Spousal support, also known as alimony, is a common issue in divorce cases. This payment from one ex spouse to another is separate from any child support payments that the Court may order. Spousal support is often awarded when there is a significant income gap between the spouses.
However, just because one spouse earns more does not automatically mean the other is entitled to spousal support payments. The Court takes many different circumstances into consideration when determining whether alimony payments are warranted, and if it is, there may be limit on how long the higher-earning spouse must provide support.
If you’re filing for divorce in the Commonwealth of Virginia, here are some of the basics about spousal support orders and how to ask the judge for support in your divorce case.
What does the Court consider with spousal support orders?
Alimony is only awarded when one spouse can demonstrate a legitimate financial need, and may be issued on a temporary or permanent basis. When you ask a judge to make a decision about spousal support orders, he or she will generally look at your specific circumstances and consider the following factors:
- Current income and assets of each spouse. This is perhaps the most important factor. If both spouses currently earn a livable wage and have access to financial resources like savings accounts and 401(k)s, spousal support will likely not be considered by a judge. However, if one spouse out-earns the other by at least 50 percent, alimony
- Each spouse’s earning capacity. Depending on your or your spouse’s career path, education, training, and experience, a judge may determine that one or both of you has the capacity to earn more in the future. This may result in a ruling of temporary spousal support payments until the lower-earning spouse gets “back on their feet” post-divorce.
- The contributions of each spouse to the marriage. In every marriage, each spouse makes contributions the partnership, and it’s not always strictly financial. This becomes an especially important consideration if one spouse left a career to raise children while the other spouse advanced their career to be the sole earner.
- How long you’ve been married and your marital standard of living. The longer you’ve been married, the more likely it is that you and your spouse have both grown accustomed to a certain marital standard of living. If one spouse’s standard of living will be significantly lower after the divorce is final, a judge may award alimony to help that spouse live up to the marital standard.
- The health of each spouse and and children from the marriage. If one spouse and/or any children born of the marriage suffer from physical or mental health issues, disabilities, or other conditions that prohibit one spouse from working full-time, spousal support will likely be awarded to help that spouse make ends meet.
These are not the only factors that may contribute to a judge’s ruling on spousal support, but they are among the most commonly assessed. Based on your circumstances, spousal support may be awarded for a fixed duration (typically a number of months or years, depending on the length of the marriage) or indefinitely, unless the spouses later agree to change or cancel the order. If the spouse receiving support remarries, or if either spouse dies, the support order will be automatically terminated.
Keep also keep in mind that there have been some significant changes to federal law governing the treatment of spousal support, which may no longer be deductible to the payor nor taxable to the recipient, so be sure to consult with a financial professional to fully understand the most current laws involving your tax reporting obligations if you are making or receiving payments.
How can I ask the Court for spousal support?
If you and your spouse are separated but cannot yet file for a divorce due to Virginia’s statutory waiting periods, you can still come to a temporary agreement or sign a comprehensive final marital settlement agreement to address the issue of spousal support. For the protection of both parties, you may want to have that agreement be deemed a formal court order pending meeting the statutory separation period. In this way, you can use the Court to aide you in enforcing your legal rights.
This process can be accomplished by filing a basic Complaint (or Petition) for Maintenance along with signing a formal Agreed Order, which both you and your spouse sign, consenting to the incorporation of your agreement (temporary or permanent) into a court order. These documents, along with your Agreement, are then filed with your local Virginia Circuit Court, and the Agreed Order is given to a judge to review and approve. If approved, the judge will sign and date the Agreed Order, and this will spell out the facts of your case, including which spouse will make payments, the amount and frequency of payments, and how long the payments will continue.
If you and your spouse have minor children together and also need to work out child support arrangements, you would typically file both of these forms together. As with any family law matter, you’ll also need to file a Civil Cover Sheet (Form CC-1416) and pay any applicable Court filing fees.
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