Do I have to pay spousal support?

Spousal support can be a major aspect of divorce cases in Virginia. The court may order temporary support while the case is pending and may order time-limited or even permanent spousal support at the end of the case.  Spousal support, also known as alimony or maintenance in other states, is not to be confused with child support or equitable distribution (the division of assets).  The amount and length of time one may pay or collect spousal support depends on the circumstances surrounding each marriage and divorce. A couple may decide to enter a spousal support agreement on their own or have an order dictated by the court.  In either case, the advice of an experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney will be to your advantage.

How is spousal support determined?

Unlike child support, the Commonwealth of Virginia does not have a statewide formula for determining either the amount or duration of spousal support.  The basic consideration for determining who pays, how much, and the duration of support is based on the recipient spouse’s financial need balanced against the other’s ability to pay.  Fairfax County does use guidelines, similar to child support guidelines, to determine temporary or “pendente lite” support: the support paid by one spouse to the other during the period after filing until the divorce is final.  Nevertheless, depending on the judge and the jurisdiction, circuit courts in Virginia may look to these local guidelines for assistance in determining a proper spousal support amount and many judges will use these guidelines as a starting point in evaluating spousal support.

Factors affecting spousal support in Virginia

Courts consider a number of factors in order to grant a fair spousal support agreement, including those listed in Virginia Code 20-107.1. While not an exhaustive list, here are some of the most common factors reviewed by family court judges:
  • Length of marriage
  • Standard of living
  • Income of both spouses including property and assets
  • Minor children and their ages
  • Age and health (physical and mental) of both spouses
  • Earning potential of each spouse
  • Current living expenses
  • Financial support and contributions each spouse made to the other’s education and career during the marriage and to the well-being of the marriage
  • Potential to receive inheritance or other assets
  • Retirement benefits
  • Financial obligations of each spouse
  • Time needed for dependent spouse to seek employment or earn the qualifications needed to obtain gainful employment
  • Tax consequences to each party

Types of spousal support in Virginia

Temporary spousal support:  This type of support is also referred to as pendente lite.  Temporary support is usually requested and granted during the pendency of the divorce case. Its purpose is to help the recipient spouse maintain their standard of living during the divorce process.  Keep in mind that the amount of temporary support awarded has no bearing on the type or amount of spousal support granted or its duration in the final divorce decree. Permanent spousal support:  Permanent support is what most of us think of when we think of spousal support or alimony. However, it has become less and less common. Permanent spousal support is indefinite in that the payments will continue until one spouse dies or the dependent spouse remarries or lives with a new partner.  Typically this type of support is granted after a long marriage when the dependent spouse is unable to work due to age or health, or has little chance of finding gainful employment. Rehabilitative spousal support:  Rehabilitative support has some similarities to permanent support but differs in that it is for a finite period of time. Its purpose is to provide for a dependent spouse until he or she is able to become self-sufficient. It accounts for the time the receiving spouse needs to gain new skills or education and find employment.  Rehabilitative spousal support is not indefinite and has a set date for termination. The court looks at the dependent spouse’s specific case. For example, an agreement may be made for the dependent spouse to receive support until the children enter high school or for a period of months or years to allow for time to obtain education and find employment. Lump sum spousal support:  Support is often paid out over a period of time in monthly installments. However, paying the agreed amount in a lump-sum may be an option in some cases. It may be agreed upon as a settlement instead of dividing property or assets.  There are some benefits of taking a lump sum. When accounting for inflation, the money you receive all at once may have a greater value than the money you receive in future installments. It also gives you the opportunity to invest or start receiving interest on the money awarded. You won’t have to worry about missed payments or enforcing court orders if your spouse refuses to pay at a later date. However, you should discuss potential tax implications with your attorney, accountant, and/or financial advisor.

When Can Alimony be Barred in Virginia?

Adultery by one spouse will usually, although not always, bar the adulterer spouse from receiving spousal support.  However, there are many caveats to this, and proving adultery can often be very difficult. If you believe this may apply to your situation, you should consult an experienced Virginia family law attorney.

Contact Melone Law P.C.

Finally, remember that an experienced family law attorney will be able to help you reach the most favorable outcome, determine the type of spousal support best suited for your situation, and help you obtain it. Our attorneys can help protect your interests and well-being. To discuss your case and how to proceed, contact Melone Law today at 703.955.9900.

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