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How much am I paying in Alimony or Spousal Support in Virginia?

Spousal support is awarded on a case-by-case basis in Virginia and neither is presumed to be appropriate in any particular type of divorce case.

In Virginia, Alimony is called Spousal Support.  What is important to know is that it is not guaranteed.  This is contrary to many people’s beliefs and can come as a surprise.  “Maintenance” is another term used for alimony, but the IRS uses only one term:  Alimony.

The state of Virginia is neutral as to whether a divorce should have accompanying alimony.  Put another more legalistic way:  spousal support is neither presumed to be appropriate in any particular type of divorce case nor is it presumed necessary in any particular type of divorce case.

Spousal support is awarded on a case-by-case basis in both court and in meditation.  There are several factors:  1- This is a need-based award- is there a Need for spousal support?  If both spouses make more than $150,000.00 / year, there is likely no need for support from one spouse to another; 2- Is there an income disparity?  Spousal support is often awarded to SAHMS (Stay At Home Mothers), spouses who could be financially independent but need help getting there, and potentially to spouses who remain in an expensive residence (almost always for the benefit of the child or children).

If the court or mediator determines that there is both need and an income disparity, the next question is the length of spousal support period.  This works on a sliding scale.  If the marriage is 3-5 years, the time for support would likely be less than half the time of marriage.  5 to 10 years, the more likely the support period will be half the time married.  10-15 years, the answers become murkier, but you can see the longer you’re married, the longer the support period will likely be.  Finally, if the marriage is over 15 years, Alimony continues indefinitely (that is, it is “lifetime”), until the spouse receiving the support remarries or the paying spouse retires.  

Sometimes the time period will be shorter, or tied to a specific outcome:  think of the spouse receiving the support returning to the workforce, and he or she may need to go to school to get a professional certificate (for example, a Physical Therapist Assistant).  In this case, the support may run for the term of the schooling and perhaps take into account the tuition.

So how much will you pay?  There are two methods for calculating spousal support:  Pendente Lite, which is formula based and was originally intended as a stop-gap in emergency situations, is now commonly used throughout Virginia.  It is the dominant method for calculating spousal support and holds a very strong sway in the county of Fairfax.  The code section with the formula for the Pendente Lite calculation and formula can be found here: If you are considering divorce or perhaps planning on getting married, I strongly recommend running the Pendent Lite calculation if you suspect yours is a case where spousal support may be awarded.

The second method is Need-Based.  There is no formula here, but this method takes into account the real-life circumstances faced by each spouse, their children and their particular needs.  Pendente Lite can be a starting point as to what is “fair” for spousal support, but need-based calculations can be extremely helpful because of this tailoring.  It requires both spouses to list their expenses and, often overlooked, their projected expenses.  We then compare these to the total income available to provide for two households.  This also includes the child support to be paid.

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Adam Engel

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