Often known in some states as “spousal support” or “alimony”, spousal maintenance is money paid by one spouse to another upon separation or divorce. Spousal maintenance is not the same as child support; it is meant to support the spouse. However, a court could look at existing child support obligations as a factor in determining a fair award of spousal maintenance.

Spousal maintenance is not mandatory in Washington State

Spousal maintenance, unlike child support, is not mandatory in the State of Washington; a court may order it if it determines that it is “just and equitable.” There are no hard and fast rules as to what is just and equitable, however the court may consider among other things such factors as:

  • the needs of the spouse seeking support
  • the ability of the other spouse to pay
  • the length of the marriage
  • the standard of living maintained during the marriage
  • the existence of any child support obligations

Spousal maintenance may be short- or long-term

While the courts have fair discretion in determining whether spousal maintenance is granted, in short-term marriages maintenance awards tend to also be short term. Similarly in long-term marriages where one spouse might have not worked or pursued a career, a court might grant a long term award. Courts might also grant “rehabilitative maintenance,” an award of spousal support that allows one spouse time to become economically self-sufficient.

Awards for spousal maintenance do not follow a formula

The law surrounding awards of spousal maintenance are, like many other types of family law, not completely set in stone. While the courts may follow general principles outlined above, the law is constantly evolving and expanding. Unlike child support, which is governed according to a specific State Schedule, spousal maintenance has no formula relating to income that guides its application.

When to represent yourself in a divorce or other legal action

Whether you are a spouse who is leaving a marriage and want to know whether you can seek spousal maintenance from your spouse—or whether you might be obligated to provide spousal maintenance—it is a good idea to consult a family law attorney so that you know your potential rights and obligations.