For the period when the parties are separated but not yet divorced, most courts in Virginia now use formulas developed by Fairfax County courts to determine the amount of spousal support.
If child support is not involved, then spousal support will ordinarily be 30 percent of the gross income of the spouse who earns more, minus 50 percent of the gross income of the spouse who earns less.
If child support is also involved, then spousal support will ordinarily be 28 percent of the gross income of the spouse who earns more, minus 58 percent of the gross income of the spouse who earns less.
The parties, through a directly negotiated agreement, a mediated agreement, or a settlement worked out by their attorneys, can deviate from the formula for a variety of reasons. If the matter is left to a judge to decide, the court may also deviate from the formula if the judge is persuaded that there is a good reason.
When the divorce is finalized, the rules for spousal support -- now called alimony -- change radically. Many factors can influence what amount of spousal support is to be paid and for how long. Often the spouse with the higher income pays spousal support for about half as many years as the marriage lasted, but no formula is used with any consistency.
The list of factors the court uses if you leave it for a judge to decide about spousal support may be useful to you if you are working with a mediator or an attorney to negotiate the terms of your divorce. In words that I have abbreviated here, Virginia's Code (§ 20-107.1) says that, to determine the nature, amount, and duration of spousal support, the court shall consider the following:
1. The obligations, needs, and financial resources of the parties, including income from pension, profit sharing, or retirement plans;
2. The standard of living established during the marriage;
3. The duration of the marriage;
4. The age and physical and mental condition of the parties and any special circumstances of the family;
5. 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;
6. The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;
7. The property interests of the parties, both real and personal, tangible and intangible;
8. The provisions made with regard to the marital property under § 20-107.3;
9. The earning capacity, including the skills, education and training of the parties and the present employment opportunities for them;
10. The prospects, time, and costs involved for a party to acquire education, training, and employment to enhance his or her earning ability;
11. 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;
12. The extent to which either party has contributed to the attainment of education, training, career position or profession of the other party; and
13. Such other factors, including the tax consequences to each party, as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties.
Ex-couples often agree that spousal support will end when the payee remarries or lives with someone else in a relationship that resembles marriage for longer than twelve months. They sometimes agree that spousal support may be reviewed or amended if either party’s financial situation changes significantly.
Decisions about spousal support are often linked to decisions about who gets what marital property before or when the parties divorce.
How much spousal support is needed or is fair can be a very emotional issue as well as a legal issue. This article addresses only what the law has to say about it. An earlier article addressed emotional support.
Note: The author is a Certified Family Mediator