Spousal Support and Separate Maintenance

Getting separated or divorced can have significant financial implications for both parties, and this is particularly true when one person makes more money than the other. When this occurs, a court may order spousal support or separate maintenance to ensure that the lesser-earning party can meet their needs and retain their standard of living while they get back on their feet.

Spousal support and separate maintenance are often contentious issues between divorcing or separating couples. Whether you are trying to minimize your monthly obligation or ensure that your financial needs are met, you should speak with an experienced divorce attorney at Bourdon Tortorello today. The assistance of an attorney can ensure that your rights are protected and that your support dispute is resolved as favorably as possible.

What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support, which is often called alimony, is court-ordered financial help that one person pays to another during or after a divorce. When the end of a marriage leaves one person without the financial resources to continue supporting themself while the other has the financial ability to help, spousal support can be ordered.

 Spousal support can also be the result of a mutual agreement between the divorcing spouses or can be established via a prenuptial agreement. Spousal support is intended to provide the recipient with the assistance they need to gain greater financial independence – when the other spouse is in a financial position to provide them with support.

Spousal Support Can Take Different Forms

If the spouses are in agreement on the matter or if they’ve addressed the issue of alimony in a prenup or postnup, the alimony payments can take whatever form they choose. When the court orders spousal support, however, it has the discretion to order payments in any of the following forms:

  • Permanent alimony that ends only upon the recipient’s death or remarriage
  • Rehabilitative alimony that is set for a specific length of time and is designed to allow the recipient the time necessary to become more financially independent, such as through education or job training
  • Lump sum alimony that addresses the matter of spousal support with one upfront payment

The matter of fault can play a significant role in how the term of alimony is resolved. Since the  Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act made divorces based on irreconcilable differences an option, however, the vast majority of divorces throughout the nation are no fault.

The Basic Calculation Method

When alimony is considered appropriate, there is a basic calculation method that is generally used. When the divorcing couple shares no minor children, the method involves subtracting 50 percent of the recipient’s gross income from 30 percent of the payor’s income. When the divorcing couple does, however, share minor children, 58 percent of the recipient’s gross income is subtracted from 28 percent of the payor’s gross income.

What Is Separate Maintenance?

Separate maintenance is the State of Virginia’s answer to a legal separation. Separate maintenance addresses the terms you would resolve in divorce without providing you with all the protections a legal separation generally would. For example, if you embark on a romantic relationship with another person during separate maintenance, it can affect the outcome of a later divorce.  

The Terms Addressed

The terms that generally need to be resolved during a separate maintenance action include all the following:

  • The equitable – or fair – division of marital property
  • Child custody arrangements
  • Child support
  • Spousal support

Why Separate Maintenance Is Sometimes Preferable to Divorce

There are situations in which some couples consider separate maintenance preferable to divorce, and some of the most common reasons include:

  • Some couples choose not to divorce for closely held religious reasons or for citizenship purposes.
  • Some couples choose to separate as a means of giving their marriage another chance – in the hope of finding their way back to one another.
  • Some couples prefer not to divorce until their children are grown.
  • Some couples choose separate maintenance in order for both of them to remain on one spouse’s health insurance coverage.

How to Get Spousal Support or Separate Maintenance

There are three ways that you can obtain spousal support or separate maintenance:

  • Reaching an agreement with the other party
  • Addressing the matter in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement
  • Asking the court to order spousal support or separate maintenance

If you ask the court to order support, it will take a special interest in your ability to support yourself financially – relative to your divorcing spouse’s financial ability to help. In the process, a wide range of relevant factors will be considered.

Factors Considered in Spousal Support and Separate Maintenance Cases

The factors the court will consider in relation to a request for spousal support – whether as a matter of divorce or separate maintenance – include the following.

  • Each spouse’s income and financial needs
  • The standard of living achieved during the marriage
  • The length of the marriage

Factors that will receive the most careful attention include decisions made during the marriage that may have affected one spouse’s current and future earning potential. For example, if the marriage was a long one and one spouse gave up their career – in support of the other’s – the court will pay close attention.

Modifying Spousal Support and Separate Maintenance Orders

Generally, spousal support is set for a specific duration, and separate maintenance orders include highly specific terms. There are, however, instances when modifications can be made. For example, if the recipient of spousal support remarries, their spousal support ends, and cohabitating with a romantic partner can lead to the same result. Further, a substantial change in either the recipient or the payor’s financial circumstances can support a modification.

The terms of a separate maintenance order can also be modified in relation to significant changes in relevant circumstances.

Consult a Divorce Attorney about Your Options

The practiced divorce attorneys at Bourdon & Tortolero, serving Virginia, Maryland, and the DC area, appreciate how challenging the complexities of spousal support and separate maintenance can be, and we take the time and care to ensure each of our clients understand their best options within the context of their parental and financial rights. Your case is important to your future, so please don’t wait to contact or call us at 703-646-8390 for more information today.

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