is finalized. Coping with the emotional fallout of a divorce is challenging enough, and spousal maintenance can provide much-needed support during this overwhelming time.
Another factor that the court will look at is how long the marriage lasted. Generally, a marriage that lasts for several decades may require spousal maintenance, especially if one spouse gave up career opportunities in order to focus on the home. However, in cases where one spouse entered the marriage with a significant amount of separate property, a spousal maintenance agreement may be appropriate—even if the marriage only lasted a short time. Ultimately, it’s up to the court to assess the unique circumstances of the case and determine the most appropriate spousal maintenance arrangement.
Some separating spouses need to address health matters during the divorce process. If one spouse has ongoing health issues, the court may factor these needs into a spousal maintenance agreement. For instance, if one party needs to pay for medical expenses or skilled nursing care indefinitely, the court may compel the other spouse to pay spousal maintenance to assist with this ongoing financial burden. Again. The ultimate goal of spousal maintenance is to ensure that both parties can continue to move forward on solid and stable ground, even after the marriage ends.
While the primary concern of spousal support is protecting the interests of the lower-earning spouse, the court will also carefully consider the perspective of the higher-earning spouse. The court does not want to place an excessive burden on the person paying spousal maintenance; rather, this party should be able to pay a reasonable amount of alimony that does not impede their ability to meet their own financial obligations. The court strives to establish a fair and equitable spousal maintenance agreement that protects the best interests of both parties.
Once a spousal maintenance agreement is created, the parties will likely want to know how long this arrangement will last. Spousal maintenance agreements vary widely according to the specific needs and circumstances of each case. As a general guideline for marriages that lasted a few years, the court usually aims to help both spouses move back into the financial positions they were in when they entered into marriage. To this end, spousal maintenance may only last a few months—just until both parties are back on stable financial footing.
However, for long-term marriages spanning several decades, the judge may establish a spousal maintenance agreement that lasts indefinitely. Your knowledgeable Seattle divorce lawyer can provide you with more customized legal guidance about spousal maintenance matters.
Washington courts recognize that circumstances change. Life’s unpredictable nature may make it difficult or impossible for a party to fulfill their spousal maintenance obligations. For example, if the party ordered to pay spousal support suddenly loses their job or suffers a catastrophic injury that prevents them from working, they may petition the court to modify the spousal maintenance agreement. Enlisting the guidance of a trusted and caring Seattle spousal support lawyer is the best way to ensure that you achieve your desired outcome.
Even if you and your spouse are separating on amicable terms, moving through the divorce process can still be challenging and overwhelming at times. It’s natural to mourn the ending of this chapter of your life, so give yourself the time and support you need to grieve. When you enlist the help of a knowledgeable and empathetic divorce lawyer, you can feel more secure in the decisions you make. Your attorney will remain at your side, answering your questions and addressing your concerns at every turn. They will provide you with the information you need to move forward with greater certainty and confidence. Consider discussing your divorce options by contacting an experienced and caring divorce attorney today.
The divorce process may seem daunting, but you do not have to navigate it alone. Reach out to the Hemmat Law Group today to discuss your divorce needs and goals with a dedicated and caring divorce and family law attorney. Call our Seattle office at (206) 682-5200 to get started.
The Hemmat Law Group (HLG) was founded in 1994 by Steven Amir Hemmat, a former DOJ Trial Attorney. We specialize in family law, supporting victims of the legal system.
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