Once a Washington divorce decree is issued, a maintenance award can only be modified by the court when the party seeking the modification shows a substantial change in circumstances. A fact unknown to the trial court or an unanticipated fact that arises after the decree is entered may constitute a substantial change in circumstances. In a case involving spousal maintenance, commonly referred to as “alimony,” a substantial change may involve a significant increase or decrease in income. In a recent case, the ex-wife sought to continue maintenance when her ex-husband decided not to retire at the time they had previously expected him to do so.
The divorce decree required the husband to pay spousal maintenance in the amount of $1100 per month for 48 months. The wife sought to extend the maintenance four years later. She alleged there was a substantial change in circumstances because the husband had not retired from the military as she had expected. If he had retired, she would have started receiving part of his retirement benefits when the maintenance payments stopped. She provided an email from the husband in which he stated he would pay the maintenance “until [he] got out.” The husband told her he was not ready to retire in December 2016, and suggested he would not do so until 2019. The wife requested the maintenance continue until the husband’s retirement. She also requested attorney fees in her reply declaration.
The commissioner denied the wife’s motion, finding no substantial change in circumstances. The commissioner also granted the husband’s motion to strike the wife’s request for attorney’s fees and denied the request.