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Spousal Maintenance-The Basics

Spousal maintenance (or alimony as it is known in other states) is awarded to the economically disadvantaged spouse, during and after dissolution of a marriage or domestic partnership, or a legal separation. Payments are meant to help a spouse with monthly needs like food, housing, clothing, car payments, and insurance.

Maintenance is awarded without regard to fault or marital misconduct of a spouse. A spouse’s obligation to pay maintenance ends at the death or remarriage of the spouse receiving maintenance. Its duration and amount is based upon fairness and equity factors. The courts disfavor a permanent award of maintenance

Maintenance is not an entitlement; it is in the discretion of the court to award it or not. The court considers what is fair and just when deciding to award spousal maintenance and it looks to the statute, RCW 26.09.090, for guidance. The court must examine the circumstances of the spouse seeking maintenance and basically ask “is there need? Is the spouse dependent?”

Specifically, under the statute, asks:

1. What are the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance and the ability to meet their needs?

2. What kind of time is needed to acquire training and education to enable the spouse to find work?

3. How old is the spouse? Is he/she young and beginning a career? A family? Or Close to retirement or to drawing social security?

4. What is the spouse’s physical and emotional condition?

5. What are their financial obligations?

The court looks at the payer’s circumstances and asks can he/she pay? How will the spouse meet his/her financial obligations while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance?

Furthermore, under RCW 26.09.090, the court also considers the length of the marriage, and the standard of living of the parties established during the marriage.

At minimum, maintenance payments would meet the financial gap between the income (if he/she has any) of the spouse seeking maintenance, and the spouse’s monthly household, medical and personal expenses. Maintenance maintains the lifestyle of the family as much as possible, particularly when the parties first begin to live apart and separately.

Maintenance, however, is also a flexible tool. It is used not simply to meet the bare, minimum expenses of a requesting spouse. It may also be utilized to equalize the parties’ standard of living, allocate or divide property, help a spouse get an education, or compensate a spouse for waste of community assets.

Consult with our experienced attorney to determine whether, in what amount and for how long, maintenance should be paid. The answers to these questions depend upon your unique facts and circumstances.

Authored by Catherine G. Victorino