Spousal Support (Alimony)

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Alimony Defined

Alimony is that device used by judges (and the parties) to attempt to equalize the living conditions of each of the parties after the marriage has dissolved. The more modern term for alimony is spousal support. It’s the same thing.

It is designed to recognize the fact that one spouse may have given up opportunities in the job marked in order to promote non-monetary objectives of the family. (e.g., “we want our children to be reared by a parent, not a baby-sitter”; or the more crass: “no wife of mine is going to work outside of the home.”) Irrespective of the reasons, the “dependent” spouse should not have to bear the entire cost of not having worked outside of the home in the event that the parties separate. If one party currently earns more than the other, it generally is because the other spouse took care of the responsibilities at home to enable the outside the home worker to progress in the job. If such was the case, than the sharing of the wealth to which both parties made sacrifices is appropriate.

Alimony may be temporary and rehabilitative, or permanent. Even “permanent” support can be modified or terminated based on a significant change of circumstances in the life of the payor or payee.

In practice, alimony is generally awarded from a husband to a wife, but there is no reason other than societal

(i.e., the husband is usually in the financially advantageous position due in to choices that tend to conform to traditional societal patterns) why the situation cannot be reversed. Alimony is based upon the relative needs and resources of the parties.

So What Are The Details?

  • Contributions, monetary and non-monetary to the well being of the family; education and ability of the parties, as well as opportunities for additional education, to earn money in the future; length of the marriage; age, relative physical and mental conditions of the two parties; whether or not one of the parties should currently stay (or in the past has stayed) at home with a child of the parties instead of working; the separate property a person has; income from salaries, investments, pension profit-sharing, and retirement plans; the marital property a person will receive; the standard of living the parties enjoyed during the marriage; contributions of one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other party; fault of one of the parties; tax consequences; and last, but not least “such other factors that the court considers appropriate.” You may wish to scan at this time Virginia Code Section 20-107.1, which is the main Virginia statute dealing with alimony.
  • Spousal support (even “permanent support”) can be raised or lowered or terminated over time if there is a change of circumstances in the life of the person paying support or the person receiving the support. Living with someone after the divorce, regardless of whether you marry or have sex, may cause alimony to be lowered or stopped. Death of one of the persons paying or receiving alimony or marriage of the person receiving alimony will terminate alimony (unless a separation or divorce settlement agreement provides otherwise). Significant increases or decreasing in income for either (ex-)spouse may result in a change. One warning to those who don’t now need, but in the future may need spousal support: make sure your lawyer reserves for you the right to ask for it later– if you have not been awarded alimony at the time of the divorce, and fail to reserve the right to ask for it at a later time, you cannot get alimony. . .ever.

A Common Myth About Alimony:

My wife works. Therefore she cannot get alimony, right? Wrong! If a spouse is just getting back into the job market, it generally will be at a lower rate of pay than the spouse who has worked during the whole marriage. Alimony is designed to somewhat equalize lifestyles, at least for the near term. This objective would hardly be met if the husband, who earns, let’s say, $75,000 per year, has no obligation to help maintain his (ex-)wife who stayed at home, raised the kids, just recently got back into the job market, and is currently only earning $15,000.