According to an ABC Action News report, at least three U.S. states have enacted, or are considering enacting, drastic changes to their spousal support laws. At the forefront of the reform trend (if three states a trend makes), is Massachusetts. The legislature there is changing state law to eliminate life time alimony, and to enact a formula by which courts will determine how long a spouse has to pay alimony. Proponents of the changes say they bring spousal support laws into the present day, in which many woman earn as much or more money than men.
Two other states, New Jersey and Florida, are reportedly also considering changing their alimony laws. Florida, for example, is considering barring courts from taking allegations of adultery into consideration when awarding alimony.
So could “alimony reform” come to Washington state? Not likely. Washington law did away with the concept of unlimited “alimony”decades ago. Instead, Washington’s statute regarding spousal support provides for an award of “maintenance” to a spouse, regardless of gender and without consideration of “marital misconduct” (such as adultery). Maintenance in Washington is intended to provide financial support to a less advantaged spouse for a period of time after a divorce so that they may seek education or otherwise develop job skills, with an end goal of that spouse becoming financially independent.
Washington’s maintenance statute also requires the court to consider the length of the marriage when determining how much support to order, and for how long. While there is no legally binding formula in place, all Washington courts distinguish between short, mid, and long-term marriages in determining whether and for how long to award maintenance.
So, it would seem that our state is already ahead of the curb in “alimony reform”. Or at least ahead of Massachusetts, Florida, and New Jersey.
Check out a previous “Ask a Lawyer” for more on Washington’s maintenance statute.