Spousal Maintenance (Alimony)

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Spousal Maintenance aka Alimony is a Sticky Calculation

Spousal maintenance, known as alimony, usually goes one of two ways. Either no spousal maintenance is necessary because you and your partner earn about the same amount. Or the higher-earning ex will pay alimony for a set timeframe. The length of maintenance is variable depending on the facts.

There is no magic formula for spousal maintenance in the state of Washington. Several factors are considered—including income, the length of marriage, lifestyle, and the ability of the receiving spouse to get back into the workforce. Since a wide range of outcomes is possible, it’s up to some creative lawyering on both ends.

No matter what side of the spousal maintenance equation you’re on, the overall goal of the court is to leave both parties on fair—but not necessarily even—playing fields after the divorce.

Spousal maintenance really looks at need and ability. The idea behind it is that the non or lower wage-earning spouse should receive money for some time period to allow that person to get back into the workforce or build an asset base. If it’s a “silver divorce,” one spouse might be too old to return to work, and long-term maintenance or a very disproportionate asset split could result.

Especially in high asset cases, you might need the help of our financial experts or CPAs who can analyze your asset base. We also engage vocational experts to evaluate underemployed partners.

How Much Will I Need to Pay, and for How Long?

The amount and duration of maintenance turns on many issues that are set forth in RCW 26.09.090, The Maintenance Statute. As a practical matter, there can be a big difference between a person who has no meaningful job experience and one who took off a couple of years to stay home with small children, or someone who has out-of-date professional skills. In any of these cases, a vocational expert is indispensable. These professionals review the work history of the spouse seeking maintenance and compare it to databases containing employment and wage information. Vocational reports go a long way when making an argument for or against a maintenance award. Our legal team works closely with vocational experts to help provide valuable data to promote a fair settlement.

In a high asset case, if one spouse is going to receive income-generating assets, or a large liquid account, he or she may not “need” maintenance. This is where you may need the help of a financial expert or CPA who can analyze your asset base. The financial expert will help you determine what kind of income could be generated, and how this would bear on the ability of the receiving spouse to support him- or herself without maintenance.

How much you will get—or how much you’ll need to pay—depends heavily on your legal advocate. Due to the complete uncertainty of spousal maintenance and how hard it is to change after the fact, you need to take a strong position backed by expert opinion. Our extensive courtroom experience gives us a good idea how judges view requests for spousal maintenance.


Whether you’re the underemployed spouse or divorcing one, undergoing an expert vocational assessment can get your spousal maintenance on the right track. If you’re asking for alimony, you can tell the judge, “I’ve been assessed, here’s what I’ve got going for me, and here’s what I need to get there.” Or you can help show the court the skills and opportunities your soon-to-be-ex possesses—and how quickly they could become self-supportive.

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.