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How is Alimony Calculated in Washington State?

Family law attorneys have long referred to January as “divorce month.” Many couples throughout Washington state decide they are ready to begin the divorce process after the holidays are over. If your marriage is coming to an end, you may be concerned about whether you have enough money to keep your house, how you will make ends meet, and how you will pay for your bills. 

If you earn less than your spouse, you are a student, or you are a stay-at-home parent, you are likely concerned that you will not be able to pay your bills after your divorce. Alimony, also called spousal support, is one way that you can receive payments from your ex-spouse as you begin to establish your new, independent life. We will discuss how alimony is calculated in Washington state below.


Washington Judges Calculate Alimony on a Case-by-Case Basis

Some states provide calculators or charts through which spouses can determine how much they will need to pay in alimony. Washington state is different, and judges calculate alimony on a case-by-case basis. In other words, judges are not bound to follow a chart to calculate how much alimony payments will be. 

Judges consider several factors when determining whether to award alimony and, if so, how much alimony to award. When one spouse requests alimony, the family court judge will examine the couple’s situation and decide whether the higher-earning spouse must pay alimony. Judges consider the following factors:

  • The length of the marriage: If you have only been married for a short time, as in less than two or three years, you may not be eligible for alimony. Judges are less likely to award alimony in these cases.
  • Dependents: Judges are more likely to award alimony when one person will be the primary caretaker of young children and must stay home from work.
  • Income, assets, expenses: Judges will consider all the couples’ separate and community property, their income, and their monthly expenses. They will also consider each spouse’s ability to provide for himself or herself and the children financially.
  • Your finances: family court judges will consider whether the spouse with the higher-paying job can afford to pay alimony while still meeting his or her own financial needs.
  • Your plans: Judges will consider whether each spouse has future plans, such as educational plans and whether each spouse intends to enter into another marriage.
  • Your job training or education: Judges consider how long it will take each spouse to learn enough skills or obtain enough education to find gainful employment appropriate for their skills, lifestyle, and other attendant circumstances.
  • Your standard of living: Judges consider the couple’s standard of living in the marriage.
  • Your health: judges consider each spouse’s physical and mental health and any disabilities each spouse may have. 


Temporary Support

Most divorces are not quick, and they are typically expensive. It is common for one spouse to require financial help from the other spouse while the divorce is proceeding. In some cases, family courts will award temporary support so both spouses can pay their bills and financial obligations during the divorce process. Temporary support is available regardless of the job status of either spouse. Temporary support ends when the judge finalizes the divorce. Courts often require temporary maintenance and temporary child support at the same time.


The Alimony Amount is Often Tied to the Length of Your Marriage

Keep in mind that alimony, maintenance, and spousal support mean the same thing. Washington State alimony laws are notoriously complex. The purpose of spousal support in Washington state depends on the length of your marriage. If you have only been married a short time, the courts might view the purpose of alimony as an economic reset. Receiving some alimony from your ex-spouse can help you as the lower-earning spouse ges back on your feet financially. The purpose of alimony is to give you enough time and some economic buffer so you can transition from married life to providing for yourself as a single person.


Short-Term Maintenance

If you have been married for a medium amount of time, the purpose of alimony is different. Initially, alimony could serve as an income replacement for the lower new spouse. Requiring the higher paid spouse to provide you with payments will help both of you maintain the same post-marital lifestyles. After some time has passed, the alimony payments may be downwardly modified. Downwardly modified means that the alimony payment amount is reduced to act as a supplement to your income. Eventually, the alimony payments will taper off to zero.


Long-Term Maintenance

When a couple has been married for a long time, the purpose of alimony is to equalize both spouses’ lifestyles for many years, if not permanently. In many long marriages, the spouse who receives alimony may have never had enough time to financially catch up to the higher learning spouse. Perhaps one spouse agreed to be a stay-at-home parent and did not pursue education or career opportunities to take care of the home.  

Or, one spouse may have worked to put the other spouse through medical school with the understanding that she would be a stay-at-home parent after he graduated. In these cases, the spouse who does not earn money may receive alimony for a long time. Washington courts would be more likely to require the ironing spouse to pay alimony for a long time in a large amount so the non-spouse could maintain a similar lifestyle to the higher-earning spouse.


Contact a Washington Alimony Lawyer Today

As you can see, determine the amount of alimony you may be required to pay or the amount you may receive is challenging and Washington State. There are several different types of spousal maintenance in Washington state, and judges consider multiple factors when calculating alimony. The experienced divorce lawyers at Akiona Law, PLLC, can help you navigate the divorce and alimony process. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.