Suppose you live in Woodbridge or Manassas, and are a stay at home parent, a military spouse, or perhaps you work but just happen to make much less money than your spouse. Suddenly, your spouse declares that he or she wants a divorce. Your spouse wants to walk away from the marriage, the house, and the marital debts, to live on their own. But you cannot afford to pay the mortgage, your bills, or your debts all on your own. Once your spouse leaves, the creditors are at the door. The house is facing foreclosure. What do you do?
The short answer is: seek pendente lite (temporary) support from your spouse from the courts of Prince William County.
Please note: Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park all share a combined court system, so whether you are a resident of Woodbridge, Lake Ridge, Nokesville, Gainesville, Dale City, or anywhere else in Manassas or Prince William County, you would file for support at the same place: the Prince William County Courthouse in Manassas.
Now, the long answer is a little more complicated than that. However, you should be assured that the Courts of Virginia have clear authority under the Virginia Code to order husbands and wives to support one another while they are separated or seeking divorce.
In addition, you should be aware that the judges of Prince William County treat the issue of spousal support very seriously. If you cannot afford to pay for the necessities of life—your housing, food, utilities, and other basic amenities—the Prince William County judges will not hesitate to help you. I have heard at least one Prince William County Circuit Court judge declare that he will order spousal support where it is necessary, even if it means that certain bills, such as the mortgage for the marital home, go unpaid. In the eyes of our judges here in Manassas, it is better for your or your spouse’s creditors to suffer than for your basic needs to go unmet.
In general, in considering what amount, if any, of support to order, our judges in Prince William County will consider your need for support, your spouse’s ability to pay support, the standard of living established during your marriage, and other commonsense factors that may be appropriate to the nature of your case.
Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court
You should be aware that the rules are slightly different in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (“JDR Court”). The judges of that court are obligated by state law to consider certain guidelines based on the income of the parties, so long as the parties’ combined gross income is less than $10,000 per month. The guidelines take into account three factors: your income, your spouse’s income, and whether you and your spouse have minor children in common. Under the guidelines, spousal support is then determined as follows:
- if you have minor children, spousal support will be set at the difference between twenty eight percent (28%) of the income of the higher-earning spouse and fifty eight percent (58%) of the income of the lower-earning spouse.
- if you do not have minor children, spousal support will be set at the difference between thirty percent (30%) of the income of the higher-earning spouse and fifty percent (50%) of the income of the lower-earning spouse.
So, under these guidelines, if the higher-earning spouse makes $9,000 per month and the lower-earning spouse makes $3,000 per month, and the parties have minor children, then spousal support would be $780 per month—and then any child support ordered to the custodial parent would be on top of that spousal support. With those same incomes and no minor children, spousal support would come out to be $1,200.
The judges of the JDR Court have discretion to deviate from the guidelines for good cause. Even though the guidelines are presumptive—meaning the amount they establish is “presumed” to be the amount which the judge should order—one can make any number of arguments that support should be higher or lower, as might be appropriate to the circumstances of your case.
One benefit of filing for support in the JDR Court is that you can do so whether or not you have grounds for divorce from your spouse; the only requirement is that you and your spouse are separated and no longer living as husband and wife. By contrast, to request support from the Circuit Court one must first file for divorce.
Final Support in Circuit Court
So far I have focused on pendente lite (temporary) spousal support. The rules are, again, slightly different for spousal support that is awarded at the end of a divorce case, upon the issuance of a decree for an absolute divorce. Unlike pendente lite (temporary) support, only a judge in the Circuit Court can order spousal support pursuant to a divorce. The Circuit Court has wide discretion in determining the amount and duration of support incident to divorce. Support can be ordered for an indefinite term, until further order of the court, or for defined duration, such as one, two, or any number of months or years. Judges in Circuit Court will typically at least look at the same spousal support guidelines as are considered in JDR Court, but those guidelines are not binding or even “presumptive” at the Circuit Court level. (See Spousal Support in Virginia for an analysis of the use of those guidelines in divorce cases in Virginia.)
The main distinction between between pendente lite (temporary) spousal support and incident-to-divorce spousal support is that the grounds for divorce may very well impact spousal support in the latter case. Whereas Prince William County judges will generally refuse to hear evidence regarding one spouse’s adultery, crimes, or other amoral conduct at a pendente lite (temporary) hearing, they will not hesitate to consider such evidence during the final hearing of your divorce case, in deciding whether to award spousal support. In fact, if your spouse can prove adultery on your part, then the court will probably not award you any spousal support, except in certain limited circumstances—see Adultery and Divorce in Virginia.
If the court, after hearing evidence of any fault-based grounds for divorce, decides to award spousal support, then as in temporary support cases the court will consider your need for support, your spouse’s ability to pay support, the standard of living established during your marriage, and other factors as are appropriate in your particular case.
Hopefully the above provides you a basic primer as to pursuing spousal support in the combined courts of Manassas and Prince William County, Virginia. To summarize, spousal support is available, at least temporarily, if you need it. You may file for temporary support in either the JDR Court (if you are separated) or Circuit Court (if you file for divorce). Finally, any determining spousal support incident to your final divorce, the Circuit Court judges will consider any fault-based grounds for divorce which are proven.
If you are facing a spousal support case in the Prince William County courts, it is important that you consult with a good attorney as early in the process as possible. Our Manassas divorce lawyers are experienced in representing clients in spousal support cases in both Prince William County JDR Court and Circuit Court. From our offices in Manassas (two blocks from the Courthouse), we represent clients in Manassas, Woodbridge, Dale City, and throughout Prince William County. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.