Washington Court Must Consider Factors and Make Findings on Income to Order Spousal Maintenance

Even when the parties to a Washington divorce agree that one spouse should pay spousal maintenance to the other, they may not agree to the amount or duration of that maintenance.  In making determinations regarding maintenance, courts should consider certain factors and make specific findings.  A husband successfully challenged the amount and duration of maintenance he was ordered to pay his former wife because the court had filed to fully address the required factors and make findings regarding the parties’ income.

The couple married in 1987.  The wife stayed home and cared for the children.  The husband retired from the Marine Corps at the age of 43 in 2006 and began working as a truck driver.  The couple separated in 2012 and the husband filed for divorce in 2015.  He agreed he would pay maintenance to the wife.

On a monthly basis, the husband received wages, significant overtime earnings, military disability, and military retirement. In addition to his military retirement, the husband had a retirement account with his current employer and a 401k.  He claimed $3,995 in monthly expenses.  The wife declared she had no income and $3,566 in expenses each month.

The court awarded the home to the wife, but ordered her to refinance or sell it within the next 18 months.  The court awarded the wife half of the retirement accounts, but offset the husband’s share of the home equity against one of them. The court also awarded maintenance to the wife.  The court listed the factors to be considered in awarding maintenance and stated that “upon examination of the above factors, the wife should be awarded maintenance for 20 years.”  The court subsequently amended the decree to provide maintenance would end upon the death, marriage, or registration of a domestic partner of either spouse.

The husband appealed the amount and duration of the maintenance award.  He argued it had been based on inaccurate projections of income.  Although the record indicated the trial court had considered the parties’ income, the court had not made a finding on their actual income.  The appeals court remanded and instructed the trial court to determine each party’s income.

The husband also argued the trial court erred in its conclusion of law that it “must put the parties in roughly equal positions post dissolution.” He argued Washington case law did not require the court to put the parties in equal positions “for the rest of their lives.” The appeals court found, however, the trial court had considered the statutory factors in determining maintenance.  In its oral ruling, the court had addressed the wife’s financial circumstances and lack of meaningful gainful employment.  It also addressed her likelihood of employment given her limited education.  It considered the length of the marriage and the likely change of the parties’ standard of living.  The court also discussed the wife’s age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations.

The trial court had not, however, addressed the husband’s needs, financial obligations, or ability to pay maintenance.  The appeals court instructed the trial court to enter written findings on the statutory factors.  The appeals court also instructed the trial court to specifically address the husband’s ability to continue working overtime as well as his ability to pay maintenance and meet his own financial obligations.

The trial court also made an error regarding the amount the wife would receive from the retirement account after the offset.  The appeals court instructed the trial court to enter an order that accurately reflected its ruling.

The appeals court affirmed the award of maintenance but remanded for the trial court to make findings regarding income, consider the statutory factors, and determine the amount and duration of maintenance.

In awarding maintenance, the court must properly consider the factors and make findings regarding the income.  One important fact in this case was that the husband was 53 years old and working in what the trial court identified as a difficult job that is “taxing both mentally and physically. . . .” His current income included his regular wages from that job and overtime.  The trial court noted the husband would likely cut back on overtime or potentially want to retire during the next 20 years.  Additionally, the wife, who was 51, had not had significant meaningful employment.  With these facts, it is particularly important for the court to consider the factors and make a finding regarding the income of the parties.  Each party has reason to be concerned about their future earning potential and to want to ensure the court fully considered their circumstances.

Even if you and your spouse agree that maintenance should be paid, an experienced Washington divorce attorney can help protect your rights and ensure the appropriate factors are considered.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to schedule an appointment to talk about your case.