How much a person is going to receive or have to pay in spousal support, also called “alimony” or “support and maintenance,” is a very important question for all persons going through a divorce. The answer affects so many things in your life, from where you will be able to afford to live after the divorce to your tax liability. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Child support in Virginia relies, at least as a starting point, on a very specific guideline for calculation. There is no such guideline, outside of the pendent lite phase (explained below), however, for determining the amount or duration of spousal support.

A. Guidelines for Determining Spousal Support

You may or may not have heard of such formulas for spousal support such as the Fairfax Guideline. These guidelines are very important, depending on where your case is located, for determining temporary support. Temporary support will commonly be awarded for the period while the case is pending and before the final hearing. These formulas are not used by the Courts, however, for determining support after the parties are divorced. The Courts have made it very clear that the trial courts must consider the factors set out by the legislature and cannot simply rely on a formula to calculate support. See Coleman v. Coleman, 2011 WL 5838703 (Va. Ct. App. 2011).

B. Factors for Determining Alimony.

The Court has the power to award a lump sum support payment, period support payments (such as monthly), or both. The factors for determining spousal support are set out in Virginia Code Ann. § 20-107.1 and they are:

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, as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties.

The Court considers these factors in determining whether to award support, how much support to award, and how long to award support. Each case is different and in one case a few of the factors may be more important than other factors.

C. Duration of Support

The duration of support is also going to depend on the factors stated above. In negotiating, lawyers will often use short hands as a basis for coming to a settlement, such as half the length of the marriage. There is, however, no strict rule on determining the duration of support. The Court can and may award permanent support, and the Courts have in the past awarded permanent support in a marriage that only lasted 8 years. Knowledge of how the specific judges tend to rule in your geographic location is a big asset at the bargaining table.

Frequently Asked Questions About Alimony

Remember, every case is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all response to these common FAQs. The answers below are designed to give you a very loose and general idea of what to expect.

Is alimony automatically granted in every divorce case?

No, alimony is not automatically granted in every divorce case. The court evaluates the circumstances and makes a decision based on the specific factors mentioned earlier. Alimony is typically awarded when one spouse has a demonstrated need for financial support and the other spouse has the ability to pay.

How long does alimony last in Virginia?

The duration of alimony in Virginia varies depending on the specific circumstances of the case. It can be temporary, rehabilitative (to help the recipient become self-supporting), or permanent, which lasts until the death of either party or the remarriage or cohabitation of the recipient.

Can the amount of alimony be modified in the future?

Yes, the amount of alimony can be modified in the future if there is a substantial change in circumstances for either spouse. However, the court will need to review the circumstances and make a determination based on the evidence presented.

Can alimony be terminated if the recipient spouse remarries?

In Virginia, alimony is typically terminated if the recipient spouse remarries. However, the exact terms regarding the termination of alimony can be specified in the divorce decree or settlement agreement.

What happens if the paying spouse fails to make alimony payments?

If the paying spouse fails to make alimony payments as ordered by the court, the receiving spouse can take legal action to enforce the alimony order. This may involve seeking a contempt order or other appropriate remedies to ensure compliance.

Can I negotiate an alimony agreement outside of court?

Yes, spouses can negotiate and reach an agreement on alimony outside of court through mediation or collaborative law processes. It’s always recommended to consult with an attorney to ensure that any agreement reached is fair and legally binding.


Spousal support is not an easy issue to litigate. Awards are very fact specific and require careful analysis. Simply put, there is no easy shortcut to determine what a person should expect to receive or pay in alimony or how long he or she should expect to receive it or pay it.