If you are a woman who is facing divorce, the issue of financial support from a husband whose earning capacity is higher than yours may be a very pressing issue.
After all, you may have been out of the workforce for awhile, focusing on raising children or being a homemaker. You may have taken on caretaking responsibilities for an aging parent or other family member.
In situations like these, to be suddenly forced to rely on only your own income would be very difficult. It is therefore reasonable to ask: Under Washington law, when is financial support to an ex-spouse awarded? And if it is awarded, how much and for how long?
In this post, we will use a Q & A format to address these questions.
What terminology does the law use for financial support for an ex-spouse after divorce?
In Washington, the formal term that is now used is "maintenance." But "alimony" is still a very recognizable term. And "spousal support" is still commonly used as well.
Is maintenance automatically awarded by the court if the parties to a divorce have different incomes?
No. It is awarded only when one party can establish a need and the other has an ability to pay. There are many factors involved in determining the need and, if there is a need, the amount and duration of the payments.
What are those factors?
One factors is overall financial resources. Work skills and economic prospects are important too, as are the length of the marriage and the material standard of living the parties had during the marriage.
The court also considers the ages and health conditions of the parties.
What are some common scenarios?
If the marriage was of short duration and the parties have roughly equal earning capacity, there may be no maintenance award. But if it was a long-term marriage, and one party has little earning capacity, maintenance is more likely to be awarded for longer periods of time.
Another common scenario is when one party - often the wife - cuts back on workforce participation for a few years to focus on raising children. In this scenario, an award of something called "rehabilitative maintenance" may be in order.
What is rehabilitative maintenance?
It is an award of financial support to an ex-spouse for a limited amount of time to allow that spouse to go through a training program or develop other skills to become financially self-sufficient.
What happens to a maintenance award when the person who receives the award remarries or starts to live with another partner?
This is a controversial question all across the country. At the very least, you should work closely with a knowledgeable lawyer so that your divorce decree is drafted in ways that protect your interests.