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Spousal Maintenance

Alimony, or “spousal maintenance” as it’s called in Washington State, is when one spouse must make monthly payments to the other for a period after the divorce, sometimes until one spouse passes away. The statutory law governing most family law cases is inherently broad and leads to a good amount of variability in their outcome. Even so, spousal maintenance is particularly subjective as the statutory law governing it is extremely sparse. Our Bellevue spousal maintenance attorneys are not only experienced in these matters but are equipped to use that experience to secure the alimony you deserve.

Governing Statute Review

As mentioned, the statute that outlines the factors the court is to consider when determining spousal maintenance is RCW 26.09.090. As you can see, the provisions are not overly specific so the courts have quite a bit of discretion in determining the amount and length of time one spouse will support the other after they are divorced. Northwest Law Group spousal maintenance attorneys can help frame your objectives against how likely it is for you to succeed in achieving those goals.

The first factor the court considers is the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance and their ability to meet their needs on their own. This includes any separate property that is to be awarded to that spouse after the divorce has been finalized. The next consideration in part (b) is the time it would take that spouse to acquire enough education or training to enable them to find employment appropriate to them.

What exactly is meant by “appropriate” though, and appropriate in what ways? The statute clarifies this as appropriate to that spouse’s skill, interests, style of life, or other relevant circumstances. This is extremely important because it is this consideration that often determines the length of time you will receive maintenance for (or pay for). A strong, succinct argument that fully describes your circumstances and presents a case for why those circumstances warrant maintenance is crucial. The courts err on the side of caution when awarding the duration of maintenance. So, if you think you need spousal maintenance, or are wondering how your situation applies to these provisions, call one of our Bellevue spousal maintenance attorneys today for a complete review of your case.

Now onto the final factors the court considers when determining maintenance, and these can be summarized to: the standard of living established during the marriage; the duration or length of time the parties were married; the age and other situational obligations of the partner seeking maintenance; and the ability of the spouse whom maintenance is sought from to meet their financial needs and obligations while also supporting their spouse. As you can see, some of the factors are rather straightforward. The ability for the spouse to pay maintenance and handle their other financial obligations is a black and white consideration. While other factors are deceivingly subjective – like the amount of time you and your spouse were married. Although the answer is black and white, how much does that factor into the overall determination?

Guiding Philosophy

It can be useful at this point to take a step back and look at the court’s guiding philosophy regarding spousal maintenance or alimony. In the 1980s, a Washington State superior court judge, Robert Winsor, wrote a treatise on spousal maintenance that helped set many standards still used today by the court. Sadly, there is still a large amount of judicial discretion in determining the amount of maintenance and for how long that maintenance should be continued.

The treatise of Judge Robert Winsor created a structure for marriages of different lengths and proposed ideas on how this consideration should be incorporated in the court’s overall determination. Our alimony attorneys in Bellevue are experienced in analyzing the need for spousal maintenance within this framework, leading to a pattern of success in securing maintenance for our clients. If you have any questions regarding your particular situation, give us a call today and schedule a free consultation. Even if you don’t end up retaining a Northwest Law Group spousal support attorney, the information they can provide will help you understand the theoretical underpinnings the court works off.

Judge Winsor divided marriages into three theoretical categories. The short marriage, which lasted approximately 5 years or less, the long marriage which lasted approximately 25 years or more, and the middle ground between the two. Judge Winsor explains that the short marriage, unlike marriages longer than this period, is not considered to be as significant of an event as a longer-term marriage is. In these cases, Judge Winsor suggests the court should look backward to where the parties were at the beginning of the marriage. The goal then would be to divide the assets and provide maintenance only in a situation where it is necessary in order to place each spouse at the same relative position they occupied at the start of the marriage.

In the case of a long marriage, Judge Winsor says the goal of the court should be to look forward; the court should seek a distribution of the parties assets that, assuming proper management, would leave them at roughly the same financial position for the rest of their lives. In situations like these, it is reasonable to expect one spouse to pay maintenance for the rest of the parties’ lives. This is unless the property division is so lopsided the spouse asking for maintenance has their financial future secured through separate property.

For any marriage in between these two categories, the court generally will award maintenance by looking forward in some ways, while looking back in others. The closer the marriage is to the short marriage, the more the court will weigh the spouse’s relative financial situations at the start of the marriage. While the closer the length is to the long marriage, the more likely the court will value an equalization of the party’s financial situations for the remainder of their lives. It’s important to understand that a demonstrated capacity for self-support does not automatically preclude an award of maintenance, but the award will always be limited by the need of one party versus the ability of the other to pay that need.

Northwest Law Group spousal maintenance attorneys understand that this time is extremely stressful and challenging. If you were part of a long-term marriage, or any marriage that has lasted longer than five years, contacting one of our alimony attorneys can mean the difference between being financially secure for the rest of your life versus receiving nothing. This is even more critical if you haven’t worked for multiple years or do not have marketable skills. In these situations, spousal maintenance is often awarded, and there is no one better at securing its award than our Northwest Law Group spousal maintenance attorneys.

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