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How Does Washington State Determine Spousal Maintenance Awards?

On Behalf of | Oct 20, 2019 | Family Law |

Settling what was perhaps Washington state’s most famous divorce, MacKenzie Bezos received 4 percent of Amazon’s stock, worth approximately $36.8 billion, from company founder Jeff Bezos. No alimony was awarded and clearly there was no need for it. She is now the third richest woman in the world, according to Forbes. However, few divorcees obtain massive property settlements. Some need continuing alimony, which in Washington is called maintenance.

Like most states, Washington provides for support payments to the lower-income spouse after a divorce. Maintenance is also available upon dissolution of a state-registered domestic partnership. Unlike some states, Washington has no official calculator to determine the amount of maintenance. Rather, it is based on factors listed in Revised Code of Washington § 26.09.090, which include:

  • How long it would take the receiving spouse or domestic partner to find a position — or obtain the education or training to obtain a position — that will allow them to maintain their lifestyle
  • What the standard of living was during the marriage or domestic partnership
  • How long the marriage or domestic partnership lasted
  • Whether the receiving spouse or domestic partner is older, physically or emotionally disabled or has long-term financial obligations
  • Whether the paying spouse or domestic partner would be able to meet his or her needs and obligations in addition to paying maintenance

A judge is free to look at any other factors that might bear on the need for and amount of a maintenance award.

Washington law is relatively flexible regarding the structure of awards. Maintenance may be temporary, permanent or a combination of both. Further, judges have leeway to order payments in a lump sum or on a monthly, annual or other frequency.

Maintenance may also apply to couples in what the law terms a “committed intimate relationship.” Whether such a legal status exists depends on such factors as:

  • The exclusivity of the relationship
  • The length and continuity of cohabitation
  • Whether the parties presented themselves as a committed couple
  • Whether there were jointly owned assets and shared debts
  • Whether either party named the other in wills, insurance policies or other legal instruments

Washington does not recognize common law marriages, but if one originated in a state that recognizes them, it may be considered a committed intimate relationship by a Washington court.

A knowledgeable Washington family law attorney can advise about whether you are eligible to receive maintenance or may be required to pay maintenance after a divorce or the breakup of a domestic partnership or committed intimate relationship. Call Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C. at 253-272-5653 or contact us for a consultation at our Tacoma office.