Attorney at Law - Bellevue, WA

Long Term Marriages

 

What Is A Long Term Marriage, And Why Do You care?  Recently, I have handled several divorces in marriages between 25 and 40 years. Some have a lot of assets; some do not; but if you are in a marriage over 25 years long, you really care about the way courts handle divorces in long term marriages.

Washington courts categorize marriages as short term, mid-term, and long term. There is no statutory definition of what exactly they are; but generally, short term is anywhere from an hour to about 5 years; mid-term is from 5 years to 25 years; long term is anything 25 years or over.

How Do Courts Handle Maintenance?  Generally, in marriages under 25 years, courts will use a very rough 1 to 3 ratio: that is, one year of support to every three years of marriage. (See my Maintenance Section.)  In 25 year and over marriages, though, in King and Snohomish County, a very different rule applies.

There is a recent case called Marriage of Rockwell. That case says that when the parties have been married over 25 years, the court’s job is to put the parties in equal financial positions for the rest of their lives. That makes sense: generally, if you have been married 25-30 years, you are thinking about retirement; the income earner is at the peak of their earning ability; and whatever the other partner can do to make money, that’s probably the most she will ever make. It is a  sad but hard truth, that people over 50 generally do not start and build successful careers.

Marriage of Rockwellmeans that the court needs to divide things equally: assets, debts, and income streams. That means, if you are the income earner, you may well be paying her half your income as maintenance, forever – including Social Security. And she will get half of all the assets. Courts have interpreted Rockwell as meaning that the court has to divide separate property as well, if need be, to equalize the parties’ financial positions.

If you have a long term marriage, call me!

Case Law:

“In the case of a short marriage [approximately 5 years or less], the marriage has in fact not been the significant event that is normally presumed. Particularly, there has not been a long reliance on the marital partnership. Therefore, the emphasis should be to look backward to determine what the economic positions of the parties were at the inception of the marriage and then seek to place them back in that position, including provision for interest or inflation, if feasible. After doing that, if there are properties left over, they would presumably be divided about equally. Presumably in a short marriage maintenance would not be paid, except in extraordinary circumstances or perhaps for a very brief adjustment period.”

Winsor, “Guidelines for the Exercise of Judicial Discretion in Marriage Dissolutions,” Washington State Bar News, vol. 14, page 16 (Jan. 1982)

“In the case of a long marriage [approximately 25 years or more], the goal should be to look forward and to seek to place the spouses in an economic position where, if they both work to the reasonable limits of their capacities, and manage properties awarded to them reasonably, they can be expected to be in roughly equal financial positions for the rest of their lives. Long term maintenance, sometimes permanent, is presumably likely to be used unless the properties accumulated are quite substantial, so that a lopsided award of property would permit a balancing of the positions without (much) maintenance.”

Winsor, “Guidelines for the Exercise of Judicial Discretion in Marriage Dissolutions,” Washington State Bar News, vol. 14, page 16 (Jan. 1982)

Post-dissolution economic circumstances are paramount consideration in awarding maintenance (see same point under Property above).

In re Marriage of Williams, 84 Wn. App. 263, 927 P.2d 679 (1996), review denied, 131 Wn.2d 1025 (1997)

The non-exclusive statutory factors for assessing maintenance exclude marital misconduct (except see “spousal abuse” below) and include, but are not limited to, the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including the property to be awarded; the ability of the party seeking maintenance to be self-sufficient without assistance, including the receipt of child support; the time and education needed by the party seeking maintenance to become self-sufficient; the standard of living established during the marriage; the duration of the marriage; the age, physical and emotional condition and financial obligations of the spouse seeking maintenance; and the ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet his own needs and obligations while paying maintenance.

RCW 26.09.090

In re Marriage of Marzetta, 129 Wn. App. 607, 120 P.3d 75, review denied 157 Wn.2d 1009, 139 P.3d 349 (2005);

The amount of maintenance is limited by need versus ability to pay.

In re Marriage of Foley, 84 Wn. App. 839, 930 P.2d 929 (1997)

A demonstrated capacity for self-support does not automatically preclude maintenance. In re Marriage of Washburn, 101 Wn.2d 168, 178-79, 677 P.2d 152 (1984)

“[T]he court is not limited to assessing a minimum amount of maintenance to pay monthly expenses. It may also consider the standard of living attained during the marriage, the ability of one spouse to pay additional maintenance, and the other's ability to provide for himself or herself.” (Barnett at p. 388)


In re Marriage of Washburn, 101 Wn.2d 168, 179, 677 P.2d 152 (1984)

One factor in awarding maintenance is the standard of living experienced during the marriage (effectively overruling prior holdings that maintaining a lifestyle to which one has become accustomed is not a test of need, i.e. Cleaver v. Cleaver, 10 Wn. App. 14, 516 P.2d 508 (1973); Friedlander v. Friedlander, 80 Wn.2d 293, 297, 494 P.2d 208 (1972); Morgan v. Morgan, 59 Wn.2d 639, 369 P.2d 516 (1962)). An acceptable method is equalizing incomes for an appropriate period of time (Estes, Washburn and Bulicek). RCW 26.09.090
Kenneth W. Weber, 20 Washington Practice, Family and Community Property Law, §34.6 (1997)
In re Marriage of Estes, 84 Wn. App. 586, 593, 929 P.2d 500 (1997);