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Spousal support, how much and how long?

The issue of spousal support is a major concern for both parties.  The lesser income spouse wants to know if he or she will receive support, and if so will it be enough to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.  By contrast, the primary wage earner does not want to pay indefinite support and is focusing on how much will be paid and for how long.

Spousal support is a matter that continues to plague family law practitioners. Clients on both sides of the issue want both certainty and predictability.  Yet, absent an agreement, there is no way to know how much a spouse will pay and for how long.  Parties seeking certainty are encouraged to reach agreements that foster predictable outcomes.   Otherwise, both sides run the risk of an undesirable outcome.  The recipient spouse will always complain that he or she did not receive enough support, while the spouse saddled with the obligation to pay support invariably protests the amount and duration.

STOP!   Judges are increasingly faced with larger than life caseloads.  They are forced to make snap decisions in a fraction of the time it took to litigate the case.  They do the best they can, based upon the resources available.  It goes without saying that Judges often look to lawyers to guide clients to a reasonable place of compromise that benefits the overall case.  Therefore, it is up to lawyers to educate client facing this issue.  Clients must be made to understand the discretionary nature of spousal support and its inherent risks.  The spouse in need of support will always want more.  The spouse paying support will pay a fortune in legal fees to convince the court that the recipient spouse deserves less.   Although there are a number of rules governing the process, little can be done to prepare a client for an unfavorable outcome unfolding in the courtroom.

Virginia Code § 20-107.1. provides the statutory scheme governing support and maintenance of spouses.  The grant or denial of support is discretionary.  Two judges hearing the same facts can, in theory, reach different outcomes.   The outcome of a support determination will hinge on a particular judges’ interpretation of the law as applied to the facts. Given the discretionary nature of support, it is safe to assume that neither party will be happy with the outcome.  Unless, however,  the parties are wealthy beyond measure and money is only a collateral issue, clients on both sides of the issue are rarely prepared to face the truth.  Stated differently, any award made by the court is seldom enough for the recipient spouse. By contrast, if you ask the spouse having to pay support, any amount paid to the recipient spouse is always too much.