Spousal Support (Alimony)

Spousal Support (also known as spousal maintenance or alimony) is money paid by the higher wage earning spouse to the lower wage earning spouse. This could mean paying a spouse a monthly alimony during and after the divorce.

How Much Spousal Support Do I Have to Pay?

If you make more money than your spouse, you may be concerned that you will end up paying support for the rest of your life. While lifelong support is not common, the court may order support for any set period of time.


In a divorce, Washington courts strive to lessen the hardship placed on the more financially-dependent spouse by the ending of the marriage. The court looks at the length of the marriage and what the dependent spouse will need to become self-sufficient. It also considers the ability of the higher earning spouse to pay, but the needs of the weak are often found to be more important than the ability of the strong to pay.

The longer the marriage, and the more time your spouse has been unemployed or underemployed, the more likely spousal support will be ordered. However, it is not an absolute given and, it does not necessarily have to last forever. The family law courts in Washington have enormous discretion when determining the appropriate support award and the duration of the alimony payments. There is no State schedule for spousal support like there is for child support. This makes alimony and spousal support one of the more complex, and risky, family law issues in Washington.

Not Splitting Property

Spousal support is different from the division of community property that also occurs in a divorce. With spousal support, the court is seeking to set both spouses on a path towards an equal income, not property.

As a working spouse, you may find yourself in this familiar situation: You worked full-time outside the home during the marriage while your spouse stayed home and took care of the children. After your divorce, how much time will your spouse need to become able to support themselves? What type of job can they get? Do they need additional schooling? These are all questions the court will consider in determining the amount and length of alimony.

Does the Husband Always Pay?

No, not at all. If your wife makes more income than you, it is equally possible for you to ask for support. If your wife is highly educated, and she has been out of the workforce for only a short time, or your marriage was very brief; the court may decide on very little or no support. If your wife currently works full-time and makes the same amount of money as you, the court may not even consider alimony.

It is important to build a case for or against spousal support. Even in uncontested divorces, spousal support may be awarded by the court. Due to this uncertainty, you need an experienced attorney to provide thoughtful, prudent advice and to negotiate a reasonable settlement.

Chad Foster is a trusted Washington lawyer serving Snohomish and King counties with an office in Bothell. Contact us today to discuss your legal issue.

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