Maintenance (Spousal Support)
What is maintenance? Very simply put: maintenance is where the court orders one spouse (usually, though not always, the husband) to pay part of their income to the other spouse.
There are several different reasons for maintenance: compensatory, rehabilitative, etc. In my experience, it doesn’t matter a lot what you call it, or how you analyze it, because there are only two rules that really count: maintenance is based on need and ability to pay; and the court has to do fairness to both sides. (See case law, below.)
Can You Get Support If You Are Just Living Together? Maintenance, in this state, must be authorized by statute. The courts have held that you are NOT entitled to maintenance if you are not married, or registered domestic partners.
Maintenance is not dividing assets. For example: I just finished a divorce trial where there was a fifteen year marriage. Husband (not my client) made just over $100,000 a year. The wife (my client) had not worked for most of the marriage. At the time of trial, she was working at her first full time (though contract) job, for $14.00 an hour. Result: the court awarded maintenance (in addition to child support) of $2,500 per month, for five years. The court ruled that she needed about five years to get a degree and get back in the workforce; but really that was just a basis. The real reason was that was what the court thought was fair.
Is There Long Term Maintenance? You bet. There is a (very) informal rule, that the court should award maintenance I a 1 to 3 ratio – that is, 1 year of maintenance to every three years of marriage. That is nowhere in the statute – but the last four cases I have tried, with different sets of facts, that’s roughly the way it turned out. In one, with 15 years of marriage, I got five years of support. In a 23 year marriage, I got seven years of support. In a ten year marriage, I got three years of support.
However, if you are in King, or Snohomish Counties, there is a new Division I case that is very important: Marriage of Rockwell. It says that if the marriage is longer than 25 years, the court must (not should, but must) place the parties on an equal financial footing for life. The case is here. Trial courts have interpreted that to mean they have to divide separate property, even. But if you have a marriage 25 years or longer, you need to now about this case.
The amount of maintenance is harder to figure out. That is based on need and ability to pay. There are several factors: how much can each side make; how much debts each person is paying; what kind of needs each side has. There are some rules of thumb: if a wife is making over $50,000 a year, she is unlikely to get any maintenance. Getting maintenance for a husband is an uphill fight (though not impossible; I’ve done it.) All things being equal, a man will get less maintenance than a woman will. But to give you a good ballpark idea, we need to talk.
Some of the citations and case law are:
“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) “In dissolving a marriage of 25 years or more, the court must put the parties in roughly equal financial positions for the rest of their lives.” (Rockwell II)
Post-dissolution economic circumstances are paramount consideration in awarding maintenance (see same point under Property above).