Financial incompatibility is one of the top reasons couples find themselves considering divorce.
This incompatibility doesn’t mean the couple is fighting about a lack of money. Instead, they have different approaches to spending money.
Those approaches can feel impossible to reconcile. That’s when divorce becomes an option. But that doesn’t mean that every couple who thinks about divorcing for financial reasons files immediately.
If you live in Washington and you’re thinking of divorce, you may hesitate because of spousal support. The spouse who makes more money often fears they’ll have to pay it. The spouse who makes less may fear financial ruin if they don’t receive it.
There are a lot of misconceptions about alimony and spousal support. Read on to find out the real story.
What Spousal Support Is (and Isn’t)
Does this sound familiar? You know a guy at work who has to pay his ex thousands of dollars a month in alimony. Even worse, she won’t get a job.
There are stories like that everywhere. But consider the source. Chances are, your coworker is leaving out key information.
The alimony system can get abused. But alimony is still rarer than it was 50 years ago.
In the 1960s, about one-fourth of divorces led to some kind of alimony. But as of 2015, one expert estimated only 10 percent of divorces resulted in the awarding of alimony to one partner.
Indefinite alimony is also less common. In fact, some states have taken steps to ensure that alimony is only available for a limited duration.
It’s important to note that alimony is not the same thing as child support. Child support is standard whenever a divorcing couple has kids. Alimony is not standard.
Do I Have to Pay Alimony?
The “Do I have to pay alimony?” question is best directed towards your divorce lawyer. That said, there are still some general guidelines that are applicable.
Think about something called your shared standard of living. Let’s use a hypothetical couple in Spokane as an example.
Tim works as a doctor and makes more than $500,000 a year. His wife, Janet, used to be a librarian. But when they started a family, he encouraged her to stay at home with the kids.
Ten years later, Janet has done just that. She has no source of income other than what Tim gives her. But she’s also served as the primary caregiver for the couple’s three kids.
One day, Janet decides to bring up divorce. She says she hasn’t felt happy for a long time. Tim feels shocked and angry, but he doesn’t try to convince her to change her mind.
He does hope that he can get out of paying alimony. But that’s unlikely in this case. The shared standard of living would be impossible for Janet to sustain on her own.
Tim and Janet’s hypothetical marriage is an example of a financially unbalanced marriage. Tim has a lot of income, while Janet has none.
Janet wants to go back to work at the library, but she’s been out of the profession for a while. Her oldest child is 10, and she’s spent his entire life as a stay-at-home parent.
Without alimony, Janet would have no choice but to move in with a parent or sibling. Alimony allows her to exit the marriage in a more dignified way as she tries to get back on her feet.
When Alimony Doesn’t Make Sense
The above example is a textbook situation where alimony could get ordered in Washington. But remember the statistics. There are many more divorces where alimony isn’t even considered.
Let’s say a husband and wife in Walla Walla both work as teachers. They each make about $50,000 a year. In this case, alimony doesn’t make sense.
That’s because they’re financial equals. Sure, their standard of living will drop a bit when they go from one household to two. But each spouse will get affected in roughly the same way.
Alimony is also less likely when a marriage hasn’t lasted long. Short marriages aren’t viewed the same way in divorce court. A couple dissolving a marriage of two years shouldn’t have to worry about alimony.
How Long Does Alimony Last?
How long will one spouse have to pay alimony? No one can say that without looking at the specific circumstances of each divorce.
Washington state law also has something to say on this. If the person receiving the payments remarries, that’s generally the end of alimony.
Some court orders may dictate otherwise. It’s not common for an alimony order to stay in place after the person receiving it remarries. However, it’s also not impossible.
If one person dies, then that changes things as well. A dead person obviously can’t either give or receive spousal support.
What if you’re concerned that your estranged spouse will push for indefinite alimony? Your lawyer can tell you why that’s unlikely.
But if you’re worried, you’re better off settling before the divorce case can go to trial. That’s more predictable than waiting for the court to rule a certain way.
For instance, let’s say one partner wants to pay alimony for a year. The other partner wants to receive it for five years. The two sides may agree that three years of spousal support is a reasonable compromise.
Other changes may also warrant going to court and asking for alimony to get modified or eliminated. If the person paying alimony gets laid off, that’s a good reason to ask for a change.
But make sure you aren’t deliberately making less income in an attempt to get revenge on your former spouse. Courts can usually see right through that. If they catch you doing it, things are not going to go well for you.
Spousal Support in Washington State
Getting ordered to pay alimony can be frustrating. But it helps to know that spousal support is almost never something that’s ordered at random.
The divorce court can seem unfair. But that doesn’t mean the judge is pulling orders out of thin air.
In most cases, you should not get a divorce without an experienced attorney. That’s doubly true if you think you could get ordered to pay alimony.
Our firm has offices in Spokane, Kennewick and Walla Walla. Contact us with questions about alimony, child support, or any other aspect of divorce.