Understanding Spousal Maintenance in Washington State
Key Considerations in Determining Spousal Maintenance
The court must apply the attached “non-exclusive” factors to determine:
- whether to order spousal maintenance,
- how much on what frequency (generally monthly), and
- for how long (the duration).
Prioritizing Maintenance Over Other Obligations
The court will also consider the extent to which property was divided “disproportionately” meaning more to one or the other spouse and whether the court placed any separate property with one or other spouse (or shared it between them). The court will consider a spouse’s need for maintenance as a priority over college expenses or other “obligations”. However, it is not unusual for the court to consider how the spouses can share the college expenses when there are overall sufficient resources, a child in need, and there is sufficient spousal maintenance granted to the spouse needing it.
Guidance for Family Law Attorneys in Washington State
Family law attorneys in Washington State will often refer to:
- short, moderate, or long term marriages
- a ratio/formula – these are not written into the law and are only used as averages for attorneys to discuss this with litigation clients
- the factors in RCW 26.09.090
In a short term marriage the literature and case law encourages the court to try to leave the spouses as they would have been had the marriage not occurred.
In a medium range marriage, the literature and case law encourages the court to try to use maintenance to “rehabilitate” a spouse. (aka: “rehabilitative maintenance”) As an outcome, this is often a few years or so of maintenance, and perhaps education expenses paid. As always it is entirely fact dependent in each case.
In a long term marriage, the literature and case law encourages the court to try to use maintenance to essentially complete the bargain that the marriage attempted to fulfill. Leaving the spouses in roughly similar positions to that they would have enjoyed had they remained married , neither financially disadvantaged, sometimes attempting to balance the earning potential that leaves the relationship with one of the spouses. The judge will look closely to do her/his best to ensure that resources are shared “fairly” from the Judge’s perspective.