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Does Marital Conduct Impact Spousal Support Awards?

Posted on December 05, 2022 12:18pm
Does Marital Conduct Impact Spousal Support Awards?

Marriage can come to a dramatic and abrupt end if a spouse’s misconduct becomes known. Adultery and drug abuse may drive an irreparable wedge between spouses, but misconduct does not typically affect spousal support in Washington State.

Alimony – also called maintenance in Washington State – is typically awarded to bridge a big disparity between the spouses’ incomes and employability. Support is not designed as a punishment for a wrongdoing spouse. Instead, spousal support aims to help the lesser-earning spouse regain their financial footing after the marriage ends.

Factors Impacting Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance is a gender-neutral concept that either spouse or domestic partner has the right to request. The judge overseeing the case will consider multiple factors to determine whether support is warranted. Conduct that damaged the relationship, like adultery, is not a direct consideration in alimony awards. A spouse making less than another will not automatically qualify for alimony.

Washington State law outlines specific factors the court considers in alimony decisions:

  • The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including separate or community property allocated to them
  • The ability of the requesting party to meet their needs independently, including child support when applicable
  • How much time the requesting person will need to gain the education or training for employment matching their skills, interests, and lifestyle
  • The standard of living established during the marriage or domestic partnership
  • The length of the marriage or domestic partnership
  • The age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations of the party seeking maintenance
  • The ability of the other party to meet their needs and financial obligations while meeting those of the spouse or domestic partner seeking maintenance.

Marital misconduct can be a factor in property division if the bad behavior impacted community property, affecting the court’s ability to create a fair judgment. The judge can award a greater share of the community property to the injured spouse to compensate for the property lost. For example, a spouse may have dissipated financial assets in the commission of an affair or sought to decrease what would be available for division. A compensatory sum can be ordered to offset the damage caused to the injured party. Egregious behavior can hold sway over child custody decisions.

Types of Spousal Support

Support can be ordered during the dissolution of a marriage or domestic partnership, a legal separation, or a declaration of an invalid marriage. Temporary maintenance is paid during a legal separation or while the divorce is pending, and different criteria are applied. This support ends once the divorce is final. Post-decree maintenance is awarded as payments after the divorce is complete.

Amount & Duration of Spousal Maintenance

Unlike some states, Washington does not have a specific formula or calculation to determine how long maintenance should be paid or how much should be paid. The requesting party has the burden of demonstrating the need for financial assistance and their former partner’s ability to pay.

Washington courts often follow loose guidelines:

  • In a marriage lasting 5 years or less, alimony should place the parties in the same financial position they held just prior to their union (plus an allowance for inflation). Alimony is paid for as short a duration as possible, often the equivalent of 1 year for every 3 years of marriage.
  • In long-term marriages lasting at least 25 years, any maintenance award puts both parties in equal financial positions for the rest of their lives with appropriate work and asset protection. Indefinite support is rare.
  • Marriages with a duration between those extremes typically have the greatest degree of variability based on the factors considered.

Child Support & Alimony

Child support and child custody are evaluated before alimony. How much one person pays in child support can impact how much they can pay in alimony. On the other hand, a parent with a reduced opportunity to work because they need to care for a child can argue the need for maintenance.

Arguing in Favor or Against Spousal Maintenance

Since 1991, McKinley Irvin has helped thousands rebuild their lives after a relationship falls apart. Our exceptional team of attorneys puts the needs of the client first. We listen to what is most important to them. Whether that means justifying spousal support or arguing why assistance is unnecessary, you will have a staunch advocate at your side.

Learn more about spousal maintenance in a consultation. Contact McKinley Irvin online or call 206-397-0399.

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