Richard Stephenson, the founder of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, is currently involved in an extremely high-stakes divorce trial with his ex-wife Alicia Stephenson. Alicia is asking for $400,000 per month net (after tax) from Richard, and Richard acknowledges that he has the ability to pay that much. Alicia’s attorneys have gone to great lengths to prove Richard’s ability to pay such an extreme amount of spousal maintenance, calling a parade of witnesses to testify about the private jets, mansions, fancy parties, as well as the costs and ownership of various personal items, including over 100 horses, exotic birds, and an airplane. However, the McHenry County (located in Illinois) Judge overseeing the division of assets said that Richard Stephenson’s ability to pay that much “doesn’t mean she’s entitled to it, or that I would order it.” This case has taken seven years since the divorce filing to get to trial because of an inability of the parties to reach a private settlement.
Looking at this case from the point of view of a Washington State Court, the parties were married in 1991 and separated in 2009, meaning they had a marriage of 18 years, which would classify as a “mid-term” marriage. In mid-term marriages, Washington Courts typically award spousal maintenance for about one-fourth (1/4) of the length of the marriage. Therefore, in this case we expect that the most Alicia could expect would be about 4-5 years of spousal maintenance. She would likely not receive long-term spousal maintenance, because the rationale behind the award is not so that the wife may continue this same lifestyle for the rest of her life, but rather the Court views those 4-5 years as a transition period as she adjusts to her independent life. It is only in long-term marriages that Washington Courts seek to create “equivalent economic futures” by awarding property and maintenance in such a way that both parties can continue a similar lifestyle to what they enjoyed for many years in the marriage for the rest of their lives.
Further, in Washington State a divorce case like this would not languish for seven years before a trial. While the vast majority of cases settle privately before trial, the typical time between filing for divorce and the trial date to resolve the divorce is around one year.