Spousal Support / Alimony Attorney in Manassas, Virginia
If you are the financially dependent spouse in a marriage, one of the toughest parts of getting a divorce may be finding answers to questions regarding how you will support yourself. It is not uncommon for one spouse to be the primary income earner, with the other spouse performing most of the duties related to caring for the home and children. While this is a common arrangement, it can be very hard for a spouse who has not worked – and perhaps does not have any higher education or training – to acquire a job and provide income for living expenses. When this is the case, spousal support may be part of a divorce settlement.
At Olmstead & Olmstead, P.C., we have over two decades of experience representing clients for all types of family law matters. We understand the complexities of Virginia alimony/spousal support laws, and what factors the courts generally rely on to determine if one of the parties in a divorce is eligible to receive spousal maintenance, the amount of support that is usually awarded, and the duration in which the support payments should be made. We work closely with our clients, taking the time to listen and understand their needs and advocate forcefully for their rights and interests.
If you considering filing for divorce in Virginia, here are some important things you need to know about spousal support:
When Spousal Support Is Ordered
Spousal support, also known as alimony or spousal maintenance, may be part of a divorce settlement when one party in a marriage is financially dependent upon the other. As specified in Virginia law, however, spousal support is not always part of a divorce settlement. In determining whether or not an award for spousal support will be made, the court will consider all factors that contributed to the divorce, including adultery. In fact, adultery may be a bar to recovering spousal support.
If the court does find that spousal support is appropriate, how much spousal support will be awarded, as well as the duration of a support award, will be determined after a consideration of the following factors (found in Code of Virginia Section 20-107.1):
- The needs and financial resources of both parties;
- How long the marriage lasted;
- The standard of living established during the course of the marriage;
- The age of the spouses;
- The physical and mental health of each spouse;
- Each spouse’s ability to seek employment and income;
- The financial assets and property of each spouse;
- The skills, education, and earning capacity of each spouse;
- The extent to which one spouse may have contributed to the education or career position of the other;
- The tax consequences of a spousal maintenance award; and
- Any other factors the court finds necessary.
Is Spousal Support Permanent?
When a court orders one party in a marriage to make spousal support payments to the other, the amount of time that the award will continue for (months, years, lifetime) is based on one or more of the above factors. Most of the time, spousal support awards are temporary, which means that payments are made from one spouse to the other only until the point in which the court believes the receiving spouse should be able to provide sufficient income independently. Permanent awards are possible in cases wherein the couple has been married for many years, or the receiving spouse is of an age where seeking employment and income not feasible. In all cases, spousal support is automatically terminated if either party dies, or if the receiving spouse remarries.
Changing a Spousal Support Award at a Later Date
While some issues in a divorce judgement cannot be modified at a later date, the details of a spousal support award can be changed when circumstances warrant an adjustment. For example, if a spouse that is paying spousal support loses his or her job or suffers a significant financial loss, amending a spousal support award may be reasonable and necessary. To modify a spousal support order, a petition for modification must be filed with the court.
Prior to July 1, 2018, if a divorce decree or marital settlement agreement was silent about whether or not a spousal maintenance award could be modified, it was generally presumed by the courts that the award was fixed and could not be changed. Virginia Senate Bill 614 amended the law to require that divorce decrees and settlements include explicit language barring the spouses from modifying support payments. In the absence of such language, it can now be presumed that spousal support awards can be changed if the circumstances warrant it.
Getting the Amount of Spousal Support You Deserve
When you and your spouse are separating, getting the amount of spousal support that you need and deserve may be essential to your future. If you are a spouse who will likely be ordered to pay spousal support, protecting yourself from paying too much is essential to your well-being.
The good news is that you may have some control over how much you receive/pay; couples have the option of agreeing to a spousal support amount outside of court. This can be done through collaborative divorce, mediation, or back-and-forth negotiation. In fact, the amount of spousal support that a party may be ordered to pay is only left up to a judge in the event that a couple cannot come to an agreement on their own. Reaching an agreement out of court is the ideal outcome, and this is our goal whenever possible. Not only does settling alimony/spousal support issues out of court give you more control over the final outcome, it is also less expensive, time consuming, and stressful.
The Tax Implications of Spousal Support
Divorces finalized on January 1, 2019 or thereafter are subject to important changes in the federal tax code. Prior to these changes, payor spouses were able to deduct spousal support payments on their federal income taxes, and receiving spouses were required to claim these payments as income. Under the new law, payor spouses can no longer deduct alimony payments and receiving spouses no longer need to report it as income.
These changes are significant because, in cases in which the courts determine that spousal support is warranted, the payor spouse is usually in a much higher tax bracket. The deductibility of alimony payments often allowed the payor spouse to move into a lower bracket with a lower tax rate while keeping the receiving spouse in the same tax bracket, thus creating more overall net income between the two spouses. Changes in federal tax law regarding spousal maintenance and the consequences of these changes must be taken into account when determining the amount of alimony that should be awarded.
Paying Spousal Support Is Not Optional
When a party is ordered to pay spousal support, making these payments in full and on time is not optional, and court orders are enforceable. In fact, if spousal support payments are not being made, the party who is supposed to receive spousal support may seek enforcement of the court order, which could result in the amount of support owed automatically being deducted from the paycheck of the party who is obligated to make payments.
How Working with an Experienced Attorney Can Help
Working with an experienced attorney can help you to recover the amount of spousal support that you are entitled to, or to protect you from being ordered to pay a spousal maintenance award that you believe is unfair or unreasonable. Your attorney will conduct a thorough review of your finances, as well as your spouse’s finances to determine whether an alimony award is appropriate, and if so, how much it should be and how long it should last.
Your attorney will help present your side of the issue to your spouse and his or her legal team, negotiating on your behalf for an amount that is fair. In the event that an agreement cannot be reached out of court, your attorney will be prepared to present your case to the court and aggressively litigate on your behalf.
At the law offices of Olmstead & Olmstead, P.C., we know how important an alimony/spousal support award may be if you are going through a divorce. When you need the representation of a legal professional you can trust to work hard for your best interests, our legal team is here to help. Please visit us today to request a consultation or call us at 703-361-1555. You can also send us a secure and confidential message through our online contact form.