UPDATED: What is Spousal Maintenance?

Goldberg Jones Divorce, Spousal Support Leave a Comment

UPDATE: The sweeping new tax plan Congress passed at the end of 2017 will impact almost everyone. This includes changes to divorce settlements, specifically those involving spousal support.

Beginning January 1, 2019, on new court orders that include spousal support provisions, the party paying spousal support will no longer be able to deduct this amount. At the same time, the recipient will no longer have to pay taxes on this amount. As it currently stands, the opposite is true. This may impact the way people negotiate divorce settlements. Some estimate spousal support payments could drop as much as 10% to 15%.

However, this large change in spousal support taxation policy will not apply to existing divorce orders (those entered prior to January 1, 2019). These orders, so long as not later modified, will be grandfathered in at the prior tax policy.

It is important to note that any Modification after December 31, 2018, to a pre-existing court order re spousal support will likely be subject to the new laws. So, if you have an order in place before 2019, the old regulations still apply. But if you modify the order after the new tax plan takes effect, you’re likely subject to the new rules.

ORIGINAL POST: In the state of Washington, spousal maintenance is compensation awarded in a divorce to help transition one spouse out of the marriage. Sometimes referred to as spousal support or alimony, spousal maintenance is usually awarded when a disparity of income earning ability exists between spouses.

In Washington, spousal maintenance is rehabilitative in nature. It is designed to provide the disadvantaged spouse a way to restart and move into a self-supporting situation by easing the transition back into the workforce, or by providing an opportunity for education.

While not an exhaustive list, the court uses a combination of the following factors to determine if and how much spousal maintenance is awarded:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The future earning ability of each party
  • The amount of property each party will have after the divorce
  • The age and health of both parties

 Spousal maintenance is usually applied when a marriage has lasted more than 4 or 5 years and there is a large disparity in income. Generally, the courts view marriages that lasted less than 5 years as being too short to necessitate spousal maintenance.

 The courts goal in awarding spousal maintenance is to have both parties leave the marriage on equal footing. There are several ways the courts will achieve this. In some circumstances the disadvantaged spouse will receive a monthly support payment. The amount of this payment is determined by the courts and is at the courts discretion. Unlike child support payments, spousal maintenance doesn’t have a specific formula and in some situations the courts will use the division of assets in lieu of monthly payments.

Washington State is a community property state, but that doesn’t mean marital assets are always divided on a 50/50 basis. In some circumstances the court will award a disproportionate percentage of the marital assets to help the spouse with the greater financial disadvantage. In cases where the court chooses to disproportionately divide the marital assets, the amount of monthly spousal maintenance payments can potentially be reduced.

Spousal maintenance can be confusing, particularly because of the discretionary nature of how it is calculated. The best way to understand spousal maintenance is to educate yourself on how divorce will affect your unique situation.

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