Spousal support, also known as alimony or maintenance, is monetary support paid to the more financially-challenged spouse who, at the time of the divorce, is unable to adequately meet his or her financial needs.
This is not to be confused with the division of marital assets which can only be divided by agreement and/or by the court through a final order of divorce. Instead, spousal support is paid using the paying spouse’s separate property, such as, earnings post-separation or a separate savings account.
Spousal support is decided on a case-by-case basis. The amount and length of time one may pay or collect spousal support depends on the length of the marriage, as well as the specific and unique circumstances of the marriage, and the standard of living established during the marriage. A couple may decide to enter a spousal support agreement on their own or when that is not possible, the court will determine if spousal support is warranted and to what extent. Spousal support is never guaranteed, and in some cases may be barred. In any case, the advice of an experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney at Sparrow Miller, PLLC will be to your advantage.
Types of spousal support in Virginia
This type of support is also referred to as pendente lite which means during the litigation, or the time between filing and the final order of divorce. Its purpose is to help the spouse requesting spousal support maintain his or her standard of living during the divorce process. If the parties cannot agree to an amount, the court will require that each spouse prepare a monthly income and expenses statement. The court then uses a formula established by Virginia law which looks at each parties’ gross monthly income and whether the parties have minor children, and such amount is presumed to be the correct amount unless special circumstances indicate otherwise. Because the court does not look in-depth at the unique circumstances of the marriage, the amount of temporary support awarded typically has no bearing on the type or amount of spousal support granted or its duration in the final divorce decree.
Permanent support is what most of us think of when we think of alimony though it has become less and less common. Permanent spousal support is indefinite. The payments will continue until one spouse dies, the dependent spouse remarries or lives with a new partner. This type of support is most often granted after a long marriage when the dependent spouse is unable to work due to age or health, or has little chance of finding gainful employment. In some cases, permanent support can be modified if there has been a material change in circumstance, such as loss of employment, retirement, or illness and the circumstances warrant a reduction or cessation of spousal support.
Rehabilitative support has some similarities to permanent support but differs in that it is for a finite period of time. Its purpose is to provide for a spouse until he or she is able to become self-sufficient and provide for themselves. It usually is paid during the time the receiving spouse needs to gain education and/or new skills and find employment. The court looks at each dependent spouse’s unique situation. For example, an agreement may be made for the dependent spouse to receive support until the children enter college or for a period of months or years to allow for time to obtain education and find employment.
Spousal support is usually paid out over a period of time in monthly installments. However, paying the agreed amount in a lump-sum may be an option in certain cases. It may be agreed upon as a settlement instead of dividing property or assets. There are some benefits to taking a lump sum. The money you receive all at one time may have a greater value than the money you receive in future installments. It also gives you the opportunity to invest or receive interest immediately. You won’t have to worry about missed payments or enforcing court orders if your spouse refuses to pay at a later date. However, you should discuss potential tax implications with your attorney, accountant, and/or financial advisor.