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How does the Court Decide Whether to Order Spousal Maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is a court-ordered amount of money paid by one spouse (or former spouse) to the other, during the pendency of a dissolution or legal separation case, and sometimes after the decree of dissolution or legal separation is entered. It is commonly referred to as alimony, and is still officially called that in some states.

In Washington, spousal maintenance issues can often be some of the most contentious and acrimonious issues in a dissolution case. If parties can’t agree to a spousal maintenance amount (or whether it should be ordered at all), the court will make the decision for them. The court will have to decide whether to order maintenance at all, how much maintenance to order (usually on a monthly basis), and how long to order the maintenance payments to continue. While results in family law cases vary, there are some factors you can be sure the court will consider when determining whether to order spousal maintenance. The main consideration is the need of the party requesting maintenance versus the ability to pay of the party who will pay maintenance. RCW 26.09.090 provides the factors a court must consider when awarding spousal maintenance.

There is also a factor the court is specifically ordered not to consider: the misconduct of either party that may have contributed to the divorce. (There is an exception to this rule if spousal abuse has affected the employability of the receiving spouse.) This differs greatly from many other states that allow the court to consider the misconduct of the other party, or even make it a determinative factor.

As with most legal issues, it is often best to speak with an attorney regarding your specific circumstances. We’d be honored if you choose to contact us!