February 2018

Spousal Support in Virginia: Who Gets It, for How Long, and How Much?

What Kind of Spousal Support Awards Are There?

Known by some as “alimony” or “maintenance”, spousal support is often awarded upon divorce, particularly in cases of divorce where the parties have been married for a meaningful amount of time and there is a wage gap between the parties.

The three basic types of spousal support are periodic payments for an undefined duration, periodic payments for a defined duration, and a lump sum award.

  1. Periodic payment for an undefined duration is a specific sum that a party pays at certain intervals, that doesn’t typically end unless 1) one of the parties dies, 2) the payee remarries or cohabitates in a marriage-like relationship for more than one year, or 3) further order of the court.
  2. Periodic payments for a defined duration are payments at certain intervals, for a certain amount, that end on a definite date.
  3. Lump sum support is an award of a lump sum that can be ordered payable at once or over installments, but in which the total amount is set.

Who Is Awarded Spousal Support?

The existence of a wage gap is not strictly determinative of whether spousal support is to be paid. The court must establish whether a party is entitled to support by looking at a list of statutory factors surrounding the marriage and the divorce. A finding of adultery, for example, can preclude a party from receiving spousal support. However, the court may award spousal support in such a situation if it determines that a denial of support and maintenance would constitute a manifest injustice based on the respective degrees of fault during the marriage and relative economic circumstances of the parties. It is important to remember is that spousal support is not punitive, and will not be awarded merely to punish one of the parties for wrongdoing.

There are additional factors the court might consider, such as the duration of the marriage, contributions to the family, standard of living established during the marriage and the earning capacity of the parties. You can find the factors listed in § 20.1-107.1 of the Virginia Code.

How Much Spousal Support Will Be Paid?

While there is no set “formula” for determining long-term / post-marital support, some jurisdictions in Virginia, including Fairfax County, have established guidelines for calculating temporary support.

Temporary or pendente lite support is only paid while the divorce is pending. An award of temporary support is not intended to create the presumption of a final award, but can sometimes serve as a general guide as to whether (and how much) support will be awarded in a final order. The formula Fairfax County has established provides the following:

28% x Payor’s (higher earning party) Income – 58% x Payee’s (lower earning party) Income

EXAMPLE: Payor earns $10,000 per month, Payee earns $3,000 per month.

28% x $10,000 = $2,800             58% x $6,000 = $1,740

$2,800 – $1,740 = $1,060 (monthly support)

The most important thing to remember is that every case is different. We here at PJI Law understand that separating or divorcing couples are unique, and that the questions of whether you or your spouse will get support, and how much it might be, can only be addressed upon a review of your specific situation, facts and finances. A consultation is an excellent way to tackle those questions head on.

Are You Being Called to Be a Witness in Court? Here’s How to Take the Stand

Except for expert witnesses and law enforcement officers who testify on a regular basis, most people are nervous about being a witness in a lawsuit. If you are called to be a witness, whether in a divorce, contract dispute, or any other type of case, there are certain things that you can expect to happen when you testify in court.

Court hearings are formal processes, so arrive early (beware of Northern Virginia traffic!) and dress professionally. When the proceedings start, the clerk may ask you to take an oath to tell the truth and the judge may then ask you to wait outside of the courtroom until you are called to the stand.

When it is your turn to testify, the attorney who called you as a witness will ask you questions first. Then, the other side’s attorney may ask you questions. It is not unheard of for the judge to ask questions as well. Your presence is important to tell a story that has an impact on the case at hand. Therefore, your credibility is key. You want the judge or jury to take you seriously and believe what you have to say. That means you must be clear and confident. Here are some tips to help you accomplish those objectives:

1. Take your time. Court proceedings take time and have serious consequences. Do not feel rushed by the person asking you questions. Feel free to take a breath between the question and the beginning of your answer. It is always better to think through what you want to say than to rush ahead. This is especially true if you are shown a document. Take the time to read it so that you are not caught off guard.

Going into the courtroom and taking the stand as a witness can be intimidating – but it doesn’t have to be.

2. You are in control. Just because you are the one answering the questions, you are not powerless. If an attorney or the judge mischaracterizes what you said, politely correct them. If you do not understand a question, ask the questioner to rephrase it. If you do not understand a word, ask for an explanation. Sometimes attorneys slip into using legal jargon out of habit. Not understanding a legal term does not say anything about your intelligence. Likewise, if you cannot hear the question, ask the questioner to speak up. You can only be asked to answer questions you hear and understand.

3. Tell the truth. The court only asks you to tell the truth. You may have answers you know the attorney will not like, but if it is the truth, it is your responsibility to tell it. Tell your story the way you remember it. That also means that if you do not know or remember something, then the truth is ‘I do not know’ or ‘I do not remember.’ Never guess.

4. The proceedings should be respectful. Again, court proceedings are formal. Just as the attorneys should not use sarcasm, inappropriate gestures, and condescending tones, neither should the witness. Unfortunately, sometimes people fall below the standards of decorum. Do not dignify their poor behavior with responses in kind. Also, do not speak over other people. If there is an objection, it is important for you to stop speaking and hear what the judge has to say.

5. Answer only the question asked. Don’t elaborate, and certainly don’t go off on tangents. This sounds simple, but we at PJI Law see this issue come up very often on all sides of cases. You may be inclined to elaborate or tell the story that you want to tell, however, it is best to keep your responses short and direct. If the questioner wants you to elaborate, they will ask you to do so. Remember, it is not your job to be the trial strategist and guess where the questioner wants you to go. Your only responsibility is to answer the questions asked. Otherwise, you may be doing the proceeding a disservice and you may lose credibility in the eyes of the court.

Being a witness in a court proceeding can be very stressful, but it is important to keep yourself collected and follow these simple guidelines.