You and your spouse have agreed to separate. Bags in hand, standing at the front door, she tosses you one parting bombshell: she will expect spousal support throughout the months of your separation. Then, after the divorce is final, she will expect more spousal support. Can she expect that?

Who Gave the Marching Orders?

The law does not care who gave marching orders to whom. Suppose you tossed her out, saying the marriage is over. The separation leading to divorce begins the moment you laid things out to her.

Suppose she gave you the boot. Same thing: your separation clock starts the moment she says you gotta go and she’s ready to separate.

You both should legalize this with a property settlement agreement, to ensure a smooth divorce. A property settlement agreement, also called a separation agreement, is a marital contract to work toward ending the marriage. Under either name, it is a great way to start the official Separation Clock:

  • Six months’ waiting period if you have no children between you
  • 12 months’ waiting period if you have children between you

(Psst … there’s no actual, physical, official clock.)

Spousal support is given to the lower-earning spouse from the higher-earning spouse. It is neither a reward for your newfound freedom nor a punishment for ending the marriage.

Spousal support under Virginia law is meant to sustain the lesser-earning spouse until she (or he) can be self-supporting. It also is, to some extent, meant to soften the blow of losing the comforts of the marriage (whatever they may have been).

Temporary Spousal Support

Part of a sensible property settlement agreement will be a pendente lite support order. Pendente lite is Latin for “while the litigation is pending,” and means a temporary order until the final divorce goes through.

Pendente lite support established in a property settlement agreement is temporary in the way an 1899 time capsule is temporary. Everyone knows someday it will be uprooted, but that day could be a long time coming. Divorce proceedings only begin six or 12 months after the start of separation.

If the divorce becomes messy and strays from your original hopes for an uncontested, no-fault divorce, the time could stretch on. During that time, a pendente lite spousal support order would remain in effect, possibly costing the payor thousands of dollars a month.

Is there an Order?

Without a property settlement agreement or pendente lite order, no presumption of spousal support during separation exists in Virginia. If you thought she owed you monthly income, without the agreement or order, you will not receive spousal support payments.

If she thinks you owe her a little something-something every month for her troubles, she is out of luck. No separation agreement, no pendente lite order … no shirt, no shoes, no service.

Order in the Court!

Suppose you realize too late that you do not have the separation agreement or a pendente lite order and she makes a ton more money than you.

Assuming you were sensible and got yourself a great family law attorney early in the process, go to your attorney to ask that a motion be filed ordering pendente lite support.

If you were not sensible enough to have already hired a family law lawyer, get crackin’, because you will be cheating yourself of money for either six or 12 months.

Suppose, though, you are in the opposite position: No agreement, no order, and you are the higher income earner. Again, get a lawyer so that, when she inevitably wakes up and realizes she can be getting money from you, you have an ally in your corner.

The Foot in the Door

A third scenario is possible. Neither of you bothered with a separation agreement, a pendente lite spousal support order, or attorneys. You are the higher income earner so you generously agreed to send your divorcing wife a little money every month. How kind of you!

She has her foot in the door. Expect her to expect more. Expect her to realize, at some time in the near future, that she deserves more. For her, hiring a family law attorney makes financial sense, because her attorney will know how to get every nickel from you the law allows.

Not every couple separates and divorces with fangs bared and hands in each other’s wallets.

But …

Plenty of couples start off as saints and become desperate fallen angels as the proceedings unfold. Acrimony leads to alimony. Spite leads to spousal support. Every lawyer, in every branch of the law, knows this bit of Latin: Semper letteris mandate. Get it in writing.

Get the property settlement agreement, get the pendente lite court order, and get the divorce decree. No matter which side you fall on, payor or payee, the written legal documents will save you heartache and money.

Call The Only Family Law Firm in Virginia Representing Men Exclusively!

Every question about spousal support, separation and divorce has the same answer: The Firm For Men. Contact us online or telephone our offices at (757) 383-9204. We work hard every day to protect Virginia’s men, preserve their capital, and safeguard their rights.