Difference Between Alimony and Spousal Support

Posted on Aug 16, 2012 by Hofheimer Family Law

If you’re getting divorced in Virginia, you may have questions about spousal support, as well as other financial issues. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics of divorce law. Your Newport News divorce attorney can help you understand how the law applies to your specific case.

Many times, you will hear the word “alimony” used when referring to the payments one spouse makes to another following a divorce. While this word has been in common use in the media, it’s not the term that’s used in Virginia for these payments. Instead, the term “spousal support” is used.

So the simple answer to the question “what’s the difference between spousal support and alimony?” is that there isn’t any difference. They are just two different terms for the same thing. Whatever you call these payments, they have a long history and serve an important purpose in a divorce.

History and Current Application of Spousal Support

Spousal support (or alimony, from the Latin word alimonia, or sustenance) has been around in some form for thousands of years and is even addressed in ancient legal texts like the Code of Hammurabi and the Code of Justinian. The original purpose of spousal support was to ensure that a woman continued to be provided for even after her husband ended the marriage. At the time, women were dependent on their husbands and could end up homeless after divorce.

Modern alimony laws are based on those first handed down by the ecclesiastical courts of Europe. These courts were based on religious laws that saw marriage as an eternal contract, so only limited divorce could be granted. In this scenario, the husband still had a responsibility to support his wife and children.

The 19th century brought changes to divorce law, making it easier to obtain a divorce, but it was assumed that someone was always at fault in the demise of the marriage. It was usually the husband who was thought to be guilty of marital misconduct, so he was expected to provide for his ex-wife once the marriage ended.

Nowadays, there’s less focus on gender when deciding spousal support. The court decides who pays support by taking into consideration a variety of factors, including parties’ incomes, their general health, earning potential, and more. Fault doesn’t play as much of a role in the decision as it used to, although in some cases it can have an effect on the decision.

If you’re getting divorced in Virginia, spousal support can help you get back on your feet and enable you to afford the necessities of life. This can be particularly important to spouses who left careers to raise children, those who are elderly, or those who have an illness or disability. There are several different types of spousal support, each having its own duration and terms. Your Newport News divorce attorney can help explain these to you and will pursue the type that’s best for your case.

Contacting a Newport News Divorce Attorney

There are very specific rules governing divorce in Virginia. At Hofheimer Family Law Firm, we are committed to providing you with the experience and compassion you deserve and the successful results you need to move on with your life. Request a free copy of our divorce guide for women in Virginia or reserve your seat at our monthly divorce seminar – 1-757-425-5200.