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Alimony in Washington

Alimony in WashingtonAlimony, also known as spousal support or maintenance, is a series of periodic payments made from a higher-earning spouse to a lower-earning spouse during or after divorce proceedings.

There are several different kinds of alimony, and courts consider several different factors before awarding alimony. Although alimony awards are not uncommon, not all divorce settlements include alimony. It all depends on the specific facts of each case.  

Types of Spousal Support

Washington state family law provides for several different forms of spousal support, depending on the circumstances.

Temporary Spousal Support

Temporary spousal support begins during divorce proceedings and ends when the divorce is finalized. If one spouse is in control of marital assets, the other side might lack financial resources until the court distributes marital assets to that spouse when it finalizes the divorce. Until that distribution occurs, one spouse might be left destitute, or at least needy, unless the court intervenes with an award of temporary spousal support.

Short-Term or Rehabilitative Spousal Support

Courts recognize that one spouse might have voluntarily suffered damage to their career to help the other spouse establish their own career. They typically award rehabilitative spousal support to the lower-earning spouse for a set period—five years, for example. The idea is to give the lower-earning spouse time to complete the additional education and training necessary to become self-sufficient. 

Long-Term or Permanent Spousal Support

In some cases rehabilitative spousal support is not enough. The lower-earning spouse might be elderly, for example, disabled, or lacking in experience working outside the home. A long marriage also predisposes a Washington family court to award long-term or permanent alimony. In rare cases, the court might even order permanent spousal support, valid until one-ex-spouse dies or remarries. Otherwise, even long-term alimony has an end date. 

Factors That Courts Consider

A Washington divorce court will consider the following factors when determining the amount and duration of alimony: 

  • The duration of the marriage. The longer the couple has been married, the higher the amount and duration of alimony the court is likely to award. Courts consider five years or less to be a short marriage and 25 years or more to be a long marriage. 
  • Each spouse’s financial resources. This determination includes all major aspects of wealth—income, assets, and liabilities. High assets can compensate for low income, at least to some extent.
  • Earning capacity. How old is each spouse? What is their health condition? What are their respective levels of education and experience? 
  • Standard of living during the marriage. The court will attempt to use alimony to allow the lower-earning spouse to continue enjoying the standard of living to which they have become accustomed.
  • Timing. The time that the lower-earning spouse needs to complete the education and training necessary to become self-sufficient.
  • Contributions to the marriage. The contribution of the lower-earning spouse to the career of the higher-earning spouse. The lower-earning spouse, for example, might have quit college and taken a low-paying job so that the higher-earning spouse could complete professional school.
  • Child custody. Whether the lower-earning spouse has custody of any children of the marriage and the amount of any child support payments to be received by the lower-earning spouse are also considered.
  • Any fraudulent concealment committed by one spouse. If a spouse tries to conceal marital assets to prevent their division, the court might respond in several ways, including ways that affect the alimony.  

There are many other factors that a court might consider, and a Washington divorce attorney can help you navigate this process.

Modification of Alimony

To qualify for a modification, you need to prove that you have experienced significant change in circumstances. That might mean a change in the income, employment status, or financial needs of either ex-spouse. 

If you are the higher-earning party, you must continue paying your most recently ordered amount of alimony despite any change in circumstances until and unless the judge modifies your obligation. If you need a modification (because you just lost your job, for example), you need to apply for it immediately. 

No Retroactive Modification

A court will not retroactively lower your alimony obligation—a modification order only applies to payments that come due after the court issues the order. Likewise, if you are the lower-earning party, you typically cannot win a retroactive modification of your alimony award.


If one spouse fails to meet their alimony obligations, the aggrieved spouse can seek court enforcement. Remedies could include wage garnishment, property liens, and, in extreme cases, contempt of court proceedings. Contempt of court can result in fines and even jail time. Contempt of court can be a criminal offense, although there is also an offense known as civil (rather than criminal)  contempt.


An alimony obligation typically terminates whenever the court order specifies termination. A court might order alimony for two years after a divorce, for example. The obligation also ends if either spouse dies or the receiving spouse remarries. 

An Experienced Washington Family Lawyer Can Help With Alimony Concerns

Alimony is a complex topic in family law, and the amount awarded is very sensitive to the skills of each party’s lawyer. Don’t rely on a single lawyer to represent both spouses, even in an amicable divorce. Seek and find your own Washington family lawyer.

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our divorce lawyers or contact us at (206) 590-7085/(509) 327 0777. Twyford Law Office is ready to holp.

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