What color is a zebra? You think that’s a (you can choose: cutesy, smart-ass, or trick) question, but it is not. Grevy’s zebra1, for example, is actually dark with white stripes, and the young foals emerge with brown, not black, stripes. Why do you care about zebras? Because sometimes things that seem confusing actually are remarkably clear. Like the perennial question, how is alimony different from spousal support?

What is Alimony?

To understand where alimony comes from, you (once again) need to brush up on your Latin. The word stems from the Latin word, “alimonia,” meaning food or nourishment, but its emergence in the 1600s specifically pointed to a husband’s legal obligation to continue providing for his wife after divorce or separation.

The word continues to have a tinge of sexism attached to it, which is why Virginia does not use the word in legal writings. Throughout the entire Code of Virginia, the concept of one spouse paying the other after divorce is described in gender-neutral language: spousal support.

Enter Spousal Support

Code of Virginia § 20-107.1 sets the legal precedent for one spouse providing financial support to the other after divorce.

Stepping away from the word “alimony” also allows the court some creativity in establishing spousal support. In some states that still describe the money as “alimony,” the rebuttable presumption is that the payments will occur monthly, for an indefinite time. In Virginia, with “spousal support,” the presiding judge can determine that support be made in:

  1. Periodic payments for defined duration
  2. Periodic payments for an undefined duration
  3. A lump sum award
  4. Any combination of the above three options

Suppose you stayed home in Virginia Beach to raise and nurture your three children while your powerhouse real estate broker wife worked, earning enough for both of you and for your adorable kids. You two are now working out a divorce. You and your attorney outline your needs to the court along these lines:

  1. You need $22,000 to gain a Baking and Pastry Arts diploma in 11 months so you can be economically self-sufficient
  2. You need $2,000 a month to pay for household expenses, propane, clothing and fuel for the 2012 Volvo SE 70 you use for grocery shopping and to take the kids to soccer games, music lessons, and unicycle practice

The court could award monthly payments of $2,000 for one year, earmarked for your education to make you financially independent, and $2,000 a month for an indefinite time. You and your powerhouse real estate broker ex-wife agree to revisit the spousal support after you earn your Diploma.

A Zebra is Not a Horse

Spousal support is as unrelated to child support just as much as a zebra is unrelated to a horse. Just as a zebra is a different species from a horse, spousal support is a different financial instrument from child support.

One common thread connecting the two types of support is their changeable nature. Just as your children grow and change, so too do conditions affecting spousal support. Code of Virginia § 20-109 provides a mechanism for changing or eliminating spousal support because of:

  • Evidence you or your ex-wife cohabitate with another person in a relationship “analogous to a marriage” for a year or longer
  • Remarriage by the recipient of the support
  • Changing circumstances (“material changes”) for either you or your ex-wife that arise through no action on your or her part

Once determined by the court, spousal support can only be changed by the court; neither your ex-spouse nor you can use the threat of withholding spousal support to extract promises or changed behavior from the other.

The modern Code of Virginia attempts to provide a legal framework for civil conduct between ex-spouses, ethical treatment of one another, and doing what is right for the other, financially.

So if you are asked to delineate a difference between alimony and spousal support, the safest answer is, “About five centuries.” Virginia men can and should receive spousal support if their financial situations necessitate it; Virginia women have an equal right to it, too. Neither spouse needs to feel stigmatized with a gender-specific collar, and the antiquated notion that the receiving spouse “did nothing” to deserve the support should be buried with the word “alimony.”

Call the Spousal Support Lawyers for Men

Confused about alimony, spousal support, child support or other family law matters? One call to 757-383-9184, or one click to contact us online, and you will reach The Firm For Men. Our experienced spousal support attorneys can help you navigate your way through the murkiest of family law matters.

1. https://animals.howstuffworks.com/mammals/zebra-stripes1.htm