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. Indeed, 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. If you are filing for divorce in Virginia, here’s what you need to know about spousal support.
When Spousal Support Is Ordered
Spousal support, also called 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 code, 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 parties;
- The physical and mental health of each party;
- Each party’s ability to seek employment and income;
- The property of each party;
- The skills, education, and earning capacity of each party;
- The extent to which one party has 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 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 that the court believes the receiving spouse should be able to provide sufficient income independently. However, permanent awards are possible in cases where the couple has been married for many years, or the maintenance-receiving spouse is of an age where seeking employment and income is unreasonable. In all cases, spousal support will automatically be terminated if either party dies, or if the alimony-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 sensible. To modify a spousal support order, a petition for modification of support must be filed.
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 agree on a support amount. Reaching an agreement out of court is ideal. Not only does this allow you to have more say over the final outcome, but settling out of court is less expensive, time consuming, and stressful.
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 spousal 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’re entitled to, or to protect you from being ordered to pay a spousal support 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 a spousal support award is appropriate, and if so, for how much it should be, and for how long it should last. Your attorney will help you present your side of the issue to your spouse and his or her legal representation, negotiating on your behalf for an amount that is fair.
In the event that an agreement and divorce settlement cannot be reached out of court, an attorney will be prepared to present your case to a judge and litigate on your behalf.
At the law offices of Olmstead & Olmstead, P.C., we know how important an award of spousal support 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. Please visit us today to request a consultation, or call us at 703-361-1555. You can also send us an email explaining the basics of your case by filling out the form found on our contact page.