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Setting the Record Straight on Virginia Spousal Support (Alimony)

One divorce-related issue that causes stress, and sometimes contention, is the issue of alimony. Virginia laws refer to this monetary support from one current or former spouse to the other as spousal support

High-earning spouses are continually worried about having to pay an exorbitant amount of spousal support. Spouses whose careers took a back seat to raising children or otherwise tending to the homefront are often worried about not getting enough spousal support. Some spouses are even under the impression that spousal support is a form of punishment meted out by judges to philanderous or abusive spouses. 

The reality for Virginians is that judges (if necessary) decide the amount and duration of spousal support based on a number of statutory factors and considerations. Below are some of the more important things to know. 

Judges May Order Temporary Spousal Support While the Divorce is Pending

Pendente lite (Latin for pending litigation) spousal support is support paid at any point up until the Final Decree of Divorce. This temporary support in Virginia follows a formula that differs based on whether or not the parties have minor children. The pendente lite formula is the presumptive amount, unless the parties’ income is greater than $10,000 per month. Each party can present evidence and argument asking the court to deviate from the presumptive amount, but it will ultimately be up to the Court to decide, unless the parties agree in advance on an amount.  

Post-Divorce Spousal Support May Be For a Fixed Period or Permanent

In Virginia, the length of time a party must pay spousal support (if they are ordered to pay at all), is based on many factors (see Virginia Code 20-107.1), but one factor is the length of the marriage. Generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the longer the spousal support. Spousal support can be ordered for a party’s lifetime, and then terminated upon the receiving party’s remarriage or habitual cohabitation with another individual in a relationship analogous to marriage for a period greater than twelve months.

Spousal support can also be for a fixed duration, depending on the factors as delineated in Virginia Code 20-107.1. Reviewing those factors can help you help your attorney come up with a strategy as to how best to approach the spousal support issue.

Often times parties think a Court is not allowed to order spousal support if one party has committed adultery. This is not the case. The Court cannot award permanent spousal support to a party who has committed adultery, unless the Court finds it would be a manifest injustice to not make such award.

Spousal Support Factors

Unlike pendente lite support, judges must consider a number of factors when determining whether or not to award spousal support and how much to award. A few of these factors include: 

  • The needs of the parties
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The earning capacity of each spouse;
  • Property division resulting from the divorce;
  • The ability of each spouse to gain education or training to become self-sufficient;
  • The standard of living during the marriage; and
  • The contributions of each spouse to the family’s well-being.

Spousal Support Can Be Modified or Terminated 

Unless the parties agree otherwise, spousal support is modifiable upon motion of a party. The party requesting the modification must show a material change of circumstance and then the Court will consider the factors in Virginia Code 20-107.1 (as discussed above).

Spousal support can also be terminated upon a party’s showing that the payee has remarried or is habitually cohabiting in a relationship analogous to marriage, or upon the death of either party. 

Conclusion

Spousal support is an important legal tool to help Virginians provide for themselves. However, it is up to parties in a family law case to show a need for spousal support; judges will not automatically award it. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced Virginia family law attorney help guide you through the legal process. Norton Pelt, PLC promises to Represent You With the Strength of the Mountain.

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