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Planning around spousal support issues in divorce, P.1

We’ve been looking in recent posts at modification of spousal support orders, and particularly what types of circumstances might justify a modification. The issue is a potentially important one, since it can impact a couple’s financial life well after a divorce has been finalized.

One aspect of state law couples should be aware of regarding spousal support is that some degree of planning may be done to control how spousal support is handled in and after divorce. First of all, Washington law provides that couples may negotiate separation agreements which address spousal support rights. This can be a way for couples to take control of the matter upon separation or upon filing a petition to dissolve their marriage or domestic partnership.  

Significantly, couples may use a separation agreement to preclude or limit modification of a spousal support award established in their divorce decree. The key to ensuring the validity of such an agreement is that it must be fair at the time of execution. Couples should also be aware that it is difficult to overturn a non-modifiable spousal maintenance agreement once it has been approved by a court, so it is important to be well-represented by an independent attorney before entering into such an agreement.

It is also important to ensure the court makes sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding a separation agreement addressing spousal maintenance to ensure sufficient record for appeal. The more details there are in the record indicating that the parties extensively negotiated the spousal maintenance terms, properly signed the agreement, and mutually relied on and performed their obligations as per the agreement, the less chance there will be of overturning the agreement down the road.

In our next post, we’ll wrap this discussion up, looking at the role of an experienced attorney in helping an individual to successfully navigate spousal support issues in divorce proceedings.

Sources:

RCW 26.09.070

Lee v. Kennard,176 Wash.App. 678, 310 P.3d 845 (2013)

In re Marriage of Hulscher, 143 Wash.App. 708, 180 P.3d 199 (2008)

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