Spousal Support: Navigating Uncertainties in Virginia Divorce

Spousal Support: Navigating Uncertainties in Virginia Divorce

Apr 29, 2024

Spousal support, commonly referred to as alimony, can be one of the more contentious and unpredictable aspects of a divorce in Virginia. Unlike child support, which follows relatively straightforward guidelines, spousal support considerations are more nuanced, with significant discretion left to the court. This blog aims to shed light on how spousal support is determined in Virginia, helping you navigate through the uncertainties that surround these decisions.

Understanding Spousal Support in Virginia

Spousal support is intended to mitigate any unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing a continuing income to a non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse. In Virginia, either spouse can request support during or after the divorce proceedings.

Factors Influencing Spousal Support

The determination of spousal support involves various factors, including but not limited to:

  1. Each Spouse’s Earnings and Needs: The court examines the incomes and financial needs of both spouses, considering their standard of living during the marriage and their current and future earning capacities.
  2. Duration of the Marriage: Generally, longer marriages may result in longer periods of spousal support, though this is not a strict rule.
  3. Age and Physical and Emotional Condition: The ages and health of both spouses can affect support decisions, particularly if these factors impact earning capacity.
  4. Contributions to the Family: This includes both financial contributions and non-monetary contributions, such as homemaking and child-rearing.
  5. Circumstances Leading to the Divorce: While Virginia allows for divorces based upon separation grounds (commonly referred to as “no fault” divorces in other states), the circumstances leading to the separation can play a role in determining support, especially if one spouse’s actions significantly impacted the couple’s financial situation.

Method of Computing Spousal Support

As noted above, spousal support is far less formulaic than child support. However, many local judges and attorneys will nonetheless apply a formula to either determine spousal support or at least obtain a range or idea of the amount of monthly spousal support. Another method of obtaining a reliable measure of a party’s financial need or ability to pay spousal support is the income and expense method, which tracks gross income, net income, and expenses all on a monthly basis to arrive at a reliable monthly spousal support figure. It is thought that some judges will review both methods in an effort to arrive at a reliable figure.

Types of Spousal Support

Virginia law recognizes several types of spousal support:

  1. Temporary (Pendente Lite) Support: Awarded during the divorce proceedings and pending a final hearing to help the lower-earning spouse manage living expenses.
  2. Rehabilitative Support: Designed to be short-term, helping the receiving spouse gain employment or education necessary to become self-sufficient.
  3. Permanent Support: Less common, usually considered after long marriages where age or health precludes significant employment opportunities.

Modifying or Terminating Spousal Support

Spousal support orders can be modified or terminated based on material or substantial changes in circumstances, such as a significant increase or decrease in either spouse’s income, remarriage of the receiving spouse, unmarried cohabitation in a relationship analogous to a marriage or other significant life changes. The terms of the original agreement, court order, and case law will dictate the ease with which adjustments can be made.

Navigating Spousal Support Negotiations

Given the complexities surrounding spousal support, negotiating an agreement that is fair and sustainable is crucial. Consider the following tips:

  1. Be Prepared: Gather comprehensive financial documentation relating to your financial need or (in)ability to pay spousal support to support your position. This may or may not require the assistance of a financial professional.
  2. Seek Legal Advice: An experienced attorney can provide valuable guidance on what constitutes a reasonable request or offer in his or her experience and/or provide a referral to the financial professional referenced in #1.
  3. Consider Mediation: If direct negotiations are challenging, mediation can offer a structured environment for reaching an agreement.


Spousal support discussions require a delicate balance of legal knowledge, negotiation skills, and a clear understanding of both parties’ financial futures. This is certainly an area of law where skilled attorneys provide their value. By approaching these discussions informed and prepared, and hiring the right lawyer, you can work towards an agreement that supports a fair transition to post-divorce life.

If you have questions or need any assistance concerning guidance around divorce proceedings or spousal support, please contact Christian Lapham at (703) 525-4000 or clapham@beankinney.com.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain or convey legal advice. Consult a lawyer. Any views or opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily the views of any client.

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