In a divorce, all property is to be divided in a fair and equitable manner. However, in some cases a judge may also order alimony, which is commonly called spousal support or maintenance. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines alimony as “an allowance made to one spouse by the other for support pending or after legal separation or divorce.” Alimony is sometimes confused with child support, however it is not meant to provide support for the child, but is instead a source of taxable income for the lower-income spouse during and after a divorce. Washington divorce law views spousal maintenance on the basis of what is called the “economic partnership model.” It focuses on a number of factors including the length of the marriage and the economic positions of both parties.
Temporary alimony may be ordered when the parties are separated prior to the divorce. When the divorce becomes final the temporary alimony ends. If the divorce court decides to give spousal support after the divorce is final, it will be assigned in the final Decree. The purpose of temporary support is to keep both parties afloat during the divorce process.
The Washington courts used to apply a rehabilitative theory to alimony awards. Under that type of theory the focus of the alimony award was to help support a party until he or she could become self-supporting.
However, rehabilitative theory did not take into account sacrifices one party made in order to benefit the community during the marriage. For instance, one party might have given up building a career in order to raise children or support the career of the other. Therefore a theory of compensatory alimony arose. Under this theory there might be additional support paid to at least partially compensate a party for the career sacrifices they had made during the marriage.
Sometimes even the compensatory theory is replaced by a simpler balancing test. This may ignore how the parties got to where they are and simply seek to balance the incomes of the parties for a period of time.
The duration of spousal support tends to be related to the length of the marriage – longer terms for longer marriages. It can be permanent, but that is not awarded very often. An award of permanent alimony would be most likely where a party is unable to work due to health issues, or where the parties are at retirement age after a long marriage.