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Modifying a spousal support order in Washington

In recent posts, we’ve been looking at the topic of spousal support. We’ve been looking specifically at the issue of entitlement to support, and what factors courts consider when determining entitlement. Here we’ll look briefly at the issue of modification and termination of a spousal support order.

First of all, spousal support orders may only be modified when there has been a “substantial change of circumstances” and modification may only be applied to the installments accruing after the petition is made. In other words, modification may only be prospective, but not retrospective. A party will still owe on payments due prior to the filing of the petition. Provisions of a support order dealing with property disposition are treated a bit more strictly, and they may not be revoked or modified unless conditions justify reconsideration of a judgment regarding the property disposition.

The substantial change of circumstances requirement is an important one because there can, not surprisingly, be disagreements about what constitutes substantial change. Easy examples of substantial change can be seen in the law regarding termination of a spousal support order. There are several conditions which can result in termination of a spousal support order. These are death, remarriage or the support recipient’s registration of a new domestic partnership.

It should be noted that cohabitation does not serve as an adequate basis to justify termination of spousal support under Washington law, but it may in some cases justify a modification of a spousal support order as a “substantial change of circumstances.”  In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this issue, as well as the usefulness of planning ahead with respect to spousal support in divorce.