Divorce is a life-changing event for any family. Stay-at-home spouses facing divorce and separation experience the same stress and anxiety as any other spouse but with one exception. Many stay-at-home spouses, typically moms, have often sacrificed their careers in order to take care of their children. In fact, the couple may have made a joint decision for one party to leave the workforce based on the needs of the family and their financial situation. Often the stay-at-home spouse has been out of the workforce for many years, and as a result, has become financially dependent on the other party. This tends to put stay-at-home spouses in a difficult position during a divorce, and they are likely to have many concerns about their future financial security.
Spousal support, also known as alimony or maintenance, can be awarded depending on the circumstances of the case. Where one party has been a stay-at-home spouse, there will be an assessment as to that person’s education, prior job experience and qualification or credentials for work, and past earning history. In these situations the court will also assess whether or not it is appropriate for that spouse to return to the workforce, the time that it will take to find gainful employment, and his or her expected earning capacity. A stay-at-home spouse may be unable to return to work immediately after separation or divorce, due to the needs of the children, and/or not having the skillset or training to secure employment straight away. Such spouses likely need time to adjust to their new circumstances, and time to become financially independent. In these circumstances, the court may award rehabilitative spousal support for a set period of time to allow for this transition. Alternatively, the court may decide that it would be inequitable to expect an older stay-at-home spouse, after a very long marriage, to now re-enter the workforce. In this situation, the court may award spousal support for an undefined duration (meaning there is no set termination date), at a level enough to maintain the lifestyle the stay-at-home spouse has been accustomed to over the course of the marriage.
States can vary considerably on spousal support, and it is important to research your State’s laws to get an idea of how the court of that State determines spousal support, and the level of spousal support you may be entitled to. In Virginia, a number of statutory factors are considered by the Courts when determining a party’s eligibility for spousal support. Such factors are set out in the Virginia Code §20-107.1 and include the following:
- 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;
- The standard of living established during the marriage;
- The duration of the marriage;
- The age and physical and mental condition of the parties and any special circumstances of
- 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
- The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the
- The property interests of the parties, both real and personal, tangible and intangible;
- The provisions made with regard to the division of marital property;
- The earning capacity, including the skills, education and training of the parties and the
present employment opportunities for persons possessing such earning capacity;
- The opportunity for, the 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;
- 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;
- The extent to which either party has contributed to the attainment of education, training,
career position or profession of the other party; and
- 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.
Although spousal support is not guaranteed in Virginia, some level of spousal support is likely to be awarded to a stay-at-home spouse who has contributed to the well-being of the family. Such support can offer the stay-at-home spouse a fresh start post-divorce and the opportunity to obtain additional education and/or work experience in order to earn a living and become self-supporting.
How much can a stay-at-home spouse expect to receive per month for spousal support? In Virginia, a comparative income and needs-based analysis is usually the initial step. This method requires both spouses to list their monthly expenses (and sometimes projected expenses if applicable), together with their incomes from all sources. Their expenses are then compared to the income available to them to support the two households. Often times, there will be a shortfall in both parties’ ability to pay their expenses, which will require budgeting adjustments, creativity and planning to ensure both parties continue to live within their means. There is no specific calculation to determine the actual amount to be paid for spousal support, and each case is determined on its individual facts on a case by case basis.
The law regarding spousal support in Virginia is complex. If you are facing divorce in Arlington, Fairfax, McLean or Alexandria, and would like advice on your future financial security to include your eligibility for spousal support, our experienced family law attorneys are ready and available to provide you with the required guidance and advice. Contact us today.