Maintenance. What is it and who gets it?

What is spousal maintenance? The newer, hipper name for alimony. The court recognizes that when you’re married, finances are often one big joint affair, and then when you’re separated, one person may lose all access to that joint account. The point of spousal maintenance is to put one spouse in the same position he/she was in before the dissolution began. If one spouse makes significantly more money than the other, then the lesser-earning spouse is likely a candidate for maintenance.

The standard for receiving maintenance is squishy. Does one party demonstrate a need and does the other party have an ability to pay? If the answers are resounding yesses, then you move on to the bulleted list found in RCW 26.09.090 which sets forth a number of factors to consider when deciding on maintenance:

 (a) The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including separate or community property apportioned to him or her, and his or her ability to meet his or her needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party;

(b) The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find employment appropriate to his or her skill, interests, style of life, and other attendant circumstances;

(c) The standard of living established during the marriage or domestic partnership;

(d) The duration of the marriage or domestic partnership;

(e) The age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations of the spouse or domestic partner seeking maintenance; and

(f) The ability of the spouse or domestic partner from whom maintenance is sought to meet his or her needs and financial obligations while meeting those of the spouse or domestic partner seeking maintenance.

The next two big questions to ask once you determine that are, in fact, eligible for maintenance are: how much and for how long?

How much? There are no good answers to this and it really depends on the circumstances of your case. If you stayed at home with the kids while your spouse made the money, was there a certain amount you spent each month on food? Daycare? Clothing? Add it all up and that may be the amount you ask for. If you both worked, but lived a life that was heavily dependent on the income of the spouse who made much more, you may be entitled to some maintenance to help boost you up to that same economic level.

How long? Well… that depends, too. How long were you married for? Have you been living at a specific economic level for a dozen years? Or was it a short-lived marriage and you’ve really only been privy to the other party’s earning income for a short amount of time? Generally, the longer you’ve been married, the longer your spousal support will last. If you’ve been married for two years, there’s probably not a lot of spousal maintenance to look forward to, unless you can demonstrate that you have completely sacrificed your earning potential for the other spouse who told you to rely on his/her income.

There is also compensatory maintenance, which is if one spouse has supported the other while he/she is going through school, with the expectation that future earnings will benefit the community, but the marriage ends before those future earnings come along. In that case, a spouse may receive more in the assets division to compensate for the inability to receive these future earnings.

Like most things in family law, maintenance awards are heavily driven by the individual circumstances of the case. Speak to your family law attorney to see how maintenance may apply to you.