Modifying Spousal Maintenance in Washington State
Washington law provides that spousal maintenance (aka “alimony”) awards to be modified but only as to future payments and only if you can show a substantial change of circumstances. The law also provides that the obligation to pay maintenance stops upon death of either the recipient or the payor or remarriage or registration of a domestic partnership of the party receiving maintenance.
Parties may also agree to nonmodifiable maintenance and once it is approved by the court and made part of the final orders, it becomes enforceable. The only exception is if the nonmodifiable spousal support agreement was unfair. But still, parties can expressly agree to modify maintenance later. The trial court also has jurisdiction to do certain things like restructuring the payments if the total amount to be paid is not altered.
In a recent case before the Court of Appeals, the parties had agreed in a separation contract that maintenance would be nonmodifiable as to amount and duration and the separation contract was made part of the divorce decree. The separation contract further stated that the contract constitutes the entire agreement between the parties and that no modification would be binding unless it was in writing and signed by both parties with the same formalities as the agreement.
A few years after the divorce, the former husband needed the former wife to sign a release so he could qualify for a bank loan. The parties mutually agreed that the former husband would continue to pay maintenance after the former wife remarried if the former wife could provide proof she has remarried and agreed to execute a document for the bank stating that the former husband would not have to pay her maintenance under the decree of dissolution. Two days after the wife signed a notarized document for the bank, the former husband executed a promissory note that stated that the note superseded all previous agreements, including their divorce decree provision related to spousal maintenance obligations, and promised to continue to pay to the former wife monthly spousal maintenance through May 2024. The former husband later refused to pay spousal maintenance to the former wife as per the promissory note and their agreement stating that she remarried, and maintenance was no longer needed. The appellate court held that the parties agreed to modify the separation contract on maintenance and signed an enforceable contract. The promissory note created an independent contractual obligation to pay spousal maintenance. The former husband was ordered to pay spousal maintenance.
If you need help with spousal maintenance issues, you need to get the guidance of an attorney as soon as possible. Our team can help! Contact ZafiroLaw today.