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What will a court in Virginia consider when awarding alimony?

Alimony, also known as "spousal support," can be a sticking point for couples in Virginia who are seeking a divorce. After all, the lesser earning spouse will want to ensure they are left with the appropriate financial resources they need post-divorce. But, the higher earning spouse will also want to ensure that they are not paying so much in alimony that it significantly impacts their financial situation post-divorce. However, it is possible for a fair amount of alimony to be awarded that meets the needs of both parties.

Alimony in Virginia is not meant to be punitive. It is meant to reduce the monetary impact the spouse who is less financially independent will experience due to the divorce. Therefore, in Virginia, it is no longer the case that a spouse who commits adultery, for example, will absolutely not be entitled to any award of alimony whatsoever. Instead, under current law, fault, including adultery, will only be one factor the court will consider when deciding whether to award alimony.

There are other factors a court in Virginia will consider when awarding alimony. For example, the age of each spouse and how long they were married will be taken into account. Each spouse's earning potential is another factor the court may consider when awarding alimony in a divorce. Also, the court may consider what assets each spouse holds when making a decision regarding alimony.

There are various types of alimony awards. Sometimes a spouse is awarded periodic alimony. This means alimony will only be paid for a specific number of years, although in certain situations no end-date is set. Other times, alimony is awarded as a one-time lump sum. Also, it is not the case that alimony must be issued on the date that the couple's divorce is officially finalized. A spouse can reserve the right to pursue alimony after the divorce is finalized. This reservation usually extends to 50 percent of the number of years that the couple was married.

It is important to keep in mind that alimony need not last forever. It may be just the thing the lesser earning spouse needs to reach a point where they can be financially independent. With this in mind, it is entirely possible for a court to make a fair and appropriate decision regarding alimony.

Source: Virginia State Bar, "Divorce in Virginia," accessed Feb. 24, 2017

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