Experienced Northern Virginia Spousal Support Attorneys
Serving All of Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, Arlington County and Alexandria City
Spousal support is one of the areas of Virginia family law with the greatest amount of uncertainty. There are no guidelines prescribed by the Virginia Code that govern all spousal support cases, making it difficult to predict what a court will do. As a result, it is important to select an attorney who has experience in the court where your case will be heard so that they can advise you about the norms in your own jurisdiction and can guide you in settlement negotiations with appropriate advice for the range of possible outcomes.
Spousal support determinations have two key components: duration and amount. When deciding the appropriate duration and amount of spousal support at a final hearing, courts must apply Virginia Code § 20-107.1, which includes the following factors:
- The obligations, needs and financial resources of the parties, including but not limited to income from all pension, profit sharing or retirement plans, of whatever nature;
- The standard of living established during the marriage;
- The duration of the marriage;
- The age and physical and mental condition of the parties and any special circumstances of the family;
- The extent to which the age, physical or mental condition or special circumstances of any child of the parties would make it appropriate that a party not seek employment outside of the home;
- The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;
- The property interests of the parties, both real and personal, tangible and intangible;
- The provisions made with regard to the marital property under § 20-107.3;
- The earning capacity, including the skills, education and training of the parties and the present employment opportunities for persons possessing such earning capacity;
- The opportunity for, ability of, and the time and costs involved for a party to acquire the appropriate education, training and employment to obtain the skills needed to enhance his or her earning ability;
- The decisions regarding employment, career, economics, education and parenting arrangements made by the parties during the marriage and their effect on present and future earning potential, including the length of time one or both of the parties have been absent from the job market;
- The extent to which either party has contributed to the attainment of education, training, career position or profession of the other party; and
- Such other factors, including the tax consequences to each party and the circumstances and factors that contributed to the dissolution, specifically including any ground for divorce, as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties.
There are many misconceptions about the duration of spousal support. The truth is that each case is fact specific. Spousal support is not warranted in all cases, but when it is warranted, only an experienced family law attorney can help you navigate the many nuances of this area of law.
A common misreading of the Virginia Code by clients is that the duration of spousal support is equal to half of the length of the marriage. While some parties may voluntarily agree upon a length of support equal to half the length of the marriage, there are many situations when spousal support is awarded for a shorter or longer period. There are also cases in which a marriage of a long duration does not result in an undefined duration of spousal support. Moreover, there is no clear line as to what a “short term” and “long term” marriage may be. The lawyers at Hirsch & Ehlenberger are experienced in this area of family law and can give you more specific advice about what kind of duration is likely in your case, taking into account all of the above factors and how judges generally weigh them. This will help prepare for settlement discussions as well as a hearing, if one is necessary.
The amount of spousal support is also difficult to predict. In some local jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County and Loudoun County, the courts will apply guideline support calculations for temporary support to enable both parties to function financially during the separation while they wait for a final hearing. However, it is reversible error for any court to consider the temporary guideline amounts of support at a final hearing.
As with child support, a court may determine that a party is not employed at an appropriate level and is capable of earning more. If a court finds that a spouse is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily underemployed, it may impute income to him or her, by assigning a reasonable income to that person. The spousal support attorneys at Hirsch & Ehlenberger have litigated imputation of income issues throughout Northern Virginia, including Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, Arlington County and Alexandria City. We have represented clients on both sides of this issue and are familiar with how to fight against an improper imputation as well as how to advocate for an appropriate imputation of income when a party is able to work but has chosen not to or has chosen a job under their earning potential. Our attorneys have long-term relationships with vocational rehabilitation experts in Northern Virginia who can provide testimony regarding imputation of income.
Any spousal support award made by a court, rather than in a Marital Settlement Agreement (also called a Separation Agreement or Property Settlement Agreement), is always modifiable. Courts often award a reservation of spousal support to a party if no support is provided. A reservation of support allows a party to return to court within a set amount of time to request spousal support if the circumstances warrant such support in the future. However, parties often reach agreements to limit the modifiability and/or duration of support, allowing for better financial planning. You need an experienced attorney to provide you with advice whether such limitations are in your best interests when negotiating an agreement with your spouse, and who can help you balance the costs and risks of going to trial if necessary.
The taxability of spousal support and the ability of the payor to deduct spousal support from their income has changed under the most recent revisions to the tax code. This has implications for new agreements and may also impact court orders that are being modified after January 1, 2019. At Hirsch & Ehlenberger, we can walk you through the changes in the law and can help connect you with a CPA as necessary if you do not already have one but have questions that require that level of expertise prior to reaching a settlement.
It is possible for a spouse to waive spousal support. Once spouses reach a signed agreement on spousal support, it can be difficult and sometimes impossible, to change the terms, even if the agreement was reached without the advice of counsel or downloaded from a divorce form website. It is important never to sign anything that affects your spousal support rights without talking to an experienced Virginia spousal support attorney.
If you would like more information about what to expect when seeking spousal support or alimony or when facing a request for spousal support or alimony, contact Hirsch & Ehlenberger, P.C. for an initial consultation with our skilled and proven Northern Virginia spousal support attorneys. We regularly represent clients throughout Fairfax County as well as the surrounding counties, including Loudoun County, Prince William County, Arlington County and Alexandria City.