Married Couple Holding HandsMany factors can influence Washington Courts to order spousal maintenance, also known as alimony or spousal support. The length of a marriage affects whether spousal support is granted, how much support should be paid, and for how long. If your finances could change significantly after a Washington state divorce, you should speak to a divorce lawyer as soon as possible to learn your options.

The Relationship Between the Length of a Marriage and Spousal Maintenance

Spouses have a duty to support one another financially while their divorce is pending. For this reason, courts may order temporary alimony that must be paid until the final divorce decree, which can last several months. A lower-earning spouse can request spousal support if the other spouse has the ability to pay, but it’s up to the court to grant the request.

Marriages Lasting Less Than Five Years

Spouses in short-term marriages (less than five years) are less likely to receive alimony than spouses whose finances have been blended for significantly longer. Courts generally try to put divorcing spouses back in their pre-marriage financial positions, so calculating each spouse’s portion of shared assets is less complicated if only a few years have passed. That said, a short-term marriage could lead to an alimony award if one spouse cannot work or made significant sacrifices during the marriage, such as quitting a job to raise the children.

Marriages Between Five and 20 Years

Spousal support is harder to predict for couples that divorce after their fifth but before their 20th anniversary. While support is more common in these cases, the amount can fluctuate based on the specific circumstances and the court that presides over the case. There is no statute dictating the length of alimony, but courts in Washington state generally award a year of maintenance for every three to four years of marriage.

Marriages of Over 25 Years

For spouses going through a divorce after a marriage of 25 years or longer, the court focuses on putting both spouses in equitable financial positions for the rest of their lives. Spouses in long-term marriages are generally considered equal partners under the law, and spousal support may be needed to increase a lower-earning spouse’s income until retirement age.

Spousal Support Is Only Temporary

Spousal support isn’t intended as a long-term solution for the spouses’ income disparity. The court assumes that both spouses will work to earn a living and meet their own financial obligations after divorce, even if one spouse needs more time to get back on their feet.

If you are the spouse seeking support, the burden is on you to prove the financial need and future goals behind your request. If you plan to return to school, you may begin applying for programs that will lead to a steady income while your divorce is pending. You may need to speak with a career advisor if you’ve been unemployed or self-employed during the marriage. This can help you get a reasonable estimate on the timeline for your reentry into the workforce and lend credibility to your alimony request.

The court rarely grants permanent spousal support. Alimony may also be prematurely discontinued in some circumstances, such as if the recipient spouse remarries. For this reason, getting everything you’re owed in your property settlement is essential. Once the divorce is finalized, you have little recourse to ask for a more significant share of the marital assets.

Get Advice From a Washington State Divorce Attorney

Call the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny at 425-460-0550 for a personalized assessment of your case, or use our online contact form to arrange your private consultation. If you want to learn more, read through our free guide, 9 Urban Myths about Divorce That Can Hurt You.


Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington
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