Divorce After a Long-Term Marriage

Divorce (called dissolution of marriage in Washington) after a long-term marriage can be especially difficult.  Families, finances, housing, and emotions have likely become well enmeshed after twenty or more years of marriage.  The procedure to end a long-term marriage is the same as the procedure to end a short or medium-term marriage, but there are certain issues that become especially important in long-term marriages.

Retirement is among the greatest concerns for couples that have spent twenty plus years together. If both spouses worked earning roughly the same amount of retirement benefits each year of marriage, the process can be as simple as dividing the retirement assets equally. But in situations where one party has earned less retirement benefits than the other party or has earned no retirement benefits at all, this can be a more difficult process. It is important to consider the future retirement benefit earning potential of each party. One of the main considerations in this issue is how much time and ability each spouse has to earn additional retirement benefits prior to reaching retirement age. The division of retirement assets is an important part of most divorces at the end of a long-term marriage.

Spousal maintenance is another important consideration after a long-term marriage. The duration of a marriage is one of the factors for the court’s consideration when determining whether to award maintenance, and, if so, how much and for how long. RCW 26.09.090. The longer the marriage, the more likely the need for long-term or permanent spousal maintenance. This makes sense in that in many couples there is an agreement that one party will put their career on the back burner while that spouse takes care of some of the non-wage-earning activities involved in keeping a house and/or raising children. Other factors that the court reviews for determination of maintenance relate to the length of the marriage as well. A person thinking that maintenance may be a part of their divorce should look at the factors listed in RCW 26.09.090.

The longer marriages survive the more likely it is that the couple has amassed a large amount of property and or assets together. In addition to retirement assets (discussed above) there is likely real property, other financial assets, vehicles, antiques, jewelry, and more. All of this property should be divided (but not necessarily equally) during the divorce process. A person seeking a divorce after a long-term marriage will need to do an inventory of all of their assets. Then, the person should prioritize which assets are the most important for them to maintain after divorce. An experienced family law attorney can advise you of the likelihood of maintaining those prioritized assets and the best way to do so.

It is important to have good advice during any divorce, but this can be especially true in divorces after a long-term marriage.  The stakes are very high when all of a person’s assets, family, and emotions are intertwined with their spouse’s. If you would like to speak with a Seattle family law attorney, please contact us. We have experience advising clients seeking divorces after long-term marriages, and we are ready to help you.

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