When you seek a divorce, there is a long list of issues that must be resolved. Some of the more common are the division of assets and debts and matters concerning the custody of minor children, but some divorces don’t “end” with a final decree from the judge. In some cases, there are pre- or post-divorce payments from one spouse to another. One type of payment is called spousal maintenance.
What is Spousal Maintenance?
Also referred to as alimony or spousal support, spousal maintenance is a series of payments from one spouse to the other that are meant to ease the financial hardship that follows divorce. These payments can be a short-term or lifetime support for a spouse or as a substitute for an asset division.
Spousal support is never guaranteed and is up to the discretion of the family law courts. That said, there are some spousal maintenance norms based on the length of the marriage.
Short Marriage (0-5 years)
Maintenance is generally provided short-term (a few months) to help the lesser-earning spouse meet their basic needs and get back on their feet financially. These payments may be made while the divorce is still in progress.
Mid-Length Marriage (5-25 years)
Maintenance might consist of payments to the lesser-earning spouse equal to 20-33% of the length of the marriage. The first installments could equalize the two spouses economically, or they might be just enough to meet basic needs.
Long-Term Marriage (25+ years)
With a long-term marriage, maintenance could last for years if not for life and is often enough to put the two parties on equal footing economically.
How is Spousal Maintenance Determined?
In general, the court considers a variety of factors when determining spousal maintenance. These include:
- The length of the marriage;
- The health and age of both parties;
- Any division of assets;
- The education level and employment status of both parties at the time of marriage and divorce;
- The earning capacity of both parties;
- Any pre- and post-marital agreements;
- The probability of the recipient becoming self-sufficient;
- The paying spouse’s ability to make maintenance payments; and
- Any other facts that the court decides are relevant.
If a divorce is on the horizon, it’s possible to reduce your exposure to paying spousal maintenance. Some of the steps you can take include helping the other spouse secure additional education or employment, reducing household debt, and avoiding any marital misconduct, which could be used as a factor in awarding support.
How Long Does Spousal Maintenance Last?
Spousal maintenance ends when the family law judge says it does. In some cases, it’s temporary and only lasts for a few months. The court can award spousal support for several years with a reduction in the amount paid over time. Lifetime support is also possible if a spouse has limited earning capacity.
Spousal maintenance can end early if you can show the court that there is no longer a need for it. In general, it will also stop if the receiving party gets remarried, cohabitates with another partner, or dies.
Figuring out finances during and after a divorce can be stressful and overwhelming. Moving forward can be even more difficult when you are facing financial uncertainty. Whether you want to request spousal maintenance or would like to ensure that payments are fair, it’s important that you speak with a knowledgeable family law attorney.
At AB Law, we have extensive experience advocating for the rights of those dealing with divorce. We welcome a conversation with you so that we can outline your options. Contact our Tacoma office today to schedule a free consultation.