Spousal Support in Virginia
The first thing to remember is that you don’t have to let the court dictate a spousal support solution. You and your spouse can work out a settlement agreement and present it to the court for approval. An uncontested divorce has several advantages, not only in terms of cost (no hours in court battling it out) but also in terms of moving forward emotionally and financially.
Types of Spousal Support
In general terms, alimony can be temporary, rehabilitative, or permanent.
- Temporary spousal support is also called pendente lite. Temporary spousal support covers the period from the onset of divorce to its dissolution in court. Temporary spousal support can either be negotiated between the spouses or ordered by the court. In the latter case, each spouse has to present detailed documents showing monthly income and expenses. The court then uses a formula to determine the award based on whether or not minor children are involved.
- Rehabilitative spousal support is awarded (or agreed upon) to cover a period of time in which one spouse can attend school or otherwise prepare to enter the workforce. This usually applies when one spouse has stayed at home or worked part-time in order to support the other spouse or care for children at home.
- Permanent spousal support is just that — it lasts indefinitely, or until circumstances change. If the receiving spouse remarries or enters into a live-in relationship with another person, the payments will likely be ordered to stop. If either spouse dies, the arrangement naturally ends.
Marriages of 20 years or longer are the most likely to result in permanent awards of alimony, but the rule of thumb for most spousal support payments is a duration of 50% of the length of the marriage. A 10-year marriage may thus result in five years of support payments, but nothing is cast in legal stone.
Payments can be made bi-monthly or monthly at a set amount, or a lump sum payment may be ordered. A combination of lump-sum and periodic payments may also be ordered by the court.
Factors in Awarding Spousal Support
The courts use a long list of factors found in Virginia Code Section 20-107.1, which states: “The court, in determining whether to award support and maintenance for a spouse, shall consider the circumstances and factors which contributed to the dissolution of the marriage, specifically including adultery and any other ground for divorce….” In other words, if the spouse requesting alimony has committed adultery, that can be grounds for denial of support.
Absent adultery as a factor, the code then lists 13 considerations for determining an award of spousal support. Among other factors, the list includes:
- The obligations, needs, and financial resources of the parties, including but not limited to income from all pension, profit sharing or retirement plans, of whatever nature.
- The standard of living established during the marriage.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The age and physical and mental condition of the parties and any special circumstances of the family.
- The extent to which the age, physical or mental condition, or special circumstances of any child of the parties would make it appropriate that a party not seek employment outside of the home.
- The contributions — monetary and nonmonetary — of each party to the well-being of the family.
- The property interests of the parties — both real and personal, tangible and intangible.
Modifying a Spousal Support Arrangement
In addition to the cessation of spousal support if the recipient remarries or cohabitates, the paying party can request a modification — or even termination — if his or her income changes. For instance, if the person loses his or her job or the income of the recipient suddenly rises because of a new job or a promotion. However, if you quit a job just to avoid support payments, the court will not look kindly on that.