The Death of Spousal Support?

Posted on Mar 11, 2013 by Katie Carter

Spousal support is a complex area of the law, mostly because it’s so uncertain. Still, I’ve written before about spousal support (see How Spousal Support Works, Gold Diggers and Spousal Support, and Could YOU Have to Pay Spousal Support to HIM?) and tried to give guidelines to help you determine what might be awarded in your case.

If you’re wondering whether you’ll qualify to receive spousal support, you’re not alone. It has always been a bit of a confusing area of the law, because we don’t have specific, pre-determined guidelines like we do in child support. There are factors that influence whether a person would qualify to receive support, and there are also some general presumptions that most attorneys operate under.

Still, the law is always changing, and what is true today may not be true tomorrow. Usually, the change is slow and measured but, sometimes, the changes fall into place quickly and dramatically. This happens when the courts decide cases in a way that surprises us, or challenges the way things were done before.

There was a case like that recently, and it will probably significantly affect spousal support law in Virginia. The case was called Wright v. Wright, and you can read it here if you’re interested (just click the link, and then open the PDF in another window). In the Wright case, the husband was a very successful law partner and his wife of 22 years stayed at home. Spousal support was one of the big issues in the case (because, of course, she wanted a lot of it, and he didn’t want to pay it). Because husband’s income was so high; wife was unemployed, though highly educated, for such a long period of time (which makes re-entering the workforce difficult); and because it was such a long-term marriage, most attorneys would have expected to see a large spousal support award for a long period of time, perhaps permanently.

The trial court awarded her a third of what she asked for in support each month for just four years, and the Court of Appeals upheld that award. This is a much, much lower amount and a much shorter duration than anyone who practices family law would have ever expected.

So, what does it mean? Unfortunately, it’s too soon to tell. As for what this case will do to future spousal support cases, it probably doesn’t mean anything good. Seriously, though, read the case: Wright v. Wright, and see for yourself.