Spousal support, also referred to as alimony or spousal maintenance, is a source of anxiety for many divorcing couples. One partner may have unrealistic expectations while the other is worried that their spouse will take everything and leave them impoverished. Understanding the basic mechanics of how spousal support works can relieve a great deal of this anxiety and help your divorce proceed more smoothly. More importantly, working with an experienced Seattle spousal support law firm like ours can help you obtain a fair outcome for everyone involved. 

The Purpose of Spousal Support

It is first helpful to point out that the purpose of spousal support isn’t to punish one side or reward the other. Instead, spousal support can be awarded by the court for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. To provide financial support for the spouse following separation 
  2. To provide the spouse with the means and resources to seek additional education or training to become financially independent
  3. To achieve a more equitable division of property 

The first two reasons, to provide for financial support or to enable future financial independence, are typically applied in situations where one spouse has given up their education or career to support the other spouse and raise children. The third reason is less common but is simply used to offset the transfer of assets that were awarded to the other spouse. 

Understanding these reasons can be helpful when considering what your post-divorce financial situation may look like and can help you negotiate a realistic outcome. A Seattle spousal support law firm can review your case and help you navigate these purposes to ensure that everyone is treated fairly. 

Five Types of Spousal Support Available in Washington

Having reviewed the reasons behind why spousal support is awarded, it is also helpful to review the different types of spousal support: 

  1. Temporary support. Divorce or legal separation can be a lengthy process. Temporary support is awarded for both spouses to be able to pay their bills, provide for any children, and avoid financial hardship. As the name suggests, temporary support is only temporary – some other type of support will likely replace it once the divorce is finalized. 
  2. Compensatory support. This type of support is intended to “compensate” the spouse who has given up their earning potential to support the other spouse or raise a family. Support is awarded to make up the difference between what they will earn upon entering the job market versus what they would have earned had they continued working. 
  3. Rehabilitative support. This is support awarded to help a spouse gain the education or training they need to support themselves and their children financially. For spouses seeking rehabilitative support, you may need to demonstrate your commitment to a particular program and show how it will eventually lead to becoming financially independent. 
  4. Disability support. This type of support is awarded to a spouse who will be unable to support themselves due to mental or physical disability due to either serious illness or a permanent medical condition. 
  5. Support as part of property settlement. As mentioned above, this type of support is paid to balance out the division of property. One spouse may receive future support payments, for example, in exchange for allowing the other spouse to keep a vacation property. 

Support may be awarded as short-term maintenance or long-term maintenance. Most support is awarded as short-term maintenance, such as compensatory or rehabilitative support. The support is typically awarded with a specific event or date that will terminate the support, but either party can request the court to review or extend it. 

Long-term or permanent maintenance is rarer and typically awarded to spouses who will never be able to support themselves. If you are concerned about what support may be awarded in your divorce or separation, we recommend that you contact a Seattle spousal support law firm to discuss your case. 

How Spousal Support is Calculated

No one is entitled to spousal support, nor is it automatically awarded by the court. For it to be awarded by the court, one of the parties must request a support order. Before making the request, however, it is helpful to understand how your support award may be calculated. 

Unlike other states, there is no specific formula that is required by Washington state law. Instead, the law requires the court to consider “all relevant” factors, including the following: 

  • The length of the marriage
  • The standard of living during your marriage
  • The needs of the receiving party and ability to pay of the paying party
  • The time needed to find employment or obtain training or education
  • The age, physical and mental health, and financial obligations of each spouse

Unfortunately, the law in Washington provides no clear guidance on how these factors should ultimately lead to an appropriate spousal support award. An article by Judge Winsor some years ago that is still widely cited today suggested that in a short term marriage the parties should be put back in the economic position they were in at the start of the marriage, and in a long term marriage, they should be put in roughly similar economic positions going forward.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has suggested a second approach that has also been cited in Washington. The AAML recommends that you use the following formula as a starting point: 

Step One: Determining the Amount of Eligible Spousal Support

Higher-earning spouse’s annual gross income x 30% 

Minus (-)

Lower-earning spouse’s annual gross income x 20%

Equals (=)

The amount of the higher-earning spouse’s income that is eligible to be paid in spousal support. 

However, the AAML’s formula also suggests that the spousal support should not exceed 40% of the spouses’ combined gross income, in which case the spousal support payment will be limited to 40%. 

Step Two: Determining the Length of the Spousal Support

Multiply the length of the marriage by the following factors:

0-3 years: x .3

3-10 years: x .5

10-20 years: x .75

Over 20 years: permanent

This is a complex calculation, and it serves only as a guideline for future discussions about spousal support. In addition, the other factors – the length of your marriage, your age, and the age of your spouse – will also affect spousal support. The best thing you can do is work with an experienced Seattle spousal support law firm that can help you navigate this process. 

Reach Out to Our Seattle Spousal Support Law Firm Today 

At Seattle Divorce Services, we understand the need for candid, measured legal advice when separating from your spouse. Our goal is to reach a fair resolution as quickly and cost-effectively as possible for our clients. If you would like to discuss your case and how we can help, contact us at 206-784-3049 to schedule an appointment today.