In the event of a divorce, if either spouse does not have a separate estate, or if a spouse's assets are not sufficient to offer a means of support, a judge might order alimony, which is also known as spousal support or maintenance in Washington. Alimony is usually a monthly financial allowance paid by one spouse to another. The purpose of alimony is to offset any unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing a continuing income to the non-wage earning or lower-wage earning spouse.
To be eligible for alimony, spouses in all states, including Washington, must have been legally married. Alimony is usually based on a settlement agreement made between the spouses or the discretion of a judge. In most states, alimony awards lack the enforcement power that child support orders have, which include wage garnishment and property liens. Recipient spouses do have the option of returning to court to force payment through a contempt action.
Judges may award temporary or permanent maintenance in Washington. A court can order temporary maintenance while the divorce is pending. Most maintenance is ordered for a specific length of time, and once it is ordered, maintenance can be modified only upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. For a summary of divorce law in Washington, go to divorcesource.com.
The type and amount of alimony awarded depends on a variety of factors. Many states base their alimony award guidelines on the federal Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, which recommends that courts consider certain factors when awarding alimony, including the age, physical condition, emotional state, and financial condition of the former spouses; the length of time the recipient would need for education or training to become self-sufficient; the couple's standard of living during the marriage; the length of the marriage; and the ability of the payer spouse to support the recipient while still providing for himself or herself.
In Washington, courts are encouraged to consider the following factors when contemplating an alimony award:
In the United States, alimony is treated differently tax wise from child support payments. In Washington, alimony is deductible for the person who pays it and taxable income for the person who receives it under the rules of the Internal Revenue Service, while child support is not. This can make alimony a tax advantage for the person who pays it and has prompted the federal government to create “hurdle tests” to differentiate between alimony, child support, and property settlement.
In the past, most alimony awards were made to homemakers who needed the support of their former husbands. However, since current marriages often consist of two wage earners, and more men are assuming the duties of child-rearing, alimony awards have changed. It is no longer unusual for an ex-wife to be compelled to make alimony payments to her ex-husband. For a complete review of divorce and alimony law in Washington, go to lawyers.com.