I feel you – I’m a person who likes to take action, too. If you’re separating or headed quickly that direction, you’re probably wondering what changes you’ll need to make to your day to day in order to be able to afford the kind of lifestyle to which you have grown accustomed. In most cases, it’s not about you, really – it’s more about your children, or being able to afford to stay in the same home, or something like that.
It’s scary to think of all the changes that divorce can bring your way and, if you’re anything like me, you’re already wondering how to mitigate those potential changes and challenges. Bravo, sister! That’s great!
But there are always a lot of unknowns in a divorce case, and how much spousal support you’ll receive (that’s right, we say spousal support these days, not alimony – but I know what you mean) is one of the biggest gray areas. It’s never a guarantee, anyway, but whether you’ll receive it, how much you’ll receive, and then, if you do receive it, for how long – well, I don’t just know that information in our first appointment. I wish I did, because I’d just tell you! But it’s not that simple.
First of all, we need to look at what goes into a spousal support calculation.
Need and ability to pay
First, we have to demonstrate that you have a need (easy – if we just show that the bills coming in each month outpace what you earn and can pay on your own) and that he has an ability to pay (not quite as easy). That means there has to be a pretty significant disparity in income. He has to earn significantly more than you. And that’s just to start.
If he doesn’t earn enough more than you, you may not be entitled to spousal support (yes, even if you have a need), or your award may be smaller than you feel is reasonable under the circumstances.
The statutory factors
The statute also includes 13 factors that influence judges decisions related to spousal support (or alimony, if you’re a little bit still stuck in the past – it’s cool, I can use that lingo too). I’ve added them here for you, but let me just say – arguments based on these factors are often where wives (and their contributions to the marriage) can really shine:
1. The obligations, needs and financial resources of the parties, including but not limited to income from all pension, profit sharing or retirement plans, of whatever nature;
2. The standard of living established during the marriage;
3. The duration of the marriage;
4. The age and physical and mental condition of the parties and any special circumstances of the family;
5. The extent to which the age, physical or mental condition or special circumstances of any child of the parties would make it appropriate that a party not seek employment outside of the home;
6. The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;
7. The property interests of the parties, both real and personal, tangible and intangible;
8. The provisions made with regard to the marital property under § 20-107.3;
9. The earning capacity, including the skills, education and training of the parties and the present employment opportunities for persons possessing such earning capacity;
10. The opportunity for, ability of, and the time and costs involved for a party to acquire the appropriate education, training and employment to obtain the skills needed to enhance his or her earning ability;
11. The decisions regarding employment, career, economics, education and parenting arrangements made by the parties during the marriage and their effect on present and future earning potential, including the length of time one or both of the parties have been absent from the job market;
12. The extent to which either party has contributed to the attainment of education, training, career position or profession of the other party; and
13. Such other factors, including the tax consequences to each party and the circumstances and factors that contributed to the dissolution, specifically including any ground for divorce, as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties.
The duration of the marriage
How long you’ve been married is also important – not just in terms of whether you’ll qualify to receive spousal support at all, but also in terms of how long your award will be.
Generally speaking, we’re only talking about permanent support (and, by “permanent,” I mean until death of either party, remarriage of the recipient party, or cohabitation by the recipient party in a relationship analogous to marriage for a period of one year or more) in the case of pretty long term marriages – usually, twenty years or more. For shorter terms, you’ll usually receive a fixed period of support. Often, half the length of the marriage is considered reasonable. In really, really short term marriages, you might not receive support at all.
Will a new job impact my alimony?
Yes, of course! When we look at need and ability to pay, we’re looking at your incomes. Though there’s no formula for spousal support that is binding on the courts in Hampton Roads, we do have a guideline (though, remember – it’s not binding) that we use.
When you meet with an attorney, you can have the attorney run guideline calculations a couple of different ways to see how a new job might impact what spousal support would look like, keeping in mind that this is not an exact science.
Your new job will certainly impact your support – but also keep in mind that it’s not a dollar for dollar reduction in your support, and that the goal is to increase your overall standard of living. Look at what the job could net you – both in terms of income, and also in terms of benefits – compared to your spousal support award.
Keep in mind that, since January 1, 2019, spousal support is not taxable to you (or tax deductible to him), which means that your spousal support award is a net award. What you earn working is not, so you’ll have to figure how much it could be reduced by taxes.
There are also way less strings attached if you earn your own money! Spousal support will often terminate if you get remarried, or if you live with someone in a romantic relationship (no, I don’t mean a roommate) in a relationship “analogous to marriage” for a year or more. He doesn’t have those same restrictions, of course – because he’s not relying on you for support – so if you find those kinds of terms unpalatable, maybe it is better to earn your own money, if you can!
What should I do about the job now? When will I know how much alimony I’ll receive?
Alimony is either negotiated or determined by the judge, so it may be awhile, if your case is starting out, before you have a specific number. And, even then, it could be modifiable based on changes – in fact, that’s the general trend these days.
Before you do anything big – like accept a new job – it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney about realistic goals and possible outcomes. That way, you can make the best decision possible for yourself and your family.
Hey, we know there’s a lot hanging on this. And good for you for taking such a proactive stance this early in the game! But get all the information before you act, and you won’t go wrong. For more information, or to schedule a consultation with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia alimony (you know, or spousal support!) attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.