How is the duration of alimony determined in Washington divorces?

Determining the Duration of Alimony in Washington State Divorces

When couples divorce in Washington state, one of the critical issues that may arise is the matter of alimony, also known as spousal maintenance. Alimony is not awarded in every divorce case, but when it is, determining its duration can be a complex process that considers various factors under Washington law.

Legal Foundation for Alimony

Under RCW 26.09.090, Washington courts have broad discretion to grant spousal maintenance based on the needs of one party and the other party's ability to pay. Unlike child support, there is no set formula for calculating alimony in Washington, making the duration and amount highly variable and contingent upon the circumstances of each case.

Factors Influencing Alimony Duration

The court examines several factors when determining how long alimony payments should continue. These include:

Historically, long-term marriages were more likely to result in longer durations of alimony, especially if one spouse had dedicated many years to homemaking and had limited job prospects as a result. Conversely, shorter marriages might lead to brief or even no alimony awards.

Types of Alimony and Duration

There are different types of alimony that may influence how duration is determined:

For instance, if a couple divorces after a 25-year marriage where one spouse was the primary earner while the other managed home responsibilities and raised children, the court might award long-term alimony to allow that spouse to maintain a standard of living reasonably comparable to what was experienced during the marriage. In contrast, after a short 2-year marriage where both spouses worked and were self-supporting, alimony might be minimal or waived entirely.

Court Discretion and Case Law

Washington courts have wide latitude in determining alimony duration. Precedents set in case law illustrate this discretion. For example, in In re Marriage of Rockwell, a significant change in circumstances led to a modification of spousal support after several years post-divorce. Such cases underscore that while initial determinations are important, adjustments are possible if material changes occur.


In conclusion, determining the duration of alimony in Washington divorces requires careful consideration of multiple factors related to each spouse's financial status, employability, health, age, and contributions during the marriage. The lack of strict formulas means each case can yield widely different outcomes based on individual circumstances and judicial discretion.