Divorce breaks familiar patterns, including your financial dynamics as a couple. But spousal support or maintenance ensures both you and your spouse have sufficient means to keep going with a reasonable quality of life amid the marriage’s disintegration.
To come up with a fair maintenance order complete with amounts and payment plans, Washington courts consider relevant factors, such as the duration of your marriage, your overall health condition, your lifestyle during the marriage, and current and future earning capacity.
But after the maintenance order’s approval and implementation, family affairs still rarely stay the same. What happens if sudden and severe changes befall your family?
Conditions to modify spousal support
Some couples prefer fixed obligations as deterrence against unpredictable economic circumstances. The paying spouse may look for ways to lower the amount, while the dependent spouse may aim for higher support.
But for those who would rather have the option to respond to change, modifications on future payments are possible under two conditions:
- Specifically indicate that the order is modifiable.
- There must be a “substantial change in circumstances,” which must be drastic enough for the court to actually take into account.
- Severe or catastrophic illness necessitating long-term treatment and care
- Significant income increase or cut, mass layoff or major industry reforms
While waiting for the court’s decision on your modification petition, the existing maintenance order needs to continue. Failure to make payments could be punishable with jail time and fee penalties.
Further, termination of the maintenance order could also happen if the receiving spouse dies or remarries. But cohabiting with a new partner generally does not warrant ceasing an order.
Openness to compromise is key in tackling change. It takes you and your spouse to become willing participants for the spousal support arrangement to work for both parties. Suppose you are still trying to determine whether your situation qualifies for a modification. In that case, your legal counsel can help ease your burdens and focus on developing pragmatic courses of action that move the process forward.