Gavel and Money Between Two SpousesSeveral decades ago, it was much more common for one spouse—almost always the wife—to leave her career to raise children and manage the household. In the event of a divorce, the husband would often be ordered to pay spousal support—known as alimony in many states—to the wife because of the contributions she made to the family during the marriage and her inability to earn a comparable wage on her own. These days, many couples are earning similar salaries when they divorce, so spousal support orders are not as common. However, there are situations in which the court will find it appropriate to award spousal support.

When a Divorcing Party Can Seek Spousal Support

Spousal support is not automatically granted during a divorce. The party who believes they are entitled to payments from their ex must request it during the divorce process. If the party requesting support committed marital misconduct—for example, adultery or domestic abuse—they will be barred from receiving support, regardless of their financial situation.

If the requesting party is not barred, the court will consider the following factors when deciding the amount and duration of the spousal support award:

  • Each spouse’s finances. A financial accounting will be made of each spouse’s income and expenditures.
  • The standard of living during the marriage. The goal of the court is to allow each party to maintain their standard of living as much as that is possible.
  • The length of the marriage. The longer you have been married, the more weight your request for support will carry.
  • Children’s ages. The court will consider whether it is appropriate for the caregiving spouse to seek employment outside of the home, given the children’s ages and special circumstances.
  • Contributions of each spouse to the family. The court will weigh monetary contributions as well as non-monetary contributions such as childcare and home management.
  • Distribution of marital property during the divorce. As part of the financial accounting, the court will look at who got what in the divorce.
  • Each spouse’s earning capacity. A partner who has been out of the job market for many years, doesn’t have a college degree, or lacks work experience may not be able to earn a living wage.
  • The requesting spouse’s need for education or training to pursue a career. If the spouse seeking support plans to earn a degree or license in order to become self-sufficient, the court might grant spousal support for the amount of time it will take to achieve that goal.

As an example, if the husband was a high-income earner and the family lived in an affluent area, the wife could be awarded a substantial monthly support payment if she was the primary caregiver and did not work outside of the home during the marriage. If the children still require a caregiver and the wife needs time to earn a degree or update a professional certificate before she can begin to support herself, the court could order that spousal support be paid for several years. The court will consider all of the information included in a request for support, so it is important that you build a strong argument if you are seeking spousal support.

Intentional Unemployment or Underemployment

If you have been the primary wage earner in the marriage and you don’t think you should have to pay spousal support to your ex, you will have to convince the court that your ex has the potential to earn a reasonable wage but has chosen not to. You could do this by offering evidence that your ex recently held a higher-paying job than they currently hold or that more lucrative work is available and attainable by your ex. If your children are in school and don’t require a caregiver during the day, the court can compel a stay-at-home parent to return to work by withholding full spousal support.

James E. Short, PLC Is Here for You

The sooner you consult our Virginia family law attorney in the divorce process, the more likely it is that we can help you get a fair and appropriate spousal support order. Whether you are the spouse who sacrificed their career to support your family or the spouse who was the primary wage earner who doesn’t think they should have to support their ex, a family lawyer can help. When you contact James Short, he will explain your rights and options and help you figure out the best way to get the financial support you deserve. Contact us online or call our office at 757-410-5042.