What is spousal support?

Spousal support, sometimes also called alimony or maintenance, is a payment one spouse pays to the other spouse for financial support. Spousal support is often used to balance, to some degree, the financial positions of the parties after divorce.

Will I have to pay / Will I receive spousal support?

Washington courts look both at the one spouse’s need for support and the ability of the other spouse to pay the support. If a significant disparity between the incomes (or potential incomes) of the two spouses exists, and the court identifies both need and the ability to pay, then it is likely that spousal support will be ordered.

If a spouse is voluntarily unemployed or employed only part-time, then the court may impute (factor in) the income they could be making before deciding whether to order spousal support.

How long does spousal support last?

It is normally not permanent, but is generally ordered for a period of years depending in part on the length of the marriage. However, this might be affected by medical conditions that interfere with the receiving spouse’s ability to earn income.

How much spousal support would I receive/pay?

Washington state does not have a specific formula for calculating support. It is up to each judge to determine what they believe is fair. However, a typical result might be somewhere between what the court finds is the need of the receiving spouse on the lower end, and an amount that would equalize the incomes of the parties on the high end.

The division of assets is also a factor. If a court gives the lower-earning spouse more of the assets, then this might lower the amount of spousal support the judge would order.

What if the support is not paid?

As with child support, failure to pay spousal support can result in legal action against the responsible party. In some cases, the court may mandate wage garnishment in order to collect payment.