In my blog yesterday, The Death of Spousal Support, I talked about a recent case from the Virginia Court of Appeals, Wright v. Wright. You can read the text of the case here if you’re interested (and, trust me, if you're wondering whether you'll receive spousal support after your divorce in Virginia, you're interested). If you’re wondering whether you may qualify for an award of spousal support, you should definitely at least give it a glance.
You probably already know that Mrs. Wright ended up receiving far, far less in spousal support for a much shorter period of time than most Virginia lawyers would have estimated.
The next logical question is, “Why?” And then, “Will this happen to me?”
The “why” is interesting, and open to speculation. The most probable reason, in my opinion, is that probably Mrs. Wright acted like she was completely unwilling to seek employment after divorce. In fact, the opinion says specifically that “wife testified that she had no intention of seeking employment, explaining instead that she engages in volunteer work every day.”
Perhaps she irritated the judge by refusing to work, particularly considering her high level of education. Maybe that’s not the reason, but that’s the only thing in the opinion that suggests to me any kind of reason why this award would be so much less than expected. Still, I'm not really sure why the judge made the decision that he did.
“Will this happen to me?” is the question that will probably be on your mind. For a number of reasons, this case is unlike many that we commonly see. For one thing, there was an awful lot of money in Wright. There’s usually much less room for a judge to exercise his discretion. Furthermore, there’s usually a separation agreement—not a long, drawn out trial in front of a judge. If you go to court, both of you take risks. You take the risk that the judge will make a ruling in line with the Wright case, and he takes a risk that the judge will award you more support for longer than he expects. In a separation agreement, you can essentially agree to whatever you want, so it’s likely that you and your husband will be able to come to a reasonable agreement.
I don’t think that this case is going to be the automatic death knell for spousal support cases in Virginia, but it’s undeniable that it makes a dramatic and profound statement about spousal support awards in general. Who knows what will ultimately happen in the future, but I’m sure that all lawyers with wives as clients in similar cases are feeling a little uneasy these days.