What is Spousal Support?
Spousal Support, also called Alimony in many places, is money that is paid by one spouse to the other spouse as a means of balancing the income of the two parties after a divorce.
Unlike child support, there are no guidelines or formulas for spousal support in Virginia. Instead, spousal support is granted at the discretion of the court. The court’s decision as to whether or not to grant spousal support is based on a series of factors as outlined in the Virginia Code Section 20-107.1 (E).
Period of Payment of Spousal Support
Unlike child support, there is no statutory time frame for the payment of spousal support. Generally, a marriage of more than 20 years will generally result in permanent spousal support for the lower earning spouse. This is based on the traditional family where one parent was the breadwinner and the other parent stayed at home to take care of the children and the family and therefore had less potential to earn the same level of income.
In general, there is no spousal support awarded for a short marriage, usually a marriage of under 5 years, especially if there are no children of the marriage.
In the case of a marriage of between 5 and 20 years, the courts will generally award spousal support for a period equal to one-half the length of the marriage. For example, if the marriage lasted 12 years, the courts will generally award spousal support for a period of 6 years.
There is another situation where spousal support may be paid for a specific timeframe, such as when the lower-earning spouse is in school and anticipates completing their education at a set time. Often, in this situation, the court will award spousal support to end at the same time that the education is set to be completed. This is based on the assumption that the receiving spouse will be able to attain gainful employment at a higher wage after the education is completed.
However, the length of time spousal support is paid is also at the discretion of the court and the judge can make any decision that he or she feels is appropriate in the specific case.
Permanent Spousal Support
Some people use the term ‘permanent’ when talking about spousal support. However, ‘permanent’ is not really permanent as used in common everyday language. What is termed ‘permanent’ spousal support generally stops on the death of either party, when the receiving spouse remarries, or when the receiving spouse is living with another in a relationship analogous to marriage.
This last factor was introduced when it became clear that society had changed such that many people were living together but not getting married. There were also a number of people who chose to live together without getting married for the express purpose of continuing to receive spousal support from a prior spouse.
Lump Sum Spousal Support
There are times when it might be more beneficial to have spousal support awarded as a 'lump sum', that is where the spousal support is paid all at once instead of payments extending over a period of years.
How to enforce Spousal Support
If one party is ordered to pay spousal support to the other party, and does not pay, the receiving party can take the non-paying party to court to force them to pay.
The process is called a ‘Show Cause’ which is shorthand for a ‘motion to show cause why the party should not be held in contempt for failure to abide by an order of the court’.
If the spousal support was awarded as part of the divorce process, the divorce decree will often transfer jurisdiction for the enforcement of spousal support to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (commonly called the JDR court). If this was in your divorce decree, then you can file the motion for Show Cause in the JDR court.
If your divorce decree did not transfer jurisdiction to the JDR court, then you may have to reopen the divorce case itself for the sole purpose of doing the transfer of the spousal support issue to the JDR court. You may also reopen the divorce case and ask the Circuit Court to enforce the issue of spousal support.
This is just a small sampling of the information you may need to know about Spousal Support in Virginia. Please contact us or check out our blog if you have questions that have not been answered here.
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