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Do Virginia courts still award lifetime alimony awards?

A recent divorce outcome may seem controversial: A Virginia court awarded a lifetime alimony award to one spouse. On appeal, the spouse alleged that the award forced him out of retirement and back into the workforce. However, an appeals court upheld the award.

To be fair, there are special considerations in this case. The divorce came after nearly 40 years of marriage, and the length of a marriage is one factor that may impact alimony awards.

During the marriage, the husband’s career had also necessitated the family to move every few years. The wife, who had married at age 20, approached raising the three children as her full-time duty. When fashioning alimony awards, courts also consider each spouse’s contributions to the marriage, their respective sacrifices, and their potential for reentering the workforce. In this case, the court concluded that the wife’s ability to find a career on the verge of age 60 was highly unlikely.

Although many states are reforming lifetime alimony laws, there are still commentators who support this outcome where a spouse is disabled or unable to enter the job market. According to the Virginia Bar’s website, the courts have broad discretion in fashioning alimony, or spousal support awards. Additional factors include the lifestyle during the marriage, and each spouse’s financial resources. In this case, the court imputed a certain level of income to the retired husband, possibly based on a pension and/or other assets.

Significantly, there is no fixed formula for weighting the various alimony factors. That means that a court may give special emphasis to any one factor, such as a unique family situation. Ultimately, that uncertainty underscores the need for experienced legal representation. Our Virginia law firm has experience helping spouses understand the criteria by which courts will evaluate spousal support requests

Source: The Progress-Index, “Virginia needs to reform alimony rules,” May 5, 2017

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