During the beginning stages of a marriage, no one wants to think about divorce. However, the statistics are clear, and nearly half the couples who marry will eventually split up. With that in mind, couples are smart to plan for the financial consequences of a potential divorce, even if the marriage is currently healthy.
Understanding Spousal Support
In many relationships, one partner is often worth significantly more than the other in strictly financial terms. For example, one spouse may have a high-paying job, while the other quit his or her dream job to stay home with the children. Alternatively, one partner could enter into the marriage with family money, or could inherit from a wealthy relative during the course of the marriage.
Regardless of the circumstances, Washington is a community property state, which means that the marital estate is split fairly between the two spouses in the event of a divorce. Community or marital property includes all income earned by a husband or wife during the marriage, all property acquired with a spouse’s income during the marriage, and any property acquired with joint or marital funds during the marriage.
In addition to splitting property, Washington law allows for a judge to order one spouse to pay the other spousal maintenance, known in other states as alimony. These types of payments are similar to child support payments, in that one spouse will have to give the other monthly payments in order to provide for his or her financial means. Unlike child support, the parties to a marriage can agree to give up their right to receive spousal maintenance payments.
Pre- and Post-Nuptial Agreements
When one person in a marriage has more financial resources than the other, it is common to create a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement which outlines what each spouse is entitled to in the event that the marriage should end. Regardless of when these agreements are signed, most contain a waiver of spousal support.
Courts will generally allow a spouse to waive his or her right to support so long as the waiver is made knowingly, willingly, and without duress or intimidation. In order for such a waiver to be valid in Washington, the waiver must be in writing, and must be signed by both parties. An attorney should be retained to explain the agreement to the person signing up his or her rights, and the waiver should include a listing of each of the parties’ assets, debts, and income.
If the agreement is fair or reasonable to the spouse with limited financial means, then it will usually be upheld. The court will not allow a person to be left with nothing, or so destitute that he or she will have to go on welfare or other state-assistance programs in order to survive. But, as long as each party made a full disclosure of his or her assets, and entered into the agreement voluntarily after independently consulting an attorney, the courts will usually enforce the agreement like any other contract.
In the event that a waiver of spousal support was not made willingly, was blatantly unfair, or was made after fraudulent disclosures of assets, the court has the option to find the waiver unenforceable. If this occurs, the party who created the waiver could be responsible for paying spousal support as if there was no agreement at all.
Waivers of spousal support should be carefully drafted so that they withstand judicial scrutiny in case of a divorce. At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our knowledgeable Washington family law attorneys understand your fears about your financial state after a divorce. Whether you are concerned about making ends meet after a divorce, or need help protecting your assets, our divorce and alimony lawyers can guide you through every step of the process.
If you would like more information about spousal maintenance, child support, prenuptial agreements or any other family law issue, call Pacific Northwest Family Law today at 509-572-3700.