Under Washington family law, spousal maintenance may generally only be modified upon a “substantial change in circumstances.” RCW 26.09.170. In considering whether a substantial change has occurred, the court should consider the spouse’s ability to pay in relation to the other spouse’s financial need. A substantial change must not have been contemplated when the original order was issued. A former wife recently challenged modification of the spousal maintenance her former husband was ordered to pay following loss of his job and reemployment.
At the time of the divorce in September 2017, the court found the husband was earning more than $10,000 per month net. The wife had retired after working for the armed forces for 40 years, and was unable to work due to health issues. Her net income was more than $4,000 per month. The court ordered the husband to pay the wife $3000 per month in spousal maintenance and noted it intended to equalize their standards of living.
The husband lost his job in December. He moved to suspend his spousal maintenance in February. The commissioner granted his motion and ordered him to notify the wife when he obtained employment. The husband got a job as a chief engineer in April but failed to notify the wife until July.