If you are getting divorced, there is a good chance that you are seeking spousal support or that your ex is. Commonly called alimony, spousal support is meant to financially support a divorced person until they can become financially independent, i.e., get a job. For someone who primarily worked as a homemaker and parent during their marriage, it could take a few years of school or job training until they can find work that pays at a level that accommodates their lifestyle.
As a couple, you might agree on how much alimony should be paid and how long it will last. If not, the spouse seeking support could take the dispute to court for the family court judge to decide. Virginia law states that alimony is only awarded when “necessary.” To determine if alimony is necessary, the judge is supposed to consider the circumstances that led the marriage to end. For example, if one of the spouses committed adultery and is now seeking spousal support, the court cannot award it.
Factors involved in calculating alimony
If the spouse seeking alimony convinces the judge it is necessary, the next step is to figure out how much the payor will pay and how long it will last. Factors include:
- Each party’s age and health
- Their individual incomes and financial needs
- How long the marriage lasted
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- How much the spouse seeking support contributed to the education, training or increased earning power of the other spouse
- The extent to which the age, condition or special circumstances of one or more children in the house led to one of the spouses to stay home instead of working outside the home
- Property interests of the parties
A middle-aged or older spouse who worked as a homemaker and primary child-raiser for several decades, forgoing their career, is more likely to receive a larger, longer-term alimony order than someone who has the training and experience to support themselves. In cases where the recipient is unlikely ever to become self-sufficient, perhaps due to their age or lack of work history, the court might order indefinite alimony. Otherwise, the alimony will last for long enough to give the recipient time to find high-enough paying work.
Alimony can be a source of serious dispute in divorce. The higher-earning spouse often denies that their ex needs or is entitled to support. The other spouse may have to fight to prove that alimony is necessary for them.