Family Law and Virginia Spousal Support

Posted on Dec 1, 2021 by Katie Carter

On Monday, we talked about child support, and how difficult the time between when partners initially separate (or break up) and get child support established.

Spousal support, in many ways, is similar. Because there’s no way to get spousal support without either the parties reaching a signed agreement or, alternatively, litigating the issue of spousal support in front of a judge, there’s often an awkward (and very difficult) in between period before support is awarded.

So, what can you do? If your ex is reluctant to pay spousal support, what are your options?

It’s all well and fine if you can get him to agree to pay spousal support (that is, assuming you know how much support would be reasonable for you to accept) – but, in many cases, it isn’t that easy.

Even husbands who imagine that they’ll have to pay spousal support sometimes need a little extra encouragement to do so, or, at least, to do so in an amount that would actually put their soon to be ex in a position to survive.

If your husband won’t agree to put spousal support in writing, you’ll have no choice other than to file a litigated divorce and begin the process of a contested divorce.

Will I need a family law attorney for a Virginia spousal support case?

In Virginia, you’re not required to hire an attorney in a divorce and/or custody case. You can represent yourself in any court in the Commonwealth. But it’s pretty risky.

I find that lots of women really don’t have an understanding of spousal support. The way I see it, there are three related questions.

1. Will I receive spousal support?
2. If so, how much spousal support might I receive?
3. If so, how long might I receive spousal support?

The second and third questions are scale questions; there’s usually a range of acceptable outcomes. But fairly often I find women who are completely out of touch with what the law might award them. That can mean that their demands for spousal support are outrageous, but, more often, it means that they’re willing to sell themselves far shorter than they really should. In either case, its dangerous.

If you don’t have a pretty good idea of what you might be entitled to receive under the law, it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney one-on-one about it. Ultimately you don’t have to hire anyone to represent you, but at least you’ll have the information you need to make a good decision about your own representation.

How long will it take to get Virginia spousal support established?

Just like in a child support case, there are a couple of different ways you can go about a spousal support case.

You can file petitions for child and/or spousal support in juvenile court. Keep in mind that juvenile court proceedings will only establish support; these proceedings WILL NOT move your divorce case forward at all. Another point to remember is that, if you file in juvenile court, your husband can file in circuit court; this will ‘divest’ the juvenile court of jurisdiction and place your case in the circuit court.

You can also file for divorce at the circuit court level, and have child and spousal support determined as part of a larger divorce action. You can start here, or find that your case has been divested here, but, in either case, it’s not JUST a spousal support or child support case anymore. It’s a divorce case.
The good news about a divorce case in circuit court is that you can have a pendente lite hearing, which will give you an opportunity to get temporary child and/or spousal support established.

What’s the difference in temporary and permanent spousal support?

Temporary spousal support – the kind awarded at a pendente lite hearing – is temporary in the sense that it only lasts until you and your husband either reach an agreement or have a court order entered that will handle support on a permanent basis.

It’s not permanent in terms of duration (like, it doesn’t last forever and ever), but it’s permanent in the sense that it is final. That doesn’t mean it’s not modifiable – in many cases it is – but that the order is final and the terms governing support are permanently established.

Permanent spousal support – final spousal support – could be for a specific period of time, or it could go on until a specific event (like the payor spouse’s retirement) occurs. Specific factors established by statute will automatically terminate spousal support, too – like the death of either party, the remarriage of the recipient spouse, and/or the recipient spouse’s cohabitation in a relationship analogous to marriage for a period of one year or more.

How long will it take to get temporary spousal support established?

If your husband won’t pay support, you may find yourself up against a wall and needing to act quickly. The quickest way to get spousal support established is probably (though you’ll want to talk to an attorney about the docket and delays in your local juvenile and circuit courts) by having a pendente lite hearing in the circuit court.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused major judicial delays throughout the state, so you’ll want to talk to someone familiar with your court before making major decisions. It’s hard to say exactly how long it’ll take to get a date for a pendente lite hearing, but it’s probably not unreasonable to expect a date within 2-3 months. That may seem like a long time to float yourself without support, but it may be the best option you have.

It’s definitely a good idea to talk to an attorney sooner rather than later. For more information, or to request a copy of our divorce book, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.