How Do Washington Courts Determine Spousal Support?

Posted On July 23, 2022 Child Support,Divorce,Property Division

Washington courts do not follow a specific formula from the state when it comes to awarding spousal support. Instead, various factors are taken into consideration when determining whether one spouse must make support payments to the other.

Length of Marriage

The lengthier a marriage, the more likely one spouse will have to make spousal support payments, especially if one spouse was a homemaker or stay-at-home parent. Since being out of the workforce for years can hurt their earning potential. Although spousal support awards greatly vary on a case-by-case basis, here are some basic guidelines from our Spokane family law attorneys:

  • Short Marriage (0-5 years): The amount will typically be enough to cover the lesser-earning spouse’s basic essentials. Payments will normally only be awarded to last a few months before ending or tapering off. Oftentimes, the paying spouse will not be required to make support payments once the divorce is final.
  • Mid-Length (5-25 years): The higher-earning spouse will likely have to pay spousal support for a period equal to 20-33% of the length of the marriage. The monthly payment amounts will often be enough to either meet basic needs or even out the parties’ economic positions before they will taper off.
  • Long Marriage (Over 25 years): Spousal support will be awarded to the lesser-earning spouse so that the parties’ economic positions are equal. Payments will be required for many years and possibly lifelong.

Division of Property and Debts

The division of community property can further complicate spousal support. Typically, if one spouse is stuck with the majority of the debt and the other receives most of the marital property, the spouse with the debt is less likely to be required to make alimony payments.

If you have more questions about division of property or the general divorce filing process and do not have children, refer to this guide here.

Child Custody and Support

If minor children are involved, whether a spouse will be ordered to pay spousal support can also depend on if they must pay child support and/or have custody. Spousal support payments may be reduced when a spouse is already receiving child support. The court will make sure the spouse ordered to make these payments has the means to do so.

Other Factors

Other factors the court may consider when awarding spousal support include:

  • The age and health of each party.
  • Present and future earning capacity of each party.
  • Whether the recipient spouse must obtain further education or training to become self-sufficient.
  • The anticipated time frame for the recipient spouse to become self-sufficient.

Factors That Will Not Be Considered

Since Washington is a “no-fault” divorce state, the courts are prohibited from considering marital misconduct when awarding spousal support. For example, an extra-marital affair or cruelty. The spouse who filed for the divorce or wanted it can also not be penalized for doing so. Spousal support awards can also not be granted based on a protected status (e.g., religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.). Both men and women have an equal right to receive spousal support if warranted. The court’s goal is to be just after taking into account all relevant factors. However, this may not apply to a case involving a spouse who lies to the court about assets, income, or property in order to pay less spousal support. In that situation, the judge handling the case may force more spousal support than originally decreed or the surrendering of some assets as punishment.

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