Alimony is a court order stating that one party must pay the other after a dissolution of marriage. The laws surrounding alimony vary greatly from state to state. In addition, the courts have jurisdiction over whether or not to award alimony, as well as how much one spouse will pay and how long the payments will last. Learn more about alimony in the State of Washington to prepare for your divorce or legal separation case.
The definition of alimony is perhaps better illustrated by its other name: spousal support. It is a financial award given in some divorce and legal separation cases to provide financial support to one spouse. Contrary to popular belief, alimony is not awarded to punish the paying spouse, such as in cases involving adultery. Instead, it is meant to ensure that neither spouse is left financially destitute after the split.
Like most states, Washington allows a couple to create their own settlement agreement during a divorce case. This agreement may or may not include alimony. If the case goes to trial, however, it is up to a judge. Alimony decisions in Washington are based on factors such as the financial resources of the requesting party, the ability of the party to acquire training or education to get a job, the length of the marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, the age of the requestor, and the ability of the paying spouse to afford spousal support.
In Washington, a judge may grant alimony to the lesser-earning spouse if the judge believes it is necessary to give him or her financial assistance. In most cases where alimony is awarded, the recipient is not financially self-sufficient for reasons such as giving up a career to raise children or take care of the household. In other cases, the marriage – and the recipient’s living situation – lasted so long that it would be unreasonable to expect him or her to get a job.
If you believe that you will be ordered to pay alimony or that you are eligible to receive alimony, it can help you plan for the future to have an estimate of how much this amount may be. In general, alimony is estimated by subtracting 20 percent of the recipient’s yearly gross income from 30 percent of the payor’s gross income. Note, however, that a judge has discretion over the final outcome of an alimony case.
Although you may hear the terms, “temporary alimony” and “permanent alimony,” this does not refer to a length of time. Temporary alimony is awarded while a divorce case is still ongoing, while permanent alimony is given as part of a final divorce decree. The length of time that an alimony order is in place depends on the circumstances. Most awards come with instructions for the recipient to take actionable steps to become financially self-sufficient in a certain amount of time, such as several months.
While the recipient receives spousal support, the courts may check on the situation periodically to determine if the alimony should continue. At any time, the paying spouse may request to end the alimony order early or reduce the amount of the order, if either party’s financial situation has substantially changed. For example, if the recipient gets remarried or moves in with someone else, this could be enough to end the order. Although truly permanent alimony orders are rare, they may be granted in a case involving a very long marriage, a disability or advanced age.
Alimony is a complicated part of a divorce or legal separation case in Washington. If you have questions about alimony, contact a spousal support lawyer in Clark County to request a free consultation. A lawyer can help you understand your rights under state law and either fight for or against alimony, depending on your goals. A lawyer can also help you with alimony modifications after a divorce has been finalized.