Spousal support – known more commonly as alimony – refers to the payment of support from one spouse to the other.  Although some similarities exist between child and spousal support, there are significant differences.  Perhaps the most important distinction is that spousal support, commonly known as alimony, is not a guaranteed right.  Every spousal support case – whether requested through a divorce complaint or initiated on its own – must answer three questions:
  1. Should support be awarded?
  2. How much support should be awarded?
  3. For how long should it be awarded?

1)    Should support be awarded?

Unlike child support, Virginia courts don’t presume that spousal support should be paid.  Instead, someone asking for spousal support must demonstrate that his/her spouse has a duty to provide it.  In Virginia, this mean applying the factors in §20-107.1 of the Code of Virginia.  These factors include the length of the marriage (generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the more likely support will be awarded), the standard of living established during the marriage and the earning capacity of the parties

2)    If an award of spousal support is appropriate, how much should be awarded?

Again, unlike child support, no presumption exists for an amount when spousal support is awarded.  Instead, the court considers all relevant evidence regarding spousal support.  What is relevant depends on the facts and circumstances of each case, but traditionally one must demonstrate what his/her income is and what his/her expenses are. 

3)    For how long should it be awarded?

Again, the duration of support varies depending on the facts and circumstances of each case.  In many cases, the court will award periodic payments for a defined duration (i.e. $1,000 per month for twelve months).  This support is sometimes called rehabilitative support, because its purpose is to give the spouse receiving it the opportunity to develop skills and training needed to resume his/her career.  The longer the marriage, the more likely that the defined duration will also be longer.  If you’ve been out of work for ten years, it’s likely to take longer to rehabilitate your career than if you’ve been out of work for two.

In longer marriages (or in other exceptional circumstances), the court may award support for an undefined duration – what some people refer to (mistakenly) as “permanent” support.  This support typically only terminates upon the death of either party, the remarriage of the spouse receiving support, or if the spouse receiving the support is living in a relationship analogous to marriage.

The court may also decide that a lump-sum payment is more appropriate, or that some combination of the period and lump-sum payments is best. 

Failing to protect your support rights during a divorce may mean you lose them permanently – along with thousands of dollars of support.  Call us today, and let us help you through this complex process.

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