The title is not very catchy; it will never make the New York Times Bestseller list: “Court may decree as to maintenance and support of spouses.” But it is the heart of the law behind spousal support in Virginia. Knowing exactly when it “kicks in” can help you determine what your spousal support (alimony) situation will be after divorce.

Spousal Support and Duration of Marriage

Code of Virginia § 20-107.1 lays out the requirements for spousal support in the Commonwealth. It goes on and on (as many finely written, excruciatingly exquisitely detailed laws tend to do!), but right there in subsection E, we have some very interesting news:

  1. The court, in determining whether to award support and maintenance for a spouse, shall consider the circumstances and factors yada yada yada … In determining the nature, amount and duration of an award pursuant to this section, the court shall consider the following:
  2. Yada yada yada
  3. Yada yada yada 
  4. The duration of the marriage

Okay, the actual law does not actually say yada yada yada, but we did you the courtesy of excising a bunch of unneeded words. Check out E. 3 again: The duration of the marriage. There it is. A Circuit Court judge has discretion to determine spousal support (it is not called alimony in Virginia) based partially on how long the marriage lasted.

Is There A Formula for Spousal Support?

No Circuit Court judge in Virginia has a secret formula taped to the bottom of the anvil (that block of wood the judge hits with a gavel). A brief marriage will usually result in little or no spousal support for either party. A much longer marriage — we’re talking years upon years of putting up with each other’s snoring and shopping and smelly feet — will result in a much larger spousal support award.

In Virginia, with its lively mix of military families, move-ins and move-outs, the law gives wide latitude to awarding spousal support. So, while no hard-and-set formula exists, the longer you two have been together as husband and wife, the more likely a spousal support payment will be awarded.

Types of Spousal Support

Once a judge determines that the marriage met a threshold that requires spousal support, a ruling must be made as to who pays whom. Generally the partner with the higher income will pay the other partner. If you had a job in computer analysis, and your wife worked as a waitress, you will end up paying her spousal support. If she is a biochemist and you worked in an Amazon warehouse, she could be required to pay you.

The type of spousal support that emerges from a marriage or cohabitation is just as important as the amount. In Virginia, you may get (or be ordered to pay):

  • Spousal support during litigation (pendente lite)
  • Rehabilitative support
  • Periodic payments of defined duration
  • Periodic payments of undefined duration
  • A lump sum award

Spousal support is neither a reward nor a punishment. It is an attempt to establish equity and ensure both parties remain productive during and after a divorce or dissolution of cohabitation.

You Pay Spousal Support

If you are ordered by a court decree to pay spousal support, your attorney can petition the court to craft the award so that your ex-wife uses the money to advance her education to become more financially independent. This could trigger the reduction or elimination of spousal support payments.

You could also be ordered to pay her a one-time award, which you might have to fund by selling marital property and giving her the bulk of the proceeds.

If ordered to give your ex-wife spousal support for an undefined duration, revisit the issue regularly with your attorney to see if material changes in circumstances allow a reduction or elimination of those payments.

She Pays Spousal Support

If your ex-wife is ordered to pay you, your attorney can request that the judge consider terms beneficial to you. If you suspect she is going to possibly lose a lucrative position, you could ask for a one-time award to have cash in hand. If you know she is pursuing an advanced degree that will result in a much higher-paying position, you can return to the court to request a larger spousal support payment based on her changing circumstances.

Nobody Pays Spousal Support

If your marriage is so short or your incomes are so similar as to make spousal support payments unreasonable, let your attorney explore other ways to get you some financial relief. Some areas to consider are:

  • Property settlement
  • Tax ramifications
  • Child support
  • Unallocated support

With no prospect of spousal support, you may feel frustrated. Keep your focus on why you two are divorcing, and consider that divorce decree the “payoff” you need.

Facing spousal support payments? Hoping to collect spousal support? Contact the good people of The Firm For Men today. Call 757-383-9184 or contact our offices online. We can help sort out your spousal support dilemma, answer your questions, and predict if any payments will be decreed.