Virginia spousal support laws are relatively traditional

Judges have fairly wide discretion to craft awards.

A wave of alimony reform debate has hit many states, resulting in major changes to some of their laws. Of particular concern to some reformers are spousal maintenance laws that allow for permanent, lifetime payments and that give judges wide discretion, instead of requiring them to apply legislative guidelines.

Old Dominion has not incorporated these reforms. Virginia's alimony law still allows permanent alimony in appropriate situations and gives judges significant discretionary powers. In addition, Virginia still requires that a judge take adultery into consideration, contrary to some other states that do not allow any consideration of marital fault in the alimony question.

Many divorcing couples negotiate settlement agreements in their divorces in which they agree how the legal issues between them will be resolved, including whether spousal support will be paid and its amount and duration. If they do not settle, however, the state court judge assigned to the divorce case must decide these alimony matters.

Under Virginia statute, the judge may order alimony he or she deems "expedient" to meet the support needs of the spouse who will have fewer assets or higher needs. The award can be in a lump sum or in periodic payments either set to end on a certain date or to continue indefinitely. The judge also has the option to reserve the right to alimony in the future after the divorce has concluded.

If the parties are divorcing because the spouse who would receive support committed adultery, that spouse may not receive permanent alimony unless the judge decides not granting it would be a "manifest injustice" considering the "respective degrees of fault during the marriage" and the parties relative financial circumstances.

In considering whether to grant award spousal maintenance, the judge is required to look at the circumstances that led to the end of the marriage, including specifically adultery, conviction of either party of a certain felonies after which they did not live together again, cruelty, desertion, abandonment and actions that caused fear of harm.

To determine the amount and duration of a maintenance award, the court must weigh each of a list of 13 factors, some of which include:

  • Obligations, needs and financial resources
  • Marital standard of living
  • Length of marriage
  • Parties' ages, physical and mental conditions, and special family circumstances
  • Whether these characteristics make it inappropriate for a party to work
  • Contributions to the family's well-being, financial and otherwise
  • Property
  • Division of property and debt in the divorce
  • Earning capacities and job prospects
  • Feasibility of education, training or employment to enhance earning ability
  • Decisions during the marriage regarding work, education and parenting that impacted earning potentials of the parties
  • Contributions by one to the other toward education and career
  • Tax ramifications and anything else that contributes to the equities between them

Alimony may be later modified or terminated if:

  • A party petitions the court "as the circumstances may make proper"
  • The recipient remarries
  • The recipient habitually cohabitates with another person in a "relationship analogous to a marriage" for at least one year unless there is an agreement providing otherwise or termination would be "unconscionable"
  • Spousal support of a limited duration can be modified by party petition based on a material, unforeseeable change in circumstances or if circumstances did not occur upon which the judge had based his or her initial decision
  • Either party dies, unless agreement provides otherwise

The lawyers at Bowen Ten Cardani, PC, represent clients in divorce in the Richmond metro and surrounding counties as well as throughout the commonwealth of Virginia.