In recent years, many states have substantially overhauled their spousal support laws. Advocates believe that the changes more accurately reflect the financial realities of divorce. For example, South Carolina, Illinois, and New Jersey have all done away with subjective spousal support rules. These states now have objective guidelines for spousal support. In many cases, these rules are much like child support amount guidelines.
But here in the Old Dominion, the subjective spousal maintenance laws remain in effect. Essentially, divorce judges may award temporary alimony, long-term alimony, or both. Temporary alimony gives the obligee spouse additional money to do things like pay attorneys’ fees or go back to school. Long-term spousal maintenance is basically an income redistribution tool.
Regardless of the alimony type, Fairfax County divorce judges must use certain factors to determine the amount and duration of payments.
Agreements Between the Spouses
Like most other states, Virginia divorce laws strongly favor spousal agreements. These pacts reduce the amount of time the court must spend resolving the dispute. According to the Uniform Premarital and Marital Agreements Act, these pacts are usually valid unless they are:
- Involuntary, or
Both these terms have specific meanings in a divorce context. For example, “unconscionable” is not the same thing as “uneven.”
Respective Assets and Liabilities
To determine the obligee’s financial need, as well as the obligor’s ability to pay, the court may look at all awards of marital and non-marital property. That’s especially true with regard to liquid property, such as cash or a retirement account, and revenue-producing property, like a rental house.
The aforementioned uneven/unconscionable debate sometimes comes into play here. Assume Husband and Wife have a premarital agreement that divides property 60-40 and says nothing about alimony. A 60-40 division is not unconscionable, so a Virginia judge is extremely unlikely to overturn the agreement on that basis. However, 60-40 is clearly uneven. So, Wife might be entitled to slightly-higher spousal maintenance payments to make up the difference, depending on the nature of the property and the parties’ overall finances.
Earning Potential of Each Spouse
In general, well-educated people who have had at least semi-successful careers can earn more money than poorly-educated people who have had less success. Imbalances like this one almost always mean alimony payments.
Perhaps the imbalance is short-term. For example, Wife may need to go back to school to complete her degree before she can support herself. If she needs money to do so, and Husband has the ability to pay, bill Husband’s support obligation may take that expense into account.
In other cases, the imbalance is permanent. Perhaps our hypothetical wife has a mental or physical disability which prevents her from working full time. In that case, she may be entitled to long-term spousal support, as she will never be able to match Husband’s earning capacity.
Other factors, such as the relative age and health of each spouse, often come into play here as well.
The judge may also consider a number of other factors, including the length of the marriage, the custody of minor children, the standard of living during the marriage, and any other factor the judge considers relevant.
Reach Out to a Tenacious Lawyer
Virginia judges use a variety of factors to determine the amount and duration of spousal support payments. For a free consultation with an experienced divorce attorney in Fairfax, contact Duff & Kronfeld, P.C. at (703) 591-7475.