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Spousal Support Duration in Virginia

Spousal SupportAmong the most common questions for many people facing divorce are those relating to spousal support: will the court order spousal support? If so, how much—and for how long? As explained in Spousal Support in Virginia, both local guidelines and the Virginia Code provide guidance on how trial courts are to go about determining the amount and duration of support. However, even with local guidelines and the factors stated in Virginia Code Section 20-107.1, awards of support vary greatly case by case. Nevertheless, the Virginia Court of Appeals recently reiterated the importance of the Code factors, in the Fairfax County divorce case Cleary v. Cleary.

The parties in Cleary were married for 17 years and had three children during the marriage. Both parties were employed, with the husband working as a financial advisor and the wife working as an independent contractor. The court granted the wife a divorce on adultery grounds, and made a spousal support award of $5,000 per month for 60 months. In formulating the amount of the award, the court made a detailed finding using the factors outlined in the Code, but failed to specify why the award was for a period of five years. In other words, the court used the factors found in Virginia Code Section 20-107.1 to justify the amount, but not the duration, of support. On appeal, the wife challenged the duration.

The Court of Appeals overturned the five-year alimony award, finding that pursuant to Virginia Code Section 20-107.1(E) the trial court is required to identify specific factors when it sets a limited duration award. The court reasoned that this is necessary for not only consistency between cases, but also for potential modification of an award.

As a practical matter, the Cleary ruling pushes parties to provide specific reasoning to the court for not only the amount of spousal support but also for any set duration of support. This reasoning could be the amount of time it takes a party seeking support to complete school or even the amount of time before minor children are school age. Failure to do so may make it difficult for the court to connect the Code factors to the duration requestedleaving the court no ability to limit support to a set duration.

In other words, if you are the party who seeks to limit spousal support to a defined duration, the burden is on you to connect the duration you request to the factors found in  Virginia Code Section 20-107.1.

If you are facing a separation or divorce in Virginia where spousal support might be involved, consult with an experienced family law attorney as early in the process as possible. From offices in Fairfax, Fredericksburg and Manassas, the experienced divorce lawyers at Livesay & Myers represent clients across Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.