Understanding How Much to Expect in Spousal Support or Alimony-- The Hardest Part of Any Divorce

It’s time to tackle the toughest issue with most family law cases. Alimony or Spousal Support can be very difficult to predict.   And if we’re in court, which Judge you have hearing your case matters.

We’ll tour a special part of Richmond as we work through spousal support, and what to keep in mind.


Alimony: The Details



­­­­­­­­The amount.  Our law firm maintains sophisticated computer programs that can estimate, with a reasonable degree of certainty, the level of support per month a party can expect to receive—even demonstrating varying amounts based upon the specific jurisdiction within Virginia where the couple resides. 


The computer models provide a starting point for applying the 13-factor test, below.  While the computer-calculated amount will depend upon the relative income and asset holdings of the parties, factual issues specific to your case will cause wide variations from this initial calculation:


  1. The obligations, needs and financial resources of each party, including but not limited to income from all pension, profit sharing or retirement plans, of whatever nature; 
  2. The standard of living established during the marriage; 
  3. The duration of the marriage; 
  4. The age and physical and mental condition of each party and any special circumstances of the family; 
  5. The extent to which the age, physical, or mental condition or special circumstances of any child of the parties would make it appropriate that a party not seek employment outside of the home;  
  6. The contributions, monetary and non-monetary, of each to the well-being of the family; 
  7. The property interest of each, both real and personal, tangible and intangible; 
  8. The provisions made with regard to marital property expressed elsewhere in this document and in lieu of an equitable distribution proceeding as set forth in Section 20-107.3, Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended; 
  9. The earning capacity, including skills, education, and training of each party and the ability and opportunity of each to secure such education and training; 
  10. The opportunity for, ability of, and the time and costs involved for each to acquire the appropriate education, training, and employment to obtain the skills needed to enhance his or her earning capability; 
  11. The decisions regarding employment, career, economic, education, and parenting arrangements made by each during the marriage, and their effect on present and future earning potential, including the length of time one or both has been absent from the job market;
  12. The extent to which each has contributed to the attainment of education, training, career position, or profession of the other; and 
  13. Such other factors, including the tax consequences to each party, as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties.


The term or length of time spousal support is maintained.  As a family law professional, this is the most difficult question to answer in terms of guiding expectations for support.  The answer will vary wildly based upon the county or city within Virginia where you live and the judge on the bench in your particular case.  As a very general starting point, a party could anticipate spousal support, where the factors above indicate it is needed, for half of the length of the marriage, or more. 


In marriages that are considered long-term, say, eighteen years or more, support awards could be permanent—or without a specified end date.  Where a spouse has stayed home to raise the children, stopped working twenty years ago, and has no applicable skill set to rely upon to reenter the workforce immediately, we have found courts willing to award support indefinitely.


In cases where parties waive spousal support, but anticipate medical challenges down the road—for instance, early stages of a chronic illness, we advise our clients to reserve the right to request spousal support later if needed, rather than waive the right to support outright.


Important note:  Outside of court, spousal support figures may vary wildly from our firm’s suggested guidelines.  Sometimes this is because one party feels guilt or remorse over poor decisions that contributed to the end of the marriage, or simply received poor legal advice. Sometimes the figure was modified in light of other factors—such as receiving the marital residence and/or second home outright, a series of investment properties, along with sizeable portion of stock investments or, alternatively, a large lump-sum payment up front.  This will depend, in settlement, upon the goals each party brings to the negotiation table. 


Some will say, “Van, I just want this to be over. I don’t want to pay her every month for the rest of my life, so, what should I do?”  Others will say, “Van, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. If he’ll just give me the house and $350,000, I’ll walk away.”  The paths that bring our clients to my office are myriad, but we’ll listen carefully from the beginning, outlining a plan of action to meet their unique goals, so they can quickly get back to fully living their lives.

HW Assignment:  Outline and prepare a monthly expense sheet—what have you been spending money on each month?  Begin to put that together.  I’ll see you tomorrow. --Van


H. Van Smith
Trusted Virginia Family Law Attorney Serving Richmond to Williamsburg